No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood by Henriette Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood covers a lot of ground in a remarkably humorous and touching way in this collection of essays primarily by comedians and television writers who have remained childless for a variety of reasons. The choice of whether or not to be a parent is a loaded one. Given the ongoing debates surrounding birth control and abortion, it's often hard to say if some women even have the right to choose a child-free life.
Contributers to No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood include Henriette Mantel, Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman and Laurie Graff (author of You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs), among others. All of these women surprised me with their candor as well as the compassion and humor they brought to hot button issue.
Several themes resonated with me as a professional woman who has chosen to remain childless. The biggest issue: if you're a woman, almost everyone assumes you either are going to have kids or you've had kids. If not, there must be something wrong with you. Maybe you're barren or really immature. Another theme that emerged: most of the contributors to this collection noted that their parents were not paradigms of mature adulthood; they just spawned. Some contributors half-joked about not having children because they wanted to stop the madness from seeping into another generation. Several women noted that they have choices that their mothers didn't have and it was tough growing up seeing the potential in the women who raised them, but no time to develop it. Other women hit 40 and realized that it was just too late to have kids. They were so busy building careers, children just never happened. Also, there's the whole mate choice issue.
It will be interesting to see what the next generation of professional women chooses to do and the reasons behind their choices. Will they feel guilt or the need to justify decisions to not have children? What barriers will they perceive in having children and raising them if they choose to do so?
The only thing that I believe No Kidding is missing is an exploration of blended families--beyond step-parenting. Also, I'm surprised that so many entertainers were involved in this project and yet not one of them is someone who has chosen to adopt. The LGBTQ family is also neglected here.
All that said, I believe that No Kidding may be entertaining and mainstream enough to finally engage people on both sides of women's choice issues in more productive discussions about roles and expectations. Let's hope this is just a starting point for other things to come.
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