April 15, 2006

Purple Men

First, an overdue apology. I’ve had an attack of blogger’s conscience. In creating this space, this opportunity to join in an online community of childfree women, I have intentionally excluded two groups: people with kids (yes, that includes step-parents with responsibility for step-kids), and more gender specifically, men. My apologies to the Purple Men™ out there. What pains me even more is that I may be inadvertently digging a deeper hold for childfree women in my need to give us a new label, when I am really trying to build a bridge between us and families that include parents (that’s everybody else folks). Why is adult childfree status so often colored as a women’s issue?

Perhaps it is because even in our modern day families, blended or not, men are technically childfree, given the amount of child-rearing duties that fall to the women in these scenarios. “He said he would help change the diapers”, but did it really work out that way? It goes the same for household chores, in most cases. Here I have to say I have had personal affiliation with an exception. My first husband was the best house-keeper a woman could every marry. (He used to call me “piglet” – and I am really not that bad.) I may have to read more Naomi Wolf to really understand this gender discrepancy issue. Can you say double-standard?

Or perhaps it’s because women bear the impending child for 9 months (I will side-step the issue of when it becomes a child – that’s another blog), and physically brings forth a new person into this world? I just love the commercial that is currently airing where a young, we assume married, couple are eating a “dreamy” ice cream bar together, she being obviously well into her (or should I say their) pregnancy. The scene cuts to him in a day dream about I-don’t-remember-what, then we view her day dream about him on a hospital bed surrounded by doctors and a nurse. His legs are spread wide apart and he is bearing down with tremendous effort and pain trying to give birth to their child as he turns to his wife and yells accusingly, “You did this to me!” Funny, ha, ha. I bet we’d have a lot more openly childfree men if the tables were turned for real.

The first category of visibly, out-in-the-open, childfree men that comes to mind are men of faith – er, the leadership class of them that is. Men of the cloth, until recently, have been held in high esteem for their sacrifice and devotions, as demonstrated in their supposed celibacy. I will go out on a limb here to say that I think suppressing a natural human urge has created some very unnatural and damaging consequences for the very people they are supposed to be nurturing. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if we approached the concept of sexuality and family in a more open and accepting manner? Why should one person’s definition of family be right for everyone? Why should celibacy be forced upon the leaders of the faithful? It seems to me they could counsel more wisely if they actually walked in the shoes of their followers. But who am I to say? I am merely an interested observer.

Another stereotype of a childfree man is the perpetual bachelor. Think of the playboys of the world, or of their Hollywood counterparts. Think of the character played by Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 remake of the 1968 classic The Thomas Crown Affair. (Can I just say here that I love this movie, and that both lead characters are Purple!) I was minding my own business in a brew pub after work one evening when I struck up a conversation with a man who introduced himself as “a player of sorts”. I gathered from our ensuing conversation that he had more than one woman on the side, who did not necessarily know about each other. He had worked hard and made his mark in high tech and now he was just coasting, working hard on his tennis game and courting interesting women. (No, I am not among them.) The burning question I was too polite to ask was whether or not he had first abandoned a family and children to pursue this bachelor lifestyle, or if he was wise enough to skip all that heartache to choose a childfree lifestyle in the first place? In my heart, I really want to believe the latter. Maybe my next survey will be for Purple Men™.

On that note, I must point out a small change to the Purple Women™ blog template that I made a few weeks ago. Did anybody notice? At the top, the blog description clearly defines a Purple Woman and now it invites “perfect strangers (of either gender and any persuation)” to blog about a childfree lifestyle. To be really proper, I should probably change the blog title to “Purple and Lovin’ It!” like the book title recently reviewed here. Nah.

P.S. Blogging from the road here. Visiting my Mum and step-Dad in Michigan for Easter weekend.


NikkiJ said...

Why is adult childfree status so often colo"red as a women’s issue?"
Because, compared to men, women come under the most pressure to have children, because even though it takes two to make a child, women still bear the chid and bear roughly 90% of the childrearing duties. There are always exceptions to this rule of course, and there are many men who want to remain childfree but in the main women are the ones in the spotlight. Incidentally several of my men friends complain that they find it very difficult to meet women who DON'T want to have children... all the ones they do meet have definite children objectives in the relationship.

NikkiJ said...

"The first category of visibly, out-in-the-open, childfree men that comes to mind are men of faith – er, the leadership class of them that is. Men of the cloth, until recently, have been held in high esteem for their sacrifice and devotions, as demonstrated in their supposed celibacy. I will go out on a limb here to say that I think suppressing a natural human urge has created some very unnatural and damaging consequences for the very people they are supposed to be nurturing."

