Review – No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel

Title: No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood

Editor: Henriette Mantel

Star Rating: * *

Genre: Memoir/Women’s Issues

Cover - No Kidding

Synopsis

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood is a series of essays from women in the entertainment industry discussing their decisions not to have children. Some contributors are happy with this choice, while others are filled with regret. All of them have faced discrimination because of their childlessness and have had to come to terms with how their lives have been affected by this prejudice.

The Good

When I first spotted No Kidding in a store, I was absolutely delighted to see an addition to the very short list of books dealing with those who choose to remain childless. If you want to find books dealing with topics concerning motherhood, you can find mounds of them (whether they are varied and cover a sufficient number of perspectives is another story altogether), but those dealing with childless women are few and far in-between. No Kidding is an eye-catching volume with a bold cover that is stocked at big retailers like Chapters/Indigo, and hopefully this means that more people may be exposed to the concept of chosen non-parenthood.

The Bad

For a book filled with submissions from writers, I found that most of the essays were poorly composed. While some were constructed with a lot of thought and attention to grammar, others were quite obviously dashed off too close to the deadline to truly put any deep thought into the piece. It was difficult to slog through some of the repetitive or confusing entries, and I expected more from this collection than what seemed like haphazard ramblings at times.

An additional problem in No Kidding was that a lot of the authors made the same excuses for their choices. Not only was this repetitive, but I firmly believe that no one needs an excuse for this type of decision! There were not a lot of confident child-free women represented in this volume. Instead, many of the women talked about not actively having chosen to remain childless, but having it happen to them because they got caught up in other things. While this occurs to many women, it was not what I expected from a book dealing with “bypassing” parenthood which seems like a more active choice to me. Further, several of the women didn’t bypass parenthood at all as they were a parent to step-children or other individuals in their lives. Sure, they have never given birth, but it’s still parenting even if the parentee is not a blood relation.

The Ugly

No Kidding is shelved in the gender issues section of my bookstore, which is an exceptionally fraught place to look for books when one is a feminist/social justice advocate. The label “women’s issues” is very broad and messy, and you are often as likely to find an extremely problematic piece as you are to find a great example of feminist literature. This book was no exception. I should have been clued in by the fact that feminism didn’t appear in any of the descriptions of the book, but I was hoping that the word was being avoided in order to draw in a larger audience (which says a lot of terrible things about what people think of feminism and how the concept gets branded by non-feminists, but that’s a rant for my other blog). Also, it’s not necessarily bad to put together a book about gendered experiences without using the feminist label since there are so many women who reject the term for very legitimate reasons. However, this was not a book written by people altogether too concerned with social progressiveness. For example, it is understandable that those wanting to opt out of parenthood may view motherhood with a less than positive view, but it’s not very appropriate to take out these frustrations on mothers and children. Despite the fact that motherhood is an expected part of womanhood, it is still a position that is often denigrated, and helping to further gender oppression doesn’t help dismantle the discrimination and prejudice faced by childfree individuals. So while the book may speak to some, for those who take a critical, anti-oppressive approach to life, this may not be the right collection for you.

I mentioned above that many of the essays felt the same, and this may largely have to do with the selection of authors chosen to submit to No Kidding. As far as I could tell, the majority of the entries were written by cis-women from the middle to upper-middle class. For the most part, racialised women, poorer women, queer women, disabled women, and trans women/men were largely unrepresented (though not entirely unrepresented! I did appreciate the essay by a woman with multiple sclerosis as I live with this chronic illness as well). The essays were similar because the experiences were similar. I would have been much more intrigued by a volume filled with different perspectives instead of over 200 pages of very similar introspection.

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to enjoy No Kidding, but I struggled to even finish it. The book is not particularly well-written, the essays didn’t make me laugh very often, and I finished it feeling a bit annoyed that I had spent money on the collection. Not to say that there isn’t an audience desperately looking for No Kidding, but it’s not nearly as broad as the book’s back description implies. After all, the authors from this series are largely homogeneous, and I didn’t see my feelings reflected in almost any of the essays. I am glad that the book was published because very few people get to talk honestly about not wanting their own children, but this isn’t a particularly progressive or challenging work, and it’s not going to speak to a lot of people who are opting out of childbearing/rearing.

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