NAYA| The pressure to reproduce: Autonomy and representation

On average, 56 percent of child-free women aged 30-45 feel that they are wrongfully represented in all types of media.
by Hala Mezher and Danah Kaouri

13 July 2019 | 15:59

Source: by Annahar

(AP Photo)

BEIRUT: Motherhood is often the first role culturally attributed to women, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian, told Annahar.

People are having less children than they were fifty years ago, and more women are choosing to remain child-free. There is a significant drop in fertility rates across the world according to the 2017 World Bank statistics.

Although the choice of having children or not is personal, couples’ decision not to give birth is almost always met with backlash and criticism, which can be the result of different forms of social pressure.

“It is expected of women to be mothers. Women’s roles are very much confined to reproduction in our societies,” Khasholian told Annahar, explaining that although both women and men face this pressure, women are disproportionately affected and are often expected to assume the role of the primary caregiver.

One way this is reinforced is through the media.

On average, 56 percent of child-free women aged 30-45 feel that they are wrongfully represented in all types of media, according to a study by the advertising agency Hill Holiday.

The findings are based on responses from 1,217 individuals living in the United States, with quantitative surveys and qualitative focus groups as the main research strategies.

Khasholian highlighted that Lebanese media tends to show motherhood as the only viable choice for women, and there is a lack of representation for women who choose otherwise.

“Motherhood is presented as very important. I’m not undermining motherhood, however that also stigmatizes women who aren’t mothers,” she explained. “Those who don’t want to be mothers would feel excluded because they are not part of the mainstream media.”

Through this representation, young girls are directly or subtly pressured into motherhood throughout their lives.

“I believe that the majority of our society still has trouble understanding that women have the choice of not wanting children,” said Zeina Mitri, a media and communications graduate.

“It’s always been presumed that a woman’s end goal is to have a family,” Mitri noted. “We are still unable to carry an open conversation about women who choose a different path.”

Khasholian explained that women are affected differently by the pressure to reproduce.

“When these expectations are not met, it’s viewed as a failure to start a family and not as a choice,” she said.

In her book “On Freedom,” Tory Shepherd addressed the backlash that women receive for their decision not to give birth: from having to hear intrusive comments such as “you’ll change your mind,” to being labelled “selfish,” and stereotyped as lonely and unsatisfied.

She further explained that these reactions are associated with the perception that women’s lives are only considered valuable if they have children.

“The idea that our lives are only valid if we have kids becomes instilled in young women and pressures them into fulfilling the role that society has moulded for them,” said Marie Nour Nakhle, president of the Feminist club at the University of Balamand.

Nakhle explained that she does not see herself having children in the future, which is something she is honest and open about. She added that only a few people support her decision.

“The main thing I hear from people is that I’m too young to know what I want and that someday I will reach a point where I would feel empty without a family,” expressed Nakhle.

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Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations. Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.farhat@annahar.com.lb

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