Not all "men of the cloth" have cleibacy as one of their tenets for priesthood, in fact it is within the Catholic faith that priests agree to be celibate as part of being a priest. When you undertake to become a priest you have agreed to make this sacrifice. So, once you've agreed to it, if you feel you can't live with it, the best thing is to stop being a priest - and not do the unfortunate things that have hurt and disillusioned many.

So I wouldn't say it is forced on the leaders, since they are well aware of what they are signing up to. They can always say no. It's the same for women - nuns (since they don't have women priests). Clergy in the Prostestant,Anglican, Presbretarian and many other other churches/faith can and do have children.

NikkiJ said...

It would be really good to have the views of childfree men in the mix. I would guess that a man seeing "Purple Women" they might think this was a women-only blog - and as it stands, they'd be right. Even in books, the voice of men is found in the middle/end of most. But I would say where you have a a childfree women, you are more than likely to find a childfree man, the husbands, the partners of the childfree women. They also get the questions, the raised eyebrows, the assumptions made by others about their choices when the "baby/children" chat comes up. Maybe they don't get quite the same pressure as their women do, but they do get it if they have made the decision not to have children. And at the moment, it seems they are also in the minority. In many corporations, for example, if a man doesn't have a wife and a couple of kids chances of him climbing to a top post in the company are slim.
My view - it can only help us if we have the voices and support of childfree men too - at the very least it would seem less like a women only issue.

Anonymous said...

NikkiJ - You GO girl! Don't even get me started on Catholisism, but thanks for clarifying. As I said I was out on a limb. My religious education ended after my parents took me out of private Christian and Catholic school in grade 6. No more Psalms to memorize. Still I am grateful for the exposure.

You bring up an excellent point about how the men advancing their careers are under pressure to have the right car, wife, number of children. I remember a business professor really went off lecture one day in telling his story about how his father seriously counceled him out of buying the flashy Porsche he wanted and get something a little more appropriate to his chosen profession at the time (laywer I think).

Let's figure out a way to include men's voices here -- a little team brainstorming outside the blogosphere. I'll shoot an email around, see what comes of it. At the very least we could send a link to this blogpost to our PM friends.

ChrisR said...

Teri, I think the best explanation is Susan Maushart's - when women get married, they don't get a wife.

As for the Catholic church, the original reason for celibate clergy was pretty prosaic - medieval priests were giving Church property to their kids and the Church was going broke!

Anyway, I'd be happy to have the boys around, but I do think women cop more of the flak on this issue

NikkiJ said...

Heres's a thought... I bet if this was a issue that affected men to the extent that it cramped their style, the situation would be very different. I would go as far as to say there would have been more change or at least more action, rather than simply talking about it - why? because, somehow, the men would have made sure of it. And they would have supported each other. There'd have been some law passed or something, so that they didn't come off worse. Sometimes I feel that women as much as we talk about being the supportive ones, sometimes don't support other women enough in quite the same way that men do. Look at the argument going on between working women with children and those who decide to stay home... it's sometimes unbelievably vitriolic. As long as women get the lion's share of the flak for (nicely put, Chris!) it's going to be women who will have to be at the forefront of any change...

Tom Goodier said...

I am a childless man. Being a man I can't talk about my feelings about the issue, but I do have some ideas.
I know many people that do not have children, friends from when I was younger and cousins. I volunteer with an organization that does scientific research in the field. Most of the people there do not have kids. These intelligent people have many interests and things to do; who has time to raise a family?
I can trace one branch of my of my family tree back, generation to generation, to the year 682 AD. By not having children am I breaking a link? No, my two sisters and one cousin keep that line going.
My two grandfathers have only three male grand children. None of us have passed on their genes to children. Sorry Grandpas, your Y chromizones are going to disappear. Well, I must have some 2nd or 3rd cousins that will keep that gene alive.

NikkiJ said...

On getting the men's voices on the blog... I wouldn't hold my breath. At least according to my husband. His precise words when I mentioned having men's voices on the blog were "good luck with that..." So, I asked with interest, he didn't think men would be interested in blogging about childfreeness? No, he says. For one thing, no self respecting man (or at least those he knows) would want to be associated with "Purple". Might as well be "pink". (Sorry, but the way he said it just made me laugh!) And for another, he goes on, if a guy came to to the blog they'd take one look and feel they didn't belong anyway, because it comes across as a womnen's site. And third, when single guys get together and shoot the breeze, they don't talk about childfren or the lack thereof :) I can't say I'm really surprised at what he said. Even though it would be nice to have the boys' comments, that may be wishful thinking. I'm thinking of our childfree guy friends and I can't see them blogging about it either.

