My So-Called Selfish Life: The New Documentary Celebrating Women Who Choose To Be Child-Free
As the camera pans over a group of mothers parking their prams outside a nursery, we hear the voice of Therese Shechter. “Motherhood is an institution so deeply ingrained in our society that we take it for granted, as part of the natural order of life. It’s our biological destiny. The culmination of our female journey. From the time we’re little, it is expected that we will all have children. And that we’re selfish if we don’t.”
We soon learn that Shechter is from another school of thought. She is the director of My So-Called Selfish Life, a newly released documentary about a woman’s choice to be child-free. At a time when the future of reproductive rights in America is under attack, it feels timelier than ever.
For Shechter, who began working on the project in 2015, the still-taboo subject of women who don’t want children is a personal one. “I have known my whole life that I don’t want children, and it was something I had a lot of trouble talking about because of the stigma around it,” she says when I interview her. At the core of the film is one question: what happens if we say no to the notion that becoming a mother is the only and/or correct way to be a woman? “I wanted to explore that stigma,” explains Shechter, “and challenge the assumption that motherhood is a biological imperative.”
To do so, Shechter takes us from the beginnings of the child-free movement in the 1970s to the concept of pronatalism (the practice of encouraging the bearing of children) and the growing fetishisation of motherhood. Along the way, the film sheds light on the disturbing practices of eugenics that have long affected women of colour in the States and the challenges facing the fight for reproductive justice. There’s also some serious debunking: the idea of the ‘biological clock’ as a baby alarm? It was coined not by a scientist but by a male journalist, Richard Cohen, in a Washington Post article in 1978.
“Women have always tried to control their bodies and fertility, but so have institutions and the media,” Shechter says. “Despite all the progress we’ve made over the past century, we’re still dealing with this idea that we are essentially walking uteruses, not to be trusted with our own feelings on the subject. To me, it was important to examine that, and give people some tools and space to try to look at our culture from the outside and rethink what they have been taught.”
Using a historical lens and first-hand accounts, while deftly weaving in clever animations and pop-culture references, My So-Called Selfish Life paints a loving, joyful message about choice and the power that comes from taking control of your own life – societal expectations be damned.
“Whether you want kids – and can’t have them – or just don’t want kids, moving through the world as a woman without children is difficult,” Shechter says. “The film hopes to change that script.”
My So-Called Selfish Life is available for group and educational screenings via the film’s website
Marianna Cerini is a freelance journalist writing about cultural trends, travel, fashion and the arts and has been published in Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph, Time Out Beijing, Forbes and Vogue Italia