Childfree and Loving It: A Guest Post by Sean Mzwandile Sibanda, a Zimbabwean Student

childfree & loving itI am currently a final year student at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. I’m studying for a Bachelor’s degree in tourism and hospitality management, majoring in food and beverage management. I hope to get into restaurant management shortly after I complete my program in June this year.

I’m from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, but I will be relocating to South Africa later this year. I am Northern Ndebele, which is the second largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe after Shona.

I have been childfree for five months now. I recently discovered that parenthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I have always had a fear of getting a girl pregnant. I dread hearing the words “I am pregnant” from a woman I’m dating. I just think that it’s too big of a decision to make. I have seen people’s lives altered by a child in ways that aren’t good. I personally believe that much of the poverty in Africa is caused by unplanned pregnancies and people abandoning those kids afterwards in orphanages, or worse, the streets. I know personally of relatives who secretly whisper about other people “they would have been better off in life if they hadn’t had kids”, and that just makes me shudder. I think parenthood should be something that one is excited and enthusiastic about when entering, because if one is not, then life can be very difficult.

I also think that kids are very expensive, and for me there are so many better satisfying and personally fulfilling endeavors worth channeling my time and resources into. I don’t really subscribe to the notion of working hard at school so my potential kids can have a better life. I have worked hard my entire life simply because of the way I want to live my own life, that is, in a comfortable and stress-free manner. When I was 17, I found myself suddenly obsessed with getting a vasectomy. What I found fascinating was the fact that it was permanent, but I always talked myself out of it since I was “supposed” to have kids like everyone else in society.

But realizing that you are childfree is so liberating and relieving to the point where I just can’t imagine living my life any other way.

Relationships as a Childfree Man

I haven’t told my immediate family of my decision. This is because I have read the typical responses others get when they “come out the closet” and I imagine the same responses coming out of my parents’ mouths. But to be honest I just don’t want to be talked out of it or to be pressure to conform to my parents’ values, especially while I’m still economically dependent on them. I have decided to tell them maybe in my 30s or later. But honestly, it’s my body. I’m adult who can make decisions, and also choose how, where, why and to whom I disclose these decisions.

I have told some of my friends and in the process, I hoped that they would rethink parenthood. Very few of them are supportive, to some they just respond with “you’re too young”, “you will never meet a woman like that”, “you’re just saying that because you can’t afford them now”, or “Don’t you want to leave a legacy?”

But I am confident that I will remain steadfast this my decision for the rest of my life. No, I won’t change my mind.

I’ve been single for two months now. My ex-girlfriend and I dated for 3 weeks. One of the reasons we broke up was because she couldn’t understand why I wanted to be childfree, and why I was so insistent on getting sterilized as soon as possible, when she had planned to get pregnant in a year’s time and even raise kid(s) singlehandedly. One of the reasons why I’m single is because I’m realizing that, as a childfree man, there’s no use dating a woman who has plans to have kids at any given point in their life. I might meet someone who doesn’t want kids right now, but doesn’t identify as childfree, and will, in a few months, or years decide that she’s ready for children. For that reason, I have resolved to remain single until I meet a childfree woman. It’s pointless dating when you know the outcome will eventually tear you both apart.

It sucks, but I have to be true to myself and to every potential mate I meet. We both have to want the same thing, and for me, that’s a childfree romance.

My Cultural Context

As a young man in Zimbabwe, people don’t really nag me about not having children (unless I’ve told them that I’m childfree). I think it’s because at this point, as a 23-year-old guy, society doesn’t expect me to have kids yet. I think that the most annoying and, the situation in which I’m the most limited, is access to sterilization. I mean, asking for a vasectomy is challenging because I’m regarded as still “too young”. It’s inappropriate when doctors use their morals to dictate how and what you should do with your body. I’m still trying get a vasectomy in my home country, but the healthcare system in Zimbabwe is lacking resources, so I’ve decided to postpone it for another year. So until then, it’s celibacy and abstinence.

As an African childfree man, I would like to change the way people view parenthood. I would like to advise my peers, the younger generation, and even the men and women born a decade or two before me that it’s ok not to want kids. Being a parent is a choice, not an obligation. You can still find fulfillment in life if you don’t have kids. Personally, I would like to travel to countries all around the world, as travelling is something that I has always interested me. I don’t think that’s possible with kids. Plus, I love my career. I got big plans, I don’t have time to play daddy.

I wish the medical profession were more open to men and women taking control of their reproductive choices. Specifically, I wish they were more open to sterilization because at the end of the day, it’s our bodies, and therefore it’s our choice. And I also wish childfree women were treated with more respect and compassion. They have more difficulty than us childfree men. Yes, some women don’t want to have kids and that’s ok too. That doesn’t make them evil, or any less feminine, valuable or important than women with children.

People should know that just as we respect their decisions to have kids, we want them respect ours as well. We can all live in peace and harmony when we remove the tunnel vision.

