Discrimination Based on Reproductive Choice

There is an increasing amount of talk out there about how the childfree face inequities when it comes to tax and workplace policies. It exists in the halls of academia as well. Here is an example – this story from a graduate student blew me away.

*Names and places are omitted to respect the student’s request for anonymity*

“I was a graduate student, focusing the topic of funerary practices. One of my professors was going to hold a public screening of the film, ‘Business of Being Born’ on campus and invited me at the last minute. I declined because it was a late invite, and I don’t like to watch birth due to some past trauma.

The prof told me I had no choice but to attend to earn ‘social capital as a doctoral student’ and assured me there were no graphic birthing scenes. So, I went, there were graphic birthing scenes, I had a panic attack during the film, had to leave to avoid vomiting/passing out in front of an audience.

The next day, the prof cornered me. She said that I had personally offended her. She wanted to know what I would tell someone who asked me about home birth – I said that I would recommend that they talk to a health professional, because I’m not one. She wanted to know why I avoided being included in birth-related activities, and I said that it’s because I don’t want children and I’m not interested in birth – hence, my doctoral studies in funerary practices.

normalThe prof told me that because I am childfree, I ‘have the maturity level of an 18-year old freshman boy’ and that I’m ‘not normal,’ and I ‘don’t fit in with other women.’ Then she said that she hoped I had a back-up school, because she didn’t want me in ‘her’ department.

The next morning, the head of the department told me that they took a vote and decided to drop their support of my program.

I filed a report with the equity and diversity office, and they told me that they couldn’t do anything about it because there is no such thing as discrimination against the childfree.

All of this led to a crazy-making fence-sitting period for me, questioning my choices and almost having a baby with a man I didn’t love for the wrong reasons. I have to tell you – reading your book (The Baby Matrix) helped me be myself again. Thank you.”

Unbelievable, isn’t it? This is also a real example of the negative impacts of pronatalism, namely, discrimination based on reproductive choice. And the fact that she understandably has to request anonymity is troubling…

She agreed to let me post her story, because in her words, “I want my experience to help other childfree folks know that this choice can be tough, but they aren’t alone.”

Do you know of other stories of this kind of discrimination?

16 thoughts on “Discrimination Based on Reproductive Choice

  1. Not a story, but a comment.

    The woman you describe would seem to have had a good case for a sexual harassment complaint against the professor based on the professor’s hostile comments pertinent to stereotypes about “all” women. At least this would be true at many universities. I wonder where this actually occurred, as the story sounds like something that might take place at, say, Regent University or Bob Jones University—not at a normal, highly regarded institution.

  2. I had a similar, yet not extreme occurrence in a neuroscience class. Folic acid is essential for the formation of the neural tube during development in the first couple of weeks after conception. After stating this my prof insisted that any woman of childbearing years should be taking folic acid supplements because babies “just happen”. I confronted her after class about the statement, saying I was offended. I tried to explain to her the childfree choice, but she essentially brushed me off, repeating the “you never know” statement. I informed her that I wasn’t stupid and that I had a tubal ligation, and use depo as a precaution. Also, if push came to shove, abortions are not illegal, and I would have one the moment I found out I was pregnant. She never respected me from that day forward.

  3. That story is not unbelievable for me at all. I’ve experienced similar discrimination and harassment in a workplace that was explicitly because of my childfreedom. I’d highly recommend the author speak to a civil rights lawyer (depending on how much time has gone by) in agreement with a previous comment. Oddly, I have always been found that my less-than-traditional sexuality has been universally more accepted then my childfreedom, but maybe that’s because I tend to live in more liberal areas?

      1. Krystal didn’t say all parents are breeders. She’s using the word breeder to describe a specific type of distasteful person. Parents who are not breeders have no need to be offended by a term that doesn’t apply to them.

  4. I’d reeeeeally like to know the name of the school so I know not to support it. It would also be nice to punish the department and “professor.” I used to work at Columbia Chicago and encountered some ridiculous politics. Colleges are HORRIBLE places for politics. People are virulent and disgusting when protecting “their” cream of the pie pension kind of living and high wages that most tenured staff are given. Childfree is one issue but the politics in universities and colleges – among the staff, is another ball game that should be publicly addressed too. It sounds like your OP was a victim of both.

