Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

"Them and Us": The Experience of Social Exclusion among Women without Children in Their Post-Reproductive Years

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

"Them and Us": The Experience of Social Exclusion among Women without Children in Their Post-Reproductive Years

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Women's reproduction is both a private and public performance. Traditional gender roles and life scripts situate all women as mothers, whereby womanhood is synonymous with motherhood (Arendall, 2000; Dever, 2005; Gillespie, 2000; Graham & Rich, 2014; Graham & Rich, 2012; Hird & Abshoff, 2000; McQuillan et al., 2012). These traditional gender roles and life scripts are created and reinforced by dominant pronatalist ideologies. Pronatalism encourages procreation and expects that all women want to, can, and will be mothers (Dever, 2005; Gotlib, 2016; Heard, 2006; Heitlinger, 1991). In pronatalist societies such as Australia, motherhood is constructed as natural (Shapiro, 2014) and a requirement for feminine identity (Gillespie, 2000; Hird & Abshoff, 2000).

Pronatalist ideologies position childbearing as women's inevitable, desirable and appropriate life-outcome, and penalise and stigmatise non-motherhood. In Australia, pronatalist policies and political and media discourses and rhetoric (Ainsworth & Cutcher, 2008; Bown, Sumsion, & Press, 2011; Dever, 2005; Dever, & Curtin, 2007; Heard, 2006; Sawer, 2013) can affect the everyday experiences of women who do not conform to pronatalism, some of whom feel alienated and socially excluded (Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016a). Social exclusion is a dynamic process driven by unequal power relationships, which can result in exclusion from, or poor quality, resources and participation across the domains of life (Taket et al., 2009) including economic, civic, service, and social. Because societally hegemonic ideologies and discourses (such as gender and pronatalism) can result in exclusion of individuals based on "deviant" personal characteristics (Taket et al., 2009: 16), women's reproductive choices and circumstances can be pathways to, and outcomes of, social exclusion. In particular, pervasive pronatalist ideologies render women without children as "other" (Letherby, 1999). Accordingly, such women can be involuntarily (Burchardt, Le Grand, & Piachaud, 1999) excluded. It is also possible some women without children voluntarily accept exclusion by others, or voluntarily exclude themselves. However, some have argued that choices to accept exclusion or self-exclude from a society which stigmatises and penalises "deviance," in essence constitute social exclusion (Taket et al., 2009).

Social exclusion is associated with poor physical and mental health, increased disability, morbidity and premature mortality (Berkman et al., 2000; Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2003; CSDH, 2008; Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003). Previous research has also demonstrated women without children can experience poorer health and wellbeing than women with children (Chou & Chi, 2004; Graham, 2015; Graham et al., 2011; Grundy & Øystein, 2010; Grundy & Tomassini, 2005; Koropeckyj-Cox, 1998; 2002; McMunn, Bartley, & Kuh, 2006; Tamakoshi et al., 2010; Weir, Day, & Ali, 2007; Wu & Hart, 2002), which may be a consequence of being "othered" in society. People (such as women without children) who do not meet socio-cultural norms and are therefore, perceived as deviant, are the most at risk of being stigmatised, marginalised and socially excluded (Major & O'Brien, 2005).

Regardless of Australia's prevailing pronatalist ideologies and the corresponding risk of social exclusion, the number of women without children has grown in recent decades. Australian census data from 2016 indicates 30% of all women aged 15 years and over do not have children (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Thirty-five per cent of women aged 25 to 44, the peak childbearing years, do not have children, increasing from 31% in 2011 and 28% in 2006. Of women aged 45 to 65 years, 13% do not have any children, increasing from 11.8% in 2011 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012; 2017). Furthermore, couples without children are predicted to outnumber couples with children as early as 2023 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). …

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