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Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness Paperback – March 4, 2014
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From Publishers Weekly
The "rejection of parenthood," as the author of this carefully researched study found, "is a delicate and even dangerous topic." Lisle (Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe) speaks for herself and the generation of women who came of age in the 1970s who are childless for a variety of reasons, but often by choice. Intertwining the account of her own tortured decision to choose childlessness and the views and experiences of women past and present, Lisle pierces some of the myths and stereotypes that surround non-mothers. She reveals a long and laudable history of women without progeny, and indicates that there has been ambivalence in mothers and non-mothers alike about their roles. As an advocate for a misunderstood minority, she points to the many ways a woman's childlessness, often perceived as selfish, can promote and nurture life-enhancing relationships. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Heavily weighted to history, a defense of women who, by choice or by chance, are not mothers. Author Lisle (Louise Nevelson: A Passionate Life, 1990, etc.), now in her 50s, chose not to have children--she is, to use one of her favorite terms, a nullipara (the medical term for a woman without a child)--and found the decision subject to attack from within and without. ``To this day, women without children . . . share a common stigma,'' she quotes one expert as saying, and Lisle goes on to note that such women are often portrayed as ``damaged or deviant'' or ``just not nice enough.'' Lisle rallies the nulliparous troops by foraging through history for childless, though not always virgin, role models. Among them are the Hellenic goddesses Artemis and Athena, Queen Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, and Louisa May Alcott. Closer to home are what used to be called maiden aunts, energetic examples of ``social mothers'' who worked in orphanages and poorhouses or served as caretakers (and inspirations) for their nieces and nephews. Lisle explores the cycles of society's views of motherhood as well as more intimate issues like ``fantasy children'' and the still powerful link of sexuality to procreation. She examines the difficulties and rewards of living with men when bearing children is not a goal of the relationship and tries for a balanced view of how children can stimulate or thwart individual and artistic development. Because becoming a parent is so often equated with maturity, Lisle notes wryly, ``those of us without children sometimes wonder if we are really grown-ups,'' but she avoids attacking women who do decide to have children. Personal anecdotes and interviews are woven into the historical research. For women who make choices other than having children, some comfort and copious intellectual support, but despite Lisle's own emotional investment, surprisingly without ardor. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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Although gender has undergone considerable change in recent decades, the author clearly shows that the idea of reproductive freedom DOES NOT include the freedom to choose childlessness. When American's speak of `reproductive freedom,' they usually are referring to the freedom to choose from the options leading to parenthood rather than the freedom to choose between parenthood and childlessness. Women making this choice encounter a good deal of negative and often hostile social pressure from family, friends, and professionals. Their stories reminding us that increased gender options are centered around an important contradiction in women's (and men's to a lesser degree)developmental psychology.
The hidden history of childlessness also reminds us that across cultures and throughout hisory childless women have played a significant role in family functioning, a role that continues today. The role of the `social parent' appears to be an implicit legacy of childlessness. Whether they have been famous (Jane Addams) or not, they have contributed in a myriad of ways to the functioning of families. Indeed, it seems reasonable to state that they have often served as the invisible glue in family functioning, whether the family in question was their own or someone else's.
The way we choose to recogonize these women, also exposes further distortions in our thinking about women and families which may be important at this time in history. Femaleness and motherhood have yet to be disentangled in much of our thinking and yet global and local social problems are intimately linked, at least in part, to reproductive decision making and the quality of children's lives.
Laurie Lisle's book places in full focus a domain that is most often pushed to the side and dismissed as unimportant. The story she tells through the vehicle of her own life demonstrates the value of this work not simply to the childless themselves but to a broad audience, including experts concerned with pressing issues of our time.
While people who are childless, or who are contemplating not having children might find this book useful, I would not recommend it for those who know they are childfree.
Because of the extremely academic style employed by Lisle, this book will not appeal to all. Still, it is thought provoking and really points out all the reasons why it is almost impossible to choose to be childless without regrets. Understanding the source and reasons for all of the pressure does help, however.
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Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) 273 pages
The author's personal struggles...Read more