December 2002

Jessa Crispin


The Childless Revolution by Madelyn Cain

Motherhood is the new divisive issue amongst feminists and women. While some argue that motherhood should be subsidized by the government, others believe raising children is the silliest notion imaginable. Those who choose motherhood and those who choose childlessness are on opposite sides. Once you've chosen, you are alien to the other group. They may think you foolish, that you just don't understand. The more you try to explain your position the more head shaking and sighing there will be.

Which is why I could tell Madelyn Cain's The Childless Revolution would be a mess by one simple sentence: "Cain lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter." She is a mother writing about "what it means to be childless today." Cain knows she should not be writing this book, and she attempts to justify it all throughout the introduction and the conclusion, and frequently in the body. She is certain she can relate because she had trouble conceiving, because she has childless friends, because she was not a mother until nearly 40. Yet on page six she writes, "The years between my twenties and when I finally had my child were permeated with an intense, unrelenting desire to mother." She has chosen her side while pretending to occupy middle ground.

Cain means to examine three types of childless women: the childless by choice, the childless by chance, and the childless by happenstance. "Choice" covers women who decided not to have children because they didn't want them, because of concerns about overpopulation, or for religious reasons. "Chance" dealt mainly with infertile women, and "Happenstance" included women whose jobs took priority over family, married men who already had children, and had bad childhoods that made them skittish about starting their own families.

The title would lead you to believe that the book would be primarily about women who choose childlessness, but that is not the case. In fact, the "childfree" as she calls them receive the least attention. It's obvious where Cain's sympathies lie with just a quick glimpse through the book. "Chance" is longer than "Choice" by about a third and even longer than that if you omit the women who chose not to be mothers because the cult they were in forbade it. Once you take into consideration that "Happenstance" is full of women who did not actively choose childlessness but now have regrets about missing their opportunity, this isn't really a book about being childless. This is a book about women who wanted children but didn't get them, which is exactly the person Madelyn Cain was for the first 38 years of her life.

Beyond the obvious prejudices, The Childless Revolution is a poorly written book. It is only 173 pages long, and that is including an Author's Note, acknowledgements, an introduction, and "Personally Speaking," her conclusion. In such a short amount of space, Cain claims to cover a wide berth of women who do not have children for myriad reasons, but of course she can't. Important issues are merely glossed over and points are barely made before moving on to another. Nothing is examined thoroughly and no conclusions are raised. It is clear by her indifference that this is not the book she wanted to write. She really just wanted to tell the story of her "childlessness" and subsequent motherhood. She inappropriately inserts her own experiences throughout the book, talking about her daughter in the chapter about infertility while still trying to convince the reader she is truly, deep down, childless in spirit. The "Personally Speaking" chapter is somewhat of a joke as she's been speaking personally the entire time. As for the women's stories she's supposed to be telling, she couldn't care less. Each woman is given one paragraph, her entire tale reduced to three or four sentences. One story runs into another with no transition, making it nearly impossible to tell one woman from the next. The only thing we know for sure at the end of this book is that Cain thinks motherhood is the greatest thing ever, even if she does envy the free time of the childfree.

Childlessness has been largely unexamined in today's culture in spite of a growing number of childfree women, men, and couples. There are many issues that deserve to be discussed - inequalities with housing, with taxes, and at the workplace - but we'll have to keep waiting for someone else to examine them. If Madelyn Cain truly believes she documented the "childless revolution," she's sadly mistaken. Hopefully whoever makes the next attempt won't be staring at the childless from the other side.

The Childless Revolution by Madelyn Cain
Perseus Publishing
ISBN: 0738204609
208 pages