“She was angry,” Burkett says now, via e-mail. “For the most part, [Friedan and other] women’s-movement leaders accepted as fact that women will be mothers . . . and all too many seem to react with hostility to any suggestion that we need to create a society in which women’s choices about parenting are fully respected and supported, as if even bringing up the issue constitutes a threat to their attempts to gain more benefits for mothers.”
This may have been a necessary strategy for feminists, says Elaine Tyler May, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the author of Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness. “I think because the feminist movement took such a beating for being ‘antifamily,’ feminist leaders strategically may not have been as vocal on that issue,” May says. “Childlessness is obviously a major piece of reproductive choice . . . [But] you don’t want to spend a lot of your political capital in ways that would harm your movement more broadly.”
Authors Scott, Fisher and May are all confident that society is turning a corner on childlessness. So are the other women I interviewed, almost all of whom said their parents and friends accepted their decision. Even the majority of Vincent Ciaccio’s friends were, if not fully supportive, at least tolerant of his decision. Ciaccio is a braver soul than I am—he had surgery to make it physically impossible for him to have a child. The vasectomy took place 10 years ago, when he was 23. (His family knew he was considering the procedure, then learned he had gone through with it when he appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael to discuss his decision, and Grandma happened to be watching and saw the caption under his head.) His reasoning: The procedure would be less invasive for him than a tubal ligation would be for his then-girlfriend (they’ve since married), and doctors tend to give men seeking sterilization less grief than they do women—a theory reinforced by the stories Ciaccio heard when he and his wife, a corporate lawyer, became spokes people for No Kidding!, an international social club that arranges get-togethers for childless people.
“For close to 10 years I spoke with people from all over the country and even the world,” Ciaccio says. “And I think in part the problem comes down to some doctors’ mindset of, ‘You say you don’t want kids now but, you know, you’re going to change your mind because all women want kids. So I’m not going to perform this procedure because I know you better than you know you.’ ”
Though his wife is still active in No Kidding!, Ciaccio bowed out in order to concentrate on his PhD thesis at Rutgers University. The topic: men who don’t want children, a group he feels has been underresearched.
Sandy Barker was enormously relieved when her partner’s parents gave them their blessing. “I had a nice sit-down with Ben’s mom,” she says. “I get emotional thinking about it. I mean, Ben is 10 years younger than I am. If she was dying to be a grandmother, she and I would’ve had a whole different conversation!” Barker’s father and stepmother (who is also childless, and a schoolteacher) support her lifestyle. Her mother is a little more disappointed not to be a grandmother, Barker says. Fortunately for everyone, Barker’s sister just got married, and “she’s very keen to have kids.”
The women who’ve made this choice are well aware of its advantages. Perri DeFino says she and her husband are “able to do a lot of things that our friends can’t because they’ve spent a lot of money on college for their kids. Traveling is the most obvious one. And, frankly, this house.” The couple is renovating a brownstone.