Final Thoughts

Being childfree is awesome. I have freedom in every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically, mentally. I get to sleep whenever I want and eat whatever and whenever I want. If you are reading this and you are having serious doubts about having a child or children, I suggest you really take time to think about it like seriously. Weigh all the pros and cons of parenthood, and be sure that it’s something you won’t regret.

I think that having kids is like gambling. They could turn out to be great and upstanding individuals, but they could turn out to be awful people. For me, it’s better to regret not having kids than to regret having kids. You can’t change the latter.

I don’t gamble. Ever.

 

 

 

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Choice Feminism

black girl tinsel

Photo by Xan Griffin (via Unsplash)

“Feminism is about choice! It’s my choice to [decidedly unfeminist thing]!”

This is a common idea and refrain in feminist circles. It’s usually invoked as a defense by a self-identified feminist, after another self-identifying feminist has questioned a choice that the former has made.

“Choice feminism”, while without an official dictionary definition, basically boils down to a woman deciding that any choice she makes is supported by feminism. Clearly, women should be allowed to make choices about how to live their lives.

Regarding choice feminism, Fem Magazine points out, however,

The argument… seems to ignore the results of socialization, which mediate every decision humans make within a given culture. We are socialized to uphold a power structure in which women are valued based on their adherence to strict Eurocentric beauty standards. Deviating from norms can result in social rejection or at the very least, endless questions on why you are not simply conforming to certain standards. Our fear of these consequences subsequently influences how we navigate our own behavior and social interactions.

So sure, a woman may choose to wear makeup and that can be a feminist method of self-expression, but often times the “choice” women make to wear it is rooted in the desire to conform to patriarchal beauty standards. The same goes for shaving and most other beauty rituals, which all serve to reinforce the same narrow and oppressive idea of femininity.

Feminism can’t always be invoked as a woman’s justification of her choices, otherwise it begins to lose all meaning. (Reminder: feminism is a political ideology that is concerned with the economic, political, social, and cultural equality of all genders.)

I, for one, have made the choice to not have children, romantic relationships, to live alone (for now, anyway), not to wear earrings, makeup or dress in a “feminine” manner.  These choices go against patriarchal conditioning and norms that state that a woman is to enter a cishet marriage, change her name to the man’s name (this varies depending on culture), be responsible for all emotional labor while being being the submissive partner in the relationship (see: changing her name to her husband’s name), have children who also take that man’s name, because, well, women are men’s property, and women exist to create more property for men. Don’t @ me.

Sure, everyone has a right to make choices, as long as these choices don’t harm others. Still, I would also argue that not everyone has to agree with everyone’s choices, particularly those that are made as a result of, and thus support, systems of oppression. Even while typing, I recognize what a slippery slope it is to say that not everyone has to like everyone’s choices. This is, after all, the argument used by bigots to justify their homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. What’s the difference between saying “I don’t agree with the homosexual ‘lifestyle’” and saying “I don’t believe that children should automatically be given their father’s surname”? The difference is obvious to me: one of these is a choice made out of being is conditioned in an oppressive system, and the other…. well, isn’t.

No one’s choices are made in a vacuum, and no one’s choices are above critique. This includes mine. I’ve chosen a field of work whose goal is to loosen the grip of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy around the world’s throat. So then, why do I choose to be an active participant in a capitalist society when I could move to the woods and live off the grid when I know that capitalism is an oppressive system that enriches very few while undermining the rights of many? While I try to make the most ethical choices possible, I no doubt fail to live up to all of my ideals, probably on a daily basis.

Where I start to find it difficult to reconcile things, is when women make choices that are clearly rooted in patriarchy, choices that help to fundamentally sustain women’s oppression in both overt and insidious ways, and pressuring other women to do so. As I’ve written about before on this blog and elsewhere, women constantly hassle me about my choice not to have children, demanding what I would do if I found a man who wanted them, telling me that I’ll change my mind, or alternately just pretending as though they don’t know that I’m not having children (despite me having been explicitly clear on the subject. I have this blog, for fuck’s sake). Women constantly hassle me about my choice to not engage in romantic or sexual relationships, when plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates that hetero relationships require far more work on the part of the female partner. The stories being told by women (and some men) right now also suggest that the safest thing a woman can do is to stay away from men, both socially and professionally.

People actively choosing to participate in their own oppression extends beyond gender and applies to other systems, and is manifested in myriad ways. It’s gay or poor people voting Republican in the United States. It’s black people having complete and utter disdain for their phenotypical characteristics to the point of using damaging chemicals on our hair and skin to change them.  It’s British people voting to Brexit when they didn’t really want to leave the European Union.

Maybe instead of yelling that “feminism is about choice”, when making unfeminist choices, women should own that their choices run counter to the goals of feminism, but that they’re choosing them anyway.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any answers. But these are issues that I’ve been grappling with for quite some time, and it seems they won’t be going away any time soon.