The Many Women in History Who Got It–that Motherhood is Optional

Have you seen the collage of never-mom women from history (and some still alive) on pinterest? Olivia Reading has done a great job. It’s Women’s History Month, and I find it inspiring!  Check it out, and maybe it will inspire your answer to this month’s On-the-Ground Question.   Simone de Beauvoir (pictured) is one of mine…

Her book, The Second Sex,brought forth ideas relating to feminist existentialism. This book truly established her as a philosophical and political leader of her time.  Many believe that it is the root of the whole area of gender study, or certainly the slice of it that looks at what it means to be a woman.

“Beauvoir believed that existence precedes essence; hence one is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Author Cordelia Fine is a modern day voice to this idea. In Delusions of Gender, she takes the idea further with what she calls  “neurosexism.” If you are interested in gender study, Fine’s work is definitely worth a read. In this book she takes a hard look at how culture, more than biology, drives the development of the belief of these differences, and because of our socialization and gender stereotyping, how easily gender differences can become self fulfilling prophecies.

I bet de Beauvoir would have loved Fine, and how she smartly makes her case for freeing both sexes from the confines of long held definitions of what constitutes gender identity.

Another photo on the pinterest collage makes me pause with gratitude–Susan B. Anthony.  As to why, I couldn’t put it better than how this person does:

“My favorite childfree woman is Susan B. Anthony, one of the leading feminists of the 19th century. Because she wisely chose not to marry or have children, as many of her colleagues were doing, she was able to travel anywhere she thought she could do the most good for women, both in America and beyond.

Although she didn’t live to see her lifelong dream of women getting the legal right to vote (she was arrested and tried for “illegal voting” in 1872), it was her hard work and dedication to “the cause” while she was alive that eventually led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. All women owe her the many rights we have today.”

This is one of the great answers so far to this month’s on-the-ground question-Who is your favorite childfree woman and why? Please tell us yours!

More on other never mom’s in history this month to come…who is a must to talk about in your view?

14 thoughts on “The Many Women in History Who Got It–that Motherhood is Optional

  1. As someone with passion for both biology and women who kick ass, I could not possibly forgo this opportunity to acknowledge the accomplishments of marine biologist, Rachel Carson. She graduated magna cum laude from Chatham University in 1929. Her graduate work at Johns Hopkins prompted her to write a series of exposés uncovering the damaging effects of synthetic pesticides and environmental pollutants. Her work inspired President Kennedy who eventually called for the testing of the chemicals mentioned in her work. Carson is a huge inspiration to me and many other women especially within the scientific community. I’m sure her career would have had to take a back seat to her role as a mother had she had children. Luckily, this was not the case and she was able to better the global community through her research and advocacy work.
    Oh and a shout out to comedian, Kathy Griffin! I own every season of My Life on the D List. She has done so much for the LGBT community, and has certainly enriched my life through her comedy. Hope everybody checks out her new talk show on Bravo! It starts next month I believe.

  2. Brilliant, write up, Laura. I’m now following the Olivia Reading’s Pinterest board too, btw. This was an exceptionally well done post!

  3. It is so lovely to read these thoughts on the pinterest board and to make the link with Women’s History Month.

    Laura Eleanor, I’m going to add your suggestions to the collection right away 🙂

  4. My favorite childfree woman is singer/actress Deborah Gibson. Forty-one years old now, she looks fantastic (and she nude modeled for Playboy in 2005 at age 35). She was a young sensation in the late 1980s into the early 1990s and she continues to be successful in the entertainment industry with her singing and acting and related tasks.

    And she shares my initials (dee gee).

  5. Olivia, if you’re interested in any of Rachel Carson’s work, definitely pick up a copy of Silent Spring. As for Kathy Griffin, if you haven’t “youtubed” her stand up or watched the D list, DO IT! You will not regret it, I swear her reality show, especially the earlier seasons when nobody knew who the hell she was (or constantly being mistaken for Kathy Lee Gifford HA!) has me in tears from laughing so hard no matter how many times I watch it. Not to mention she’s very vocal about her, to put it lightly, distaste for children lol.

  6. Hi Laura, I had a question on Simone de Beauvoir’s book, THE SECOND SEX. Did it include the quote “women who have children will never be free,” which was also quoted by one of your subjects in “Families of Two?” I’d like to read it when I can, is it still in print?

    Thanks in advance! 🙂

    1. Susan, I am not sure but I believe that is correct! I will do a little homework to see if my memory is correct….Second Sex recently had its best translation yet, so yes, still in print. The first translation (s) were not so good for a number of reasons, and did not do justice to what she wrote. There are reviewers who say Finally it is a good translation..many years later~

  7. Can I have a shot at Susan’s question?

    I agree with Laura that specific quotes will depend on the translation (even the given sentence’s meaning is ambiguous – it could mean, “Women, a group of people who generally have children, will never be free’ or, ‘Those particular women who have children will never be free’.) But I think it is likely that something to the effect of that quote could appear in ‘The Independent Woman’, the final chapter of SS.

    In the copy I have at hand, I think the closest reference is, “There is one feminine function that is actually almost impossible to perform in complete liberty. It is maternity.”

    (For context, de Beauvoir is always at pains to point out that the lack/loss of liberty is a social problem, not biologically inevitable.)

  8. I’m also surprised no one has mentioned Oprah. Unless I missed it, I also didn’t see her on the Pinterest board. (Except, did she have a child she gave up for adoption or something? Maybe that disqualifies her?)

    1. I think she is on the Pinterest at least the last I looked. Some say she is not really childfree because she had a child at 14 — the baby died just after a few days….Me–given her adult life, she is childfree in my book.

  9. I didn’t look at the Pininterest link…but Betty White is my favorite childfree woman! She’s awesome. She’s a talented and entertaining performer who has cracker-jack timing and who seems to have a very healthy and happy outlook. She’s won many awards for her work and she’s still in demand. She’s had a successful career that has spanned decades–in TV and movies and, prior to TV, in radio. And she loves animals and advocates for their welfare. She is a role model and a funny lady.

  10. To Laura and Olivia; thanks for your assistance, ladies! I’ll look for THE SECOND SEX the next time I’m in a bookstore, or maybe I’ll order it from Amazon.

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