Monday, June 21, 2010

Prong 3: The Persecution Complex

Since I wrote my last post, I had an additional thought about why parents react so strongly against our declarations of childfreedom and wanted to add this addendum to my previously-posted Theory:

Prong 3: The Persecution Complex

When a person declares herself childfree to a parent or, if not using that specific term, states outright that she has chosen not to have kids, the parent hears an underlying negative judgment about having kids - that it is undesirable. While we may not state outright to the parent that having kids is undesirable (even though we may think it), they read between the lines that we are choosing not to have kids because we find it undesirable in some way. This is a negative judgment which parents are far from accustomed to being subject to, since in every other corner of the universe, they are lauded, worshipped, praised, adored and subsidized for having kids.

When a person perceives he is being judged negatively, he feels persecuted and the natural reaction is defensiveness and a shoring up of their position. This is why they attack our choice (defensiveness) or start reciting the joys of parenthood (shoring up).

What made me think of Prong 3 is a similar encounter I experience when I tell people that I do not eat meat. Almost always, the reaction is something along the lines of "Oh, I only eat chicken" or "I almost never eat red meat", as though they need to defend themselves against a perceived judgment they imagine I am making of them (shoring up their position). Or, they might get defensive by subtly attacking my choice, "So....what do you eat?" or "How do you know you are getting enough protein?", "Don't you get tired of eating vegetables all the time?"

Isn't human nature fascinating?


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the Bertrand Russel quote in The Conquest of Happiness - "Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves."

It's as if some people interpret my choice to not have children as a personal insult on their choice to have children.

It doesn't make sense to me how one of my personal decisions could make other people feel badly for choosing differently. Unless of course they really didn’t choose consciously and followed the herd right over the edge of the cliff?

Marta - The Free Spirit Project

Anonymous said...

Human nature is indeed fascinating, not to mention completely annoying at times! ;) Your insight and commentary on this blog are a godsend to me, let me tell you. I have been enjoying going back through all of your old posts (since I just discovered your blog last week!) and nodding my head and saying 'Yes!' and forwarding my husband (and my mom!) your tidbits of wisdom.
It is SO true that the parenting folks in my life become quite defensive at times, as though MY choice automatically means I must be attacking theirs. And yet I feel like I'm the one who needs to defend myself more than they do, in this kid-centric, parent-centric world! It's so interesting...

Surfie said...

This is probably a very common reaction. I had someone ask me this weekend about if I had kids and then WHEN I was going to have kids. When I told her my husband and I didn't want kids, ever, she looked really confused. I could see her trying to comprehend my decision and I could tell she couldn't understand why anyone would NOT want to have kids. Some more understanding people might ask similar questions as you mentioned in your post, but out of sheer curiosity and not necessarily a judgment. It would be interesting to get the point of view of some parents who are in this situation!

H said...

I'm a new reader here and just wanted to say hello. This blog is painfully honest, blunt, articulate and very observant. I've read through some of the archived posts and now it is safe to say I'm addicted.

take care ;)

Fanboy Wife said...

I'm a carnivore, but we can still be friends.

Childfreeeee said...

Just want to say hi and welcome to my new readers. Glad you found me and please keep the comments coming!


kelly said...

I get the exact same responses when people find out I'm vegetarian (for the record, I live in the midwestern US where vegetarianism isn't very common). Immediately I'm told stories like, "my doctor said I need to eat lots of red meat or I'll go anemic." or "you know, women your age should get more ____."

I see it as a two-pronged reaction: one prong is for getting defensive because you're paranoid and somehow assume you're being judged every time you meet someone who's different from you. The other prong (and I'm now loving the word "prong") is for people who have a suspicion that my way is actually the right or better way (ethically, ecologically, medically, whathaveyou) and they're in a panic trying to justify to themselves the decisions they've made and continue to make every day.

Anonymous said...

