Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness

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Without Child brings scope and depth to a subject that has long been misunderstood. Weaving rich materials from history, literature, religion, and sociology with Laurie Lisle's own and other personal stories, this groundbreaking book does personal stories, this groundbreaking book does what no other has done before - presents childlessness in a multifaceted and positive light. Most women grow up thinking they will become mothers. And many do follow that path. But for those women who are willingly or unwillingly ...
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Overview

Without Child brings scope and depth to a subject that has long been misunderstood. Weaving rich materials from history, literature, religion, and sociology with Laurie Lisle's own and other personal stories, this groundbreaking book does personal stories, this groundbreaking book does what no other has done before - presents childlessness in a multifaceted and positive light. Most women grow up thinking they will become mothers. And many do follow that path. But for those women who are willingly or unwillingly without children, childlessness is a way of life that many of them must constantly defend. Without Child explores the facts and fallacies behind childlessness, what it means for women and society, and reminds us of how women can and do embrace this choice. Lisle contends that childless women are part of an ancient and respectable cultural tradition that includes biblical matriarchs, celibate saints, and nineteenth-century social reformers. However, like other aspects of women's history, this tradition has been forgotten and, in the process, maligned. Without Child brings childless women out of obscurity and places them back in women's history. Without Child also challenges the stigma of childlessness by offering childless women the life-affirming story of themselves. Beginning with the difficult inner journey a woman faces before finally deciding or realizing she will not bear children, Without Child explores the myth of the childless woman's rejection of the maternal instinct. It also explores the childless woman's relationship to mothers and mothering, to her femininity, to men, to achievement, to her body, and to old age.

In an extraordinary, unprecedented work, Lisle, herself childless by choice, looks to history, mythology, and religion to show that childless women are indeed part of a historical continuum. She explores the facts and fallacies behind childlessness and reminds us of how today's women can and do embrace their choice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ``rejection of parenthood,'' as the author of this carefully researched study found, ``is a delicate and even dangerous topic.'' Lisle (Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe) speaks for herself and the generation of women who came of age in the 1970s who are childless for a variety of reasons, but often by choice. Intertwining the account of her own tortured decision to choose childlessness and the views and experiences of women past and present, Lisle pierces some of the myths and stereotypes that surround non-mothers. She reveals a long and laudable history of women without progeny, and indicates that there has been ambivalence in mothers and non-mothers alike about their roles. As an advocate for a misunderstood minority, she points to the many ways a woman's childlessness, often perceived as selfish, can promote and nurture life-enhancing relationships. Author tour. (Mar.)
Booknews
Gives voice to the silent issue of childlessness and a way of life that is often misunderstood and stigmatized in our society. The childfree author intertwines her personal story of an American girl who grew up groomed to be a stay-at-home mother with historical research that shows childless women as part of a cultural tradition that includes biblical figures, celibate saints, and 19th-century social reformers. The author has written two biographies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Heavily weighted to history, a defense of women who, by choice or by chance, are not mothers.

Author Lisle (Louise Nevelson: A Passionate Life, 1990, etc.), now in her 50s, chose not to have children—she is, to use one of her favorite terms, a nullipara (the medical term for a woman without a child)—and found the decision subject to attack from within and without. "To this day, women without children . . . share a common stigma," she quotes one expert as saying, and Lisle goes on to note that such women are often portrayed as "damaged or deviant" or "just not nice enough." Lisle rallies the nulliparous troops by foraging through history for childless, though not always virgin, role models. Among them are the Hellenic goddesses Artemis and Athena, Queen Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, and Louisa May Alcott. Closer to home are what used to be called maiden aunts, energetic examples of "social mothers" who worked in orphanages and poorhouses or served as caretakers (and inspirations) for their nieces and nephews. Lisle explores the cycles of society's views of motherhood as well as more intimate issues like "fantasy children" and the still powerful link of sexuality to procreation. She examines the difficulties and rewards of living with men when bearing children is not a goal of the relationship and tries for a balanced view of how children can stimulate or thwart individual and artistic development. Because becoming a parent is so often equated with maturity, Lisle notes wryly, "those of us without children sometimes wonder if we are really grown-ups," but she avoids attacking women who do decide to have children. Personal anecdotes and interviews are woven into the historical research.

For women who make choices other than having children, some comfort and copious intellectual support, but despite Lisle's own emotional investment, surprisingly without ardor.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345373274
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/12/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction
1 Finding the Words, Discovering my Way 3
2 Examining the Choice, Why it Arises 33
3 Searching History, Remembering our Maiden Aunts 59
4 Understanding our Mothers, Enlarging Motherhood 86
5 Dreaming about a Child, Loving Childlikeness 115
6 Living with Men, Improvising the Way 140
7 Recognizing Our Womanhood, Redefining Femininity 167
8 Possessing Ourselves, Doing Our Work 195
9 Looking Ahead, Celebrating Our Lives 223
Notes 246
Index 267
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