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On Zooey Deschanel and Whether Women Want Babies

Zooey Deschanel, why does everyone ask women if they want to have a baby?, biological clock, feminism, does Zooey Deschanel a baby?

In the August issue of InStyle, Zooey Deschanel shares her “fiery feminist” side in the cover story. When asked whether she wants kids, she replied defiantly:

“Like every woman is dying to give birth! I don’t think so. Nobody asks guys that… And you go into a supermarket and every tabloid is like, ‘Pregnant and Alone!’ Stuck in the 1950s ideal of how a woman should live her life. This brings out the fiery feminist in me.”

I had to laugh—it seems very likely that people ask women, and not men, about giving birth because fiery feminism in America has made the birth issue 100 percent up to women. I can’t imagine Deschanel would want a man to be able to answer such a question, that is, to be the decider of when a woman gives birth.

That aside, I do think Deschanel has a point. Yes, it’s annoying that the world seems to worry about women’s private lives and men’s not so much. I get that. And further, just asking about the desire for future kids is a highly personal question—the kind of question that’s loaded with sensitive sub-questions like “What’s going on with your relationships?” and “Why aren’t you settled down?” and dozens of other hard-to-answer questions for anyone. And yes, no one seems to care as much when famous men aren’t settling down. There is an inequality here.

I suspect, though, that this stems in part from a biological difference. If we’re asking about kids and family, the question means something different for men than for women. Men can have kids pretty much forever; I doubt anyone asked David Letterman if he was planning to have kids, and then he has a child in his fifties. Women, on the other hand, have a limited time frame of when they can have kids naturally (and frankly, even with assisted reproductive technology, it is often not a walk in the park).

That doesn’t, however, make it appropriate to ask. If anything, it makes it completely inappropriate, regardless of whether she wants to have kids. Even if she does, she probably doesn’t need to be reminded of her biological clock.

Still, I bristled a little at Deschanel’s phrasing, “like every woman is dying to give birth.” Something about it rings critical of women who choose to give birth. You have kids under 35? You must be trapped in the 1950s ideal of womanhood—that is lame and anti-modern and not cool like Zooey Deschanel. To me, it’s one of those ugly self-proclaimed feminist comments that in standing up for some women simultaneously takes a swipe at others.

As it happens, I just gave birth to my second child a few weeks ago. Would it be fair to say I was dying to give birth? Heck no. But I have two beautiful children because I value family, and my husband and I are open to welcoming additional kids should they come along. In no way was this something I did to meet some 1950s ideal of a woman’s place or to fulfill some personal desire I had for children as possessions. In reality, it’s much bigger than me.

In fact, all this makes me wonder: Who, really, is dying to give birth? When women surveyed say they want kids some day I don’t think they mean they’re dying to fulfill patriarchal expectations of being a complete woman; I think they mean they’d like to have a family—to partake in the age-old circle of life, if you will. Just as Deschanel chooses not to have kids, many women choose to do so.

And it just so happens that it’s easiest on a woman’s body to have kids before 35. Does that mean Mother Nature is anti-feminist and stuck in 1950s?

Okay, okay, I probably shouldn’t be taking all this out on Deschanel. All she did was make a quick comment that she doesn’t want kids. And, hey, that’s fine! But just don’t criticize those women who do.

By: Mary Rose Somarriba

Mary Rose is the Executive Editor and Culture Editor for Verily Magazine with years of experience in magazine publishing. She has written articles and organized events on women’s issues for several publications and organizations. Among her favorite things in life are Latin dancing, karaoke, and a Basil Hayden manhattan on the rocks.

13 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I didn’t take the comment as a blow to women who do want to have kids. I’m having a hard time making that leap—but that’s beside the point I guess?