I can understand that, Kelly, and I have to say that though I was once a vegetarian, I no longer am yet am still severely anemic. So, that blows people's assumptions about vegetarians out of the water--or should. ;)
I feel that many (most?) people have an inner need to feel validated by the "outer world." We all want to feel that our choices are "okay" and acceptable. However, this is just not always possible, so we need to find strength within ourselves to remain firm in our convictions and proceed as we believe we should, not as others would like us to do... It's a huge challenge at times, but clearly, it's all about being true to ourselves.
At nearly 35 years of age, I feel more "okay" with my CF status than I ever have before. However, I would really enjoy more CF friends (and couples) in my life, just for the sake of having more fun, freedom to do things with others, and support.

lauracarroll said...

My take is that many people have a hard time with people who are different from them. And in this case, we are people who have made a big life choice that is different than theirs that impacts how different our lifestyles are from each other. They just can't understand how we can be so different from them. The same phenom works with religion and who believes in the "right" god. When we have more self-acceptance and esteem we're more likely to accept those that are different from us. When the judgmnent comes, it is out of insecurity and a need for approval, which our choice does not do for them. Rather than get defensive in situations like this, I find that realizing their judgment comes from an insecure place in them helps to not get backed up about it. ~Laura

Amy Guskin said...

It's funny, I also do not eat red meat, and because this comes up WAY more frequently than the issue of being childfree, I'm a lot more accustomed to that same defensive response you hear from people: "Oh, I hardly eat any red meat at all! Mostly chicken!" Being defensive carries the implication that the person knows that their behavior is less than desirable, otherwise, they wouldn't feel the need to make excuses for it. Mind you, I'm not saying that I think their behavior is less than desirable — I don't have any issue with people eating whatever they want, because it's none of my business, just as my eating practices are none of theirs — but clearly, they have some underlying issue with their own behavior. As a contrast, when someone tells me they are vegan, I don't have to jump to assure them that I don't eat red meat, or that I hardly eat any fish, or whatever.

People are funny!

Childfreeeee said...

Same with me, Amy. I don't care what anyone else eats but they automatically assume I am making a judgement about them because they eat meat.

Dave said...

Similar to what Laura wrote, another thing which can cause others to get overly defensive is being an atheist.

Although I have not gotten much, if any, grief about being an atheist, I see from posts on atheist boards that atheists often do, especially if they live in very religious areas such as the southern USA. I live in the northeastern USA, a less religious part of the country, so nobody gets fazed when they learn I am an atheist.

Childfreeeee said...

Dave, I think childfreedom and atheism are probably equally offputting to most people, although I think you are right that it's less of an issue in the northeast than in some areas in the country.

Ellie said...

I think everything you've said is spot-on, and I also think that defensiveness and shoring up are a reaction to the truth of what we say (as in, the reasons we give that parenthood is not all it's cracked up to be).

It makes parents (mothers in particular) extremely uncomfortable to be confronted with the truth that theirs is an exhausting, endless, and largely thankless career choice. They don't like to be reminded of their loss of self-identity, freedom, serenity, professional and personal opportunity, physical fitness, etc. etc.

This is a reality they excel at shoving to the back burner, mentally.

Christy said...

I find human behavior pretty depressing most of the time, but I loved this post, Childfreeeee! I loved that you compared the two positions! I have been thinking lately about the way people treat me when I say I won't eat meat. It literally makes some people angry! I think, in addition to the fear of anyone thinking differently than they do, a lot of these people love animals, and they think I am calling them out on their meat-eating. Honestly, though, I'm not trying or wanting to shame them, and I would prefer not to discuss it with most people, only sometimes they force me to bring it up when they are trying desperately to shove meat on my plate. Like the anemia assumption, I also think the fact that I am freakishly muscular further upsets them, blasting their idea of the pale, thin-haired, emaciated vegan. I am actually a cf, vegan, atheist living in the deep South. The tri-fecta of offputting.