Some of my husband's comments about what men would say if asked a question about being childfree are very interesting though. If I can capture them I'll post them.

NikkiJ said...

More on what men might/might not say and why. in no particular order, from my husband (a happily childfree man, who thought about it a lot and never felt that he needed to have children and has several married and single guy friends. Enjoy (or not!) I had to laugh.

1. If a guy is asked a question about wanting children or being childfree they are unlikely to give a straight answer and are likely to question why he is being asked.

2. If there's a potential relationship with the woman, any of her friends or anyone she might even know, he is likely to question why he being asked the question. And unlikely to give a straight answer.

3.Putting a childfree question to a guy is often seen as a middle of the night question from his mate that goes thus: "Dear, if I were to die would you remarry?" To which there is no safe answer. Upon hearing this question, a man feels like he has been sleepwalking and suddenly finds himself standing in the middle of a minefield the size of Disney World, with no idea how he got there; and realisation that sudden death awaits no matter which direction he moves.

4.If no potential for a relationship iwth those outlined in(2) is apparent, if a guy is asked a "childfree question" the person asking MAY get a straight answer from him.

5. Men either don't believe women when they say they are/want to be childfree/don't want to have kids, or they believe they will change their minds.

6. For a guy there are many variables that must be taken into consideration and weighed before answering any childfree question. Some are listed above, but there are others. What these are depends on the situation.

7.On getting men's voices to the blog...We should be pleased and happy that we're getting women to contribute... and not get big eyes.

I'm having lunch with one of my guy friends next week. I'm looking forward to it;-)

AlphaGirl said...

I agree with you, Nikki. You made some great points. The CF guys I know see being CF as such an integral part of who they are that they see no need to further discuss it.
I belong to a track club, and you can bet that when the CF or single guys get together and shoot the breeze post-workout they don't discuss kids or lack thereof. Heck, even the guys WITH kids don't discuss them. The only exception is one guy who is a new father...he's a little over the top, so we avoid him if we can.

At least among the CF men I know the prevailing attitude is "This is a part of who I am...if you don't accept it, fine," whereas CF women tend to catch so much more flak.

The guys I know seem to have a better ability to just roll with it and see no need to gather, be it online or in person to discuss CF issues. Most guys I know wouldn't be caught dead blogging, let alone on a blog primarily aimed at women.

Anonymous said...

Tom - So goo of you to blog...and brave, though I noticed you have absolutely nothing in your Blogger Profile. I appreciate your taking the time to register so you can comment on this site.

You are the first childfree man to post here!

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This site is for women, but from time to time I think we should ask the men to weigh in.

NikkiJ - Please thank you dear husband for his humorous insight!

NikkiJ said...

Thanks Alphagirl! Similar to you, the CF guys I know really see no need to gather and discuss it or (dare I say it) blog about it. To them there are more interesting/important things to talk about. I think you hit the nail on the head with your point about the CF mens' attitude - as far as they are concerned it's part of who they are...and the interesting thing is that among themselves seem to be more accpting, unlike women who tend to discuss their kids ALL the time (if they have them) and give other women a hard time.

Teri - Yep - I already thanked him!

AlphaGirl said...

Hey NikkiJ..thanks for the feedback =)
I think a lot of guys have an instinctive understanding as to the disruption that kids will cause. At the same time, there's not this "us vs. them" mentality that can sometimes pop up between women with respect to parental status.
Guys seem to have this wonderful "live and let live" attitude...and the CF guys I hang out with are out there LIVING their childfreedom without a backward glance...I'm inspired! =)

Tony said...

Dear all,

Great site, it's very refreshing to actually be made to feel welcome on a CF site, because they are pretty much all aimed at women. Completely agree that this is due to the flak a lot of women get for being CF. I totally understand all your points regarding this, and do feel quite lucky to have never been pressured by friends and/or family to have kids.

As a CF man who is definitely going to remain CF, I think that most men don't get involved in the CF question as the vast majority of men simply don't think about it. I guess men all think that it will be ok either way, but I think that if many understood what kids involved, and what it can do to your relationship, they would get vasectomies right now.

If you are interested why I am CF, I would say that I want to fall in love with someone who wants me for me, not as a source of sperm and cash. I want my future wife to understand that I am with her for the person she is, not because she can breed, and that I would sacrifice everything for her for love and not because she brings up my kids. Maybe its a bit overly romantic, but I don't think that you could call it selfish!

Finally, I would certainly agree with the point that it is hard to find women who don't want to have children - dates can feel like a job interview for being a father. Believe me, it doesn't go down well if you say you never want the little brats!