    I want to point out that actually lots of people ask my husband about whether or not he wants kids. The sad thing is that when he says ‘no’, they ask if I’m board with it, skeptically, and when he says ‘yes, she is’, they get even MORE skeptical and tell him he better watch out because I’ll change my mind eventually. It’s like it’s perfectly OK for him not to want kids, because like duh guys are totally not into the dad thing, as a rule (sarcasm), and yet it is cause for much skepticism that I, on the other hand, don’t want them. It’s like I’m in denial of my womanhood or something. 

    He has a great response, though, that he uses when I’m not around (though I did try to get him to just bop them one on the head for me, he wisely advised that would be a bad move):

    “Do you have/want kids? Yes? Oh, well, you’ll change your mind later.”

    Boom.

    • Carole Avery says:

      Your husband’s final response doesn’t apply. You wouldn’t understand… you don’t have kids

  2. She didn’t critize women who want to give birth. How are you getting that at all. It isn’t about anyone but herself, and society at large who is so eager to make a story of women and babies and pregnancy. She didn’t even mention being under 35 in the quotes you pulled. You sound defensive of your own life choices. 

    • Rani says:

      I agree with what Amber stated. At no point did Zooey mention other women. She just stated not everyone wants kids. She is discussing the greater theme that if someone doesn’t want kids she is then deemed inadequate by society. 

      Also where did the 35 age restriction come in? Was there more to the Zooey quote?

  3. Sophia says:

    At least she said she was a feminist. 

    • Renata says:

      Yes she did, but I think we really need to look closely at what “feminists” really stand for. I would like to say that I respect and stand up for women’s rights and dignity but I can’t now fit under the term “feminist” as it has a certain criteria that needs to be filled.

      • Sophia says:

        The definition of feminism is – the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. I agree with you in that there are strong opinions in the feminist movement – but I believe that to be a good thing. Like any movement (for example, the Civil Right’s movement) you’re going to have differing viewpoints, but ultimately I have found feminism to be a powerful and enlightening philosophy. At it’s core feminism is a discussion for equality and women’s rights. It’s a more powerful word than “humanism”, but I think it’s important for a word to have a little punch. 

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I had a very similar reaction to her comment…”To me, it’s one of those ugly self-proclaimed feminist comments that in standing up for some women simultaneously takes a swipe at others.” Yes. Thanks for standing up for all of us. :)

  5. Brianna says:

    I’m going to be 32 in less than a month. Do I want kids? Not especially. Do I worry that if I change my mind down the road, I’ll be too “old?” Yes. I’m in grad school. I want a career. I want to travel. I’ve been on my own (aka single) my whole life, with the exception of one year total over two relationships. Yes, I might have a baby by now if either of those relationships had survived, but they didn’t. I’m an independent, free-thinking human being and I choose what happens in my life. Does my BFF get an opinion? Yeah. Does my mom get a shot at giving advice? Every single time. But in the end, it’s my life.

  6. Mj Oaks says:

    This is a poorly edited piece, outdone only by the even more poorly reasoned argument of the Executive Editor! 

    Where does Ms. Deschandl’s quote end? I could assume. Then make grand leaps of ‘logic’ as done here, and stretches that attempt to make an the editors talking points relevant.

    Lastly any Editor, executive or otherwise, would know it’s a Basil Hayden Manhattan, or a manhattan made with Basil Hayden but not a Basil Hayden manhattan wether up or on the rocks. 

  7. Jenny says:

    Wow! Someone’s feeling a might touchy. And I don’t mean Zooey.

  8. Gabriela says:

    Whooaaa these commenters are a bit too harsh! I welcomed the perspective presented here and I don’t think at all it is villainizing Zooey. It just counteracts her argument that “men never get asked this”. Well of course not! Don’t we, as a society, want women to have the decision of when to get pregnant and start a family, not men? So of course men don’t get asked! We completely remove them from the decision!

  9. Jess says:

    Blah– I’m SO over this! The desire to have or not have little ones is often a deep matter of the heart. Let go of judging each other (and making overarching proclamations) , & allow each woman sort this out in her own time. 

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