I've always felt that there was no nice way to tell someone that I don't want kids. It's always going to be a bone of contention with the childed.

Thank you so much for the quote Marta! It is my new fav!

Almost Alright said...

I think you're totally right about people assuming criticism if you aren't doing what they're doing. But at the same time, I think I do it too in some ways. I was hanging out with a family and their child just last night when the mother asked me if I was ready to have children. I told her I wasn't, but I didn't tell her that I wasn't planning on having kids at all because I didn't want to get into a whole conversation about it and feel like I had to defend myself. Her reaction was surprisingly supportive. She told me that she thought it was beautiful that I didn't have children at my age and too many women have children too young and don't know what they're missing in life. I had assumed her reaction would be negative, but it wasn't. She didn't ask me when I thought I would have kids, or make any other assumptions about me after I told her I wasn't ready. It was a nice experience and made me feel silly for being defensive myself. She reminded me to not be shy about sharing my perspective!

Demonhype said...

Seriously, you can see some of this in the behind-the-scenes of The Incredibles. There is an animatic of a scene they dropped where the mother viciously attacks a childfree woman. The childfree woman is, naturally, portrayed as an evil, arrogant, selfish monster who doesn't immediately fall to worship the maternal martyr that is Elastic Girl.

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone's posted this on Youtube or anything.

I think this might have been in the commentary for that same deleted scene, but one of the creative team (possibly Brad Bird himself) had a wife who had given birth and was complaining about how persecuted she is for being a stay-at-home mom. (Personally, I'd like to see that, since in my experience there is nothing but mindless adulation of such women and mass hatred of women who fail to live up to that 'ideal').

Essentially, throughout this deleted scene you could see the subconcsious attitude of the perecution complex you just described. They did well to remove it from the film, IMO. Last thing little girls need to see is childfree women being mirepresented and attacked in this paranoid Mary-Sue wish-fulfillment fantasy of the newly childed against the imaginary enemy found in the childfree.

Anyway, the childfree woman asks Mommie what she does, fails to congratulate her on her martyrdom when she says she's a stay-at-home mommie, and then we see our beloved Mommie overhearing her across the yard commenting on how she would never want to be a stay-at-home mommie. Teh HORROR!!!1!!!!

It's clearly an example of persecution complex such as you described, as well as a kind of paranoia. No one ever really tells mommies anything bad about themselves, but they imagine that THEY ARE ALL AGAINST ME!!!!! Especially if we fail to behave as they want us to behave--ashamed of ourselves and our choice and in constant apology for existing, to bolster their own unearned sense of superiority.

Same thing as what Dave said, about atheism being given the same grief. Some believers seem to think that the only 'good' atheist is the one who accepts the believer's asserted superiority and then apologizes for existing and wishes constantly that they, too, could be believers. Any atheist who is visible and unashamed is one of the 'bad', 'strident', or 'militant' ones. Just as for many childed, the only 'good' childfree ones are the ones who play into their personal delusion of superiority and accept their own inferior status.

Whether we're talking childfree, atheist, or whatever, there is something particularly petulant and distasteful about people who require others to reinforce their personal worldviews, especially in such a way. Okay, so you think having kids is the be-all, end-all, alpha and omega of human achievement. Fine, but don't get whiny with me just because I fail to define myself by your personal worldview. I personally think that having kids is kind of the definition of failure in life, but I don't crap my pants in fury at the concept that there are people who have children or require the childed to define themselves by my views and hang their heads in shame of their parenthood. All I ask is to receive that respect back.

I think I've yammered enough. If anyone likes (maybe if Childfreee or anyone else would like to potentially dissect it for a blog post or something), I will try and get a transcript of that scene I spoke of. I dont' know if I want to try and get it online--for one, I dont' know how, and for another, I don't know how screwed I might be with the copyright.

So, yeah, if anyone's interested I can get that for you so you don't have to buy or rent the stupid special DVD to see it.