  5. I’m unmarried and no kids. I work presently for a sec company that is really messed up. I’ve asked repeatedly to be put back on days and to allow me to attent college to finish my GED. My boss a woman who actually isn’t born here is forcing me to work nights and won’t let me attend. She was on about how I don’t need this or that but won’t admit to me she’s taking advantage of the fact I don’t have kids, yet she gives me a hard time every so often about how I have a low tolerance for kids. I’ve even got medical reason for not wanting kids, and told her this. Her response: Well how are you going to know if the kids are going to have medical issues unless you try? STUPID!

  6. Significantly, academia, particularly in the sciences is notorious for not being conducive to women with children having successful careers. We are at a bit of a catch 22 aren’t we? Either have kids, and end up having to give up our careers, or we don’t and we end up discriminated against and denigrated because we are openly flouting some sort of perceived divine natural role or what have you…

    1. You don’t have to give up your career to have kids. Let’s not propagate the stereotype; if men can do it, women can, too.

  7. Universities are notorious for bullying, which is essentially what is described above. I recently escaped being sacked for taking time off to care for adults who needed my care. The bullying, before the threatened sacking, was horrendous. Teaching days were swapped to make life difficult for me. I was asked to teach subjects outside my expertise. I was given an unusually heavy workload. I was required to work from my office at all times. Yet all I had done was asked for some flexibility, and ruffled the feathers of an insecure manager (male). Women with kids in my dept, meanwhile, arrived after school began and left to pick kids up early to mid afternoon. They worked from home (although rarely answered emails or phone calls) in after-school hours. They demanded, and got, to work from home, not even having to turn up to meetings, during all school holidays. These women, overtly or tacitly, supported my bully. As a single and child free woman in academia, no matter that I am relatively senior, I am expected to run around after and cover for those who have kids, even if my junior. If I dont I am accused of not bei g a team player, or being ‘difficult’. One woman once said to me (in the context that I had commented that my fridge was about empty and I needed to go shopping) ‘well eating is really a social and family thing, isn’t it?’ She honestly didn’t think it important for me to leave to shop to be able to cook a meal. As a non-parent I could eat out of packets. I have learned that you only challenge when you have nothing to lose. I challenged before this and nearly paid the price.

    As for the old damned if you do and damned if you don’t, my perspective is that those who ‘do’ mainly suffer because they insist on being martyrs to motherhood. I am tired of mothers whining about how hard it is when they rarely ask or expect their menfolk to step up and do 50% of the work. Indeed, in many cases, it is unchilded colleagues on whom the burden of compensating within the workplace falls, rather than the actual father. In many cases the women in my workplace see it as their role to come home, do the housework and cook dinner for their menfolk and kids. Then they complain they are tired / have no time for research (and expect extra leave because of their mommydom). Meanwhile, I’m doing the class prep, emailing students over concerns and attending the meetings they say they can’t ‘because of their kids’. I get no compensation for this, even though it keeps me from my own research, and indeed when I ask for flexibility / consideration when I need it my position is suddenly in danger.

  8. The bullying prof involved was jumping to absurd conclusions anyway. There are plenty of women who are willing to be mothers who are traumatized by birthing scenes. Being childfree and not wanting to watch birthing scenes are not synonymous with each other.

    I’ve seen the documentary myself. It’s not merely an objective documentary about modern-day American customs. It is a polemic against hospital births and an attempt to build support, even hysteria, for having more births at home with a midwife instead of an OB-GYN. Telling someone they have to watch this is essentially telling them to attend a political rally. That prof has an axe to grind about home births. (I actually agree with the sentiments of the movie. I just think it’s not really an academically useful film.)

    If I remember correctly, there is a moment in the film in which a woman refers to childbirth as “a profoundly sexual experience.” Ummm….okay…..

    1. Hey Scott, I thought too that it seemed the prof had an axe to grind about home birth, and given her orientation towards it, it seems she was also pro-have child and obviously did not condone having no children by choice. But to nix the student from the program? Outrageous.

  9. I am in physical science field, and hoping to start graduate school six to eighteen months from now. I seriously hope no professor would joke about how I would graduate and then shit out a bunch of kids, never using my degree again.
    but I’d rather be discriminated against than being stuck with the role of being a parent.

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