The ‘Sex And The City’ Stereotype: Why Successful Childless Women Have To Fight The Hardest

Miranda: We were the only single people.

Carrie: We’re the only single people anywhere.

Miranda: You didn’t see all those “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone” looks?

Carrie: No, didn’t see them.

Miranda: Society views single people our age as sad and pathetic. I don’t need that, so I go on the offensive and make them laugh.

Carrie: OK, Shecky. Sometimes I think couples look at us and wish they had our lives.

Miranda: No. We make them uncomfortable and they don’t know what to say.

A study that came out this week finding that the image of the “selfish” woman who only wants to focus on her job and therefore looks at the idea of settling down and having children as an automatic career derailment, is false. As Meghan Casserly of Forbes wrote the stereotype of the “selfish, single, Sex & The City-style women was knocked on its head” by these findings, which is why I chose the quote from above. It turns out women who have successful careers aren’t actually choosing their careers over children but may not be having children for a number of reasons, one of which is they haven’t found a suitable partner for this task. There are also other factors like job security and money impacting these women. This blows away the assumption that it’s a voluntary thing for women, that they can choose when and how many children they have,” said study author Dr. Sara Holton. It’s like they want to have some of nest before giving birth to another human. Weird, right? [tagbox tag= "working moms"]

There does very much to be a stereotype though of the successful, career woman who doesn’t want children because she sees them as possibly making a negative impact or even looking at them as “career killers.” We talked to a few women about fighting against these stereotypes:

Angela Betancourt, a 29 year old, PR Executive said:

“Unfortunately, yes I think there are people that think that of me and of my girlfriends. We are all in our late 20′s -early 30′s trying to build a career for ourselves. A combination of not finding the right person, work and life ambitions, have kept us child-free. But its not because we don’t want it. I think for a lot of women the timing is just not right. Thank goodness for advances in medicine women can have children safely into their late 30′s if not longer.”

Holly Wolf, Chief Marketing Officer for Conestoga Bank, said:

“During my career, people have asked “Do you have children?” I don’t. I try to make that uncomfortable pause more bearable by saying “Do you? And then asking about their children.” The unspoken sentence is “Is that by choice or couldn’t you have kids.” I don’t usually get asked the question but I know it’s on everybody’s mind.

Since we don’t have children, people assume that I am driven and self-centered. I am driven. My career has always been important to me and I doubt that would have changed with children. And because we are childless, we were able to travel-a luxury many parents don’t have. Or my time is more my own than a busy mom-but that doesn’t make me self-centered.

If I say something like “Wow, you really are blessed with three beautiful children” people immediately assume that we may not be able to conceive and they start sharing the horror stories of being a parent-dirty diapers, sleepless nights, terrible twos, defiant teenagers, driving adventures, dating and expensive college tuition. They feel the need to make parenting sound less interesting-and I find that especially sad. I truly feel they are lucky to have the children that they do. Just like they are lucky to have every opportunity that they do-just like I’m lucky to have all the opportunities I have. I would NEVER apologize for that. I try to point out that they’ll get to see first steps, sports, prom or a wedding-they are truly wonderful events.

Seriously, I don’t know why it’s a big deal or an uncomfortable situation. If I asked you if you had a dog and you said “no”, I wouldn’t assume anything other than a dog is not something that fits into your lifestyle-not that you couldn’t afford one, or that you didn’t know how to get one, or that you were too self-centered to share your life with a pet. It’s your choice and I respect that. No further questions required.”

Colleen Lloyd-Roberts of Lloyd-Roberts & McCartney, Inc., said:

“I think that people see childless women as greedy and money hungry with mixed up priorities. However, it doesn’t mean we’re cold and heartless, we’ve just found a lot more people to love – our customers, clients and employees. Now that’s quite the extended family to grow, love and be responsible for… all while building a profit! And… as someone who does wish to have children, how blessed and lucky am I to be able to enjoy motherhood without the pressures of having to worry about money. I will be able to be a stay at home mom if I wish and be involved in my children’s lives without having to worry about day care or juggling kids and career. Additionally, if I choose to travel I will have the means to bring along a nanny, and how very cool that I can show my kids the Egyptian pyramids instead of them merely just reading about them.”

Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t women out there who don’t want children and they do fear it could do something to their careers. In September The Daily Mail commissioned a study to coincide with the release of the film I Don’t Know How She Does It, there was found to be a whole generation of women who “don’t know why she does it” instead of “how she does it.” The survey found that 44% of childless women feel sorry for working mothers trying to balance everything. A quarter think working mothers always look exhausted and one in five say it looks so difficult it makes them think twice about having children. Half of childless women over 30 look at stay-at-home mothers and think it will be difficult for them to get back on the career ladder and a fifth believe they’ve lost their identity. Meanwhile 26% admit they are fearful of the effect motherhood would have on their career. But the study did use younger women and in the survey they never said they hated children. They were more afraid of what children could do to their career.

From Amanda Haddaway:

“A job doesn’t keep someone from having kids. It may be an excuse or a crutch, but there are plenty of successful businesswomen who make it work. I think the greater issue is that society “expects” women to have kids — whether they have a demanding job or not. If a woman “chooses” to not have children for whatever reason, she is made to feel as inferior in some way. It’s a choice, people — an accident for some — and “not” a responsibility of all women of a certain age to bear children. This isn’t 1700, it’s 2011. Choosing a career over children, children over career, a family of just husband and wife, being single, whatever are ALL acceptable choices. Do what works for you and
don’t give in to what society thinks you should do.”

It is unfortunate that women are criticized when they do decide to quit working and raise their family and are criticized when they do the opposite or just chose not to have children at all. But to stereotype those who don’t have children and happen to be successful in their careers as unnurturing, selfish women is wrong. After all, it was Miranda on Sex & the City, the character most focused on getting ahead in her career, that became a wonderful mother.

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    • Avodah

      I don’t understand how the selfish stereotype started, other than mommies trying to justify their own life choices. Many single and./or childfree women are professors, doctors, engineers, accountants, teachers, nurses, social workers, etc who help make crucial advances for our society. I cannot comprehend what is selfish about making a meaningful contribution through working that, in turn, makes the world a better place for somebody else’s children.