My So-Called Selfish Life review – ‘childfree’ women beat at the gates of an old taboo

Therese Shechter’s film is about the difficult and still taboo subject of women who don’t want children (not now, not ever) and those who regret having had them, and must now persuade others and themselves that they are not therefore evil. She takes us from the beginnings of the “childfree” movement that became a part of the postwar feminist wave, an idea that foundered in the Reaganite 80s – and the extraordinary case of Marcia Drut-Davis who, in 1974, appeared on the US TV news show 60 Minutes to explain her reasons for not wanting children, and was the next day fired from her job as a teacher. Women who do not want children are under attack from the right for being selfish and woke – and women of colour who feel the same way are under attack from the left for supposedly playing along with the creepy racist and eugenicist tradition that wants to see the African-American population kept in check.

This film engages with those women who want to live their lives outside the tradition of partnership, homeownership and parenthood – although it could perhaps have shed more light on the idea that there is a specific moral or societally useful mode of living that childfree women can consciously put in place of traditional motherhood. And it could have spoken more clearly about those “regretting” mothers who still love their children but just do not embrace the mother relationship. How does that feeling break down in practice?

Then, of course, there is the question of what we think about men who never want children. There are plenty of men like this and their reluctance is smiled or shrugged at, rather than seen as something unnatural. At all events, this is an interesting and worthwhile essay.

My So-Called Selfish Life is on Show and Tell from 6 May.


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