Yesterday in the midst of reading about CNN’s blunder in their handling of the Steubenville rape case, I was caught up in an unexpected argument at work. The argument was over whether or not women who choose not to have children are “selfish”. Apparently I, as a young woman, am extremely selfish for living a fulfilling life without children.
The expectation that women will and should have children is omnipresent in our culture. It is even seen in the often fiercely feminist Pagan community. I especially see it in the triple Goddess concept of Maiden, Mother, Crone. (This is especially poignant because this conception of the Triple Goddess is not an element of classical myth; it was born of the Feminist Goddess movement of the 1970s).
This idea is wrapped around the assumption that a woman’s worth is characterized by her reproductive abilities; that the three stages of maiden (before childbirth), Mother (in the midst of birthing and raising children), and Crone (the inability to have children any longer) are the stages that define a woman. It is as if there are no other important parts to a woman’s life.
The sad part is, we don’t even seem to be realizing we’re doing it.
I am none of the above and I have no plans to procreate in the foreseeable future. I do, however, think about it a lot. The other day my partner asked me why (with a slight hint of panic in his eye), but my generation stands at the precipice of a new way of thinking, and the decision to have children is no longer an easy one. Today, we have the choices, but we are also still pressured to conform to the ways of a thousand generations of our ancestors: ancestors who did not have easily obtained birth control, and who could devote their lives to being in the home, raising children.
I am a fully independent being whose self worth is not tied up in my potential to bear children. I am lucky enough to live in an age of science, and to experience the most freedom we, as women, have ever enjoyed. While there are those out there who are fighting to take that away from us, our right to choose is one of the most powerful rights we have in the sovereignty of ourselves.
The power to choose is also one of the most significant that we, as witches, have.
The phrase, “Witch, know thyself” says it all.
My energies lie elsewhere: in my partner, in my coven, in my new priestesshood, in my writing, in my career, in my graduate work, and none of these things would be possible if I were to choose to have children right now and devote myself to their care.
I am not “selfish” for choosing differently. If feminism did nothing else, it gave me the right to choose how to handle my body and my family making decisions. The fact that I hear this mainly from other women is one of the worst parts about the whole thing.
We need to come up with new concepts of what characterizes womanhood. We need to reach beyond the archetype of the triple goddess and embrace new ideas of what women are and what their possibilities can be. While the triple goddess may be an easy archetype to grasp, we are more than that. My Lady is more than that. The Craft that I practice is about more than that.
I am not “selfish”; I am a witch who is here to help reshape the world. Whether I decide to create life has no bearing or relevance on my place in that unfolding reality.
In an older agrarian society women had lots of children because half of them died and the other half were to work the farm so their race and community survived. Nowadays in witchcraft the idea of Fertility is more about fertility of ideas, experience, spirituality and personal growth towards some kind of enlightenment in a harmonious society that is already Way too large for the resources on this Earth.
Unfortunately, while that is as it ought to be, I have had to face too much venom and insistence from other women, in both the Pagan community and the non-Pagan community that my fertility is all about the basic facts of life. I’ve been watching this argument in feminist articles over the last few months as well. And when I get told that I need to change my “partying slut” ways and have children to be unselfish and become a responsible adult in our society, there is a larger problem going on. Our mother’s may have thought that they had won the feminist argument for choice with Roe v. Wade, but I think the last few years has proven this not to be true. Women are a long way from finding our equality in this society and this is just one small aspect of the larger debate. Until everyone understands that a woman’s choice is exactly that, than we need to keep talking about these issues until they do.
I am a guy, so it is different for me. But I have not had any physical children. I have worked in health care all my life so my patients became my children to take care of, and sometimes i would even say to my whining doctors “I don’t need any children. I have you doctors”. lol. Also as an initiating priest my students and initiates are my children to raise also. So one does not to birth a child to learn the lessons of responsibility and unselfishness. I will say that for some immature narcissistic women and men that having a child was the best thing for them, if they considered it a life long task and not one that ends in 18 years.
As if a world with over 7 billion people and many of them starving children needs MORE. Shame on them…defining womanhood by motherhood is a cheap trick….and frankly, one that borrows as much from Christianity that pagans claim to be ‘recovering’ from as not.
I am in the same boat. I have never wanted children and when I was 30 I opted to have a tubal ligation. I have never regretted that choice in spite of the pagan women who have attempted to make me feel like I should be ashamed for my choices.
One thing I noticed in your post was the fact that the Maiden/Mother/Crone archetype was new and came about during feminism. I am a bit embarrassed to say that after 20 years on my path that is new information for me. lol But! I always say I am the eternal student. Out of very piqued curiosity…what was the original Triple Goddess Archetype? I’m searching online but finding little info.
The traditional triple goddess was like Brigid (goddess of the hearth, the forge and childbirth) or Hekate (the goddess of the horse, the serpent and the dog), essentially goddesses who had three different specific aspects. The maiden, mother, crone archetype came about with 70’s feminism, I think it was just very easy to empathize with all women by relating to aspects that all women went through. Sort of an overall generalization that helped further unite women everywhere…not that there is anything wrong with that and in this political context I love this version of the triple Goddess…I just don’t bond with this idea of the Goddess as much in my spiritual practice. Z Budapest (who I personally have a lot of mixed feelings about) would be one to look at for this triple Goddess, I think Starhawk does as well…Barbara Walker…probably anyone who came out of that 70’s movement of feminism.
Hope that helps and I’m sorry that you’ve dealt with this too. I was completely taken about by the idea that I was selfish for not wanting to bring children into this world that I can neither afford or have any desire to raise!
Ahhhh, I see! I thought there might have been a more generally/universally accepted Triple Goddess Archetype that was around before the Maiden/Mother/Crone came along. That certainly makes a lot of sense, though, and very ironic that you use Hekate in your example (If irony even exists in paganism lol) as She has recently appeared in my life with all the subtly of a storm trooper! LOL
I very much appreciate your taking the time to respond. I was rather surprised by the attitude I have been given as well. I thought of all communities the pagan community would be the most accepting of such choices, especially considering we, as a community, often talk about such issues as over-population, hunger, lack of resources, etc.
I wholeheartedly agree that true reproductive freedom must include the freedom not to (not to reproduce, that is). No one should judge another on this very personal choice.
Also, like C.L., I want to thank you for the education on the origin of the Maiden/Mother/Crone construct. Makes a lot of sense.
So happy I found your blog! I love this post!
i am also very happy that i found your blog while searching for a goodess without children. I often have to fight with such ‘desperate housewife’s’ too but this fihghts gave me really strong jaws so i bite back. Most of these ghossip-liking henns just want to show up with theire f…trophys in theire own mother-circle but are now carefull with words when i am around (not entering theire circles on purpose, they are just everywhere…). I am a granddoughter of Lilith, not of Eve (yeah, yeah wise guys, Lilith had children too but she literally had no choice). I send you strength and greetings.
This is really great, many thanks. I’m Wiccan, 37 and opting out of motherhood. Now not planning to have children. I was afraid to find out what other Wiccans would think. I recently pointed out to a woman that her child was damaging something and got shamed by her for not having children ‘yet’. It’s other women who are the problem, men don’t seem to care, they just don’t see you any more. I’m feeling really positive about my life choice and I’m finding a lot of things less trouble now that I am no longer planning for a conventional family life.