Thursday, May 16, 2013


UntitledIt's common knowledge that child-free adults, like a lot of other brands of adults, take a ration of shit about their choices. I feel that, aside from the occasional pointing out of facts, you don't much need to say anything about it. You know, unless you have a chance to speak in a national reading series or something. Today, though, I encountered an obstacle that bears pointing out.

I follow Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project and Happiness At Home, on Twitter. I've seen her speak once and I've read one of her books. If you're unfamiliar with Ms. Rubin's work it's about her search to make her life a happy one. She's a planner and she made a plan to try and increase her happiness quotient and used a blog, later a book, to track her results and offer the plan to others. While her own life, which includes a husband and children, is used in her examples she makes it clear in her writing that her principles are for everyone. We don't agree about everything but we're adults so that's to be expected. I like her vibe and I appreciate her writing and I like to know what's going on with her. After reading her book I would venture that she'd no more mean to exclude child-free readers based on her being a mother than she would exclude male readers because she's a woman.

When Rubin tweeted a request for people to fill out a survey this morning I clicked through to help her out. Turns out it was an opinion poll about a redesign of her website and possibly her next writing project. I am happy (see what I did there?) to help with that sort of thing to the extent I can. Some questions were required and some not. Down near the end of the survey, in the section where they capture demographics, I hit a snag. Usually a lot of these questions are optional but in this case they were all required, which makes sense if she's trying to gather potential marketing and PR information. I could fill out my age and my income but the next required question is about how many children I have. Here are my choices (and I'm allowed to tick all that apply):

  • I'm planning to have a child someday
  • I am pregnant
  • 5 more choices with age ranges of children
Do you see me there?

Me either. So now I can either not complete the survey and stay silent, complete the survey with the lie of my choice, or speak up. I tweeted to Ms. Rubin publicly that I was unable to help her because all of the answers on that question assumed a desire or plan for children. She got back to me shortly saying she'd just realized that and was working on the fix.

That's a perfectly reasonable response and I appreciate both her speed toward solution and the time she took to reply to me. I suspect she'd already heard from other folks. I don't want it to sound like I'm blaming her exactly, mistakes are mistake and that's cool. Anyone who has ever written anything even as small as a tweet knows that proofreading can be a bitch, even when you're good at it. There's one thing that continues to niggle at me.

No one noticed that might be a problem.

I don't know if Ms. Rubin wrote the survey herself or if she had help from a publishing or marketing professional but, as a writer and a collaborator, I feel certain that she had multiple pairs of eyes on this before she let it go live to a large audience and not even one of those people spoke up to say that they'd left out an option. In fact, the first response "I would like to have a child someday" is pretty clearly crafted to make sure that the question doesn't exclude families working with infertility and it's also technically valid for waiting families in the adoption process. Not having children, though?

There's that saying, "There's no such thing as bad press." Even if they're excoriating you they're thinking about you and that's going to boost your brand in some way. Look at all the blogs in the sphere that devote their time to making fun of TV shows. You can't skewer a show well unless you're watching it and if you're watching you're boosting their ratings. It turns out, though, that the child-free choice gets no press at all, not even a glimmer in the back of someone's mind that says, "This question feels funny." No matter how many times we politely clear our throats no one even turns to look.


  1. that question does feel funny, sorry you had to be the one to call her out on it but glad you did. they should have noticed. also sorry you take crap for your choice, you shouldn't have to. in my experience moms are one of the most insecure segments of the population, and that makes us tend to be more judgmental as a defense mechanism. not ok, and it needs to change. we do take crap for our choices too, as it's a rather public occupation. big subject :).

  2. Update: Rubin just tweeted to me that the problem is fixed. I took a look and the selections are the same but the question is no longer required for completion of the survey.

  3. Bethany, I think the insecurity is a huge issue and I think that the overall way we as a society treat motherhood is fucked up. It is simultaneously disrespected and unnaturally elevated, there's no wonder there's insecurity. Somewhere in the middle, a place where it's a valid and important choice but not....I don't know what the right word is, sacred or something, might benefit us all.

  4. Miflohny2:14 PM

    Wow, that's not a fix at all! A fix would have been making it optional (in case someone didn't want to give that info) AND adding an option that would have let you positively affirm not having children.

    It's crazy how some people can't see things from more than one perspective. Everyone has this problem sometimes, but with something like this, there should be enough people with eyes on the page that someone would offer another perspective.

    It's like my respose to a story I heard today about sexual assault in the military. The reporter said that it was a big problem that sexual assualts weren't being reported. And I thought, no, the problem is that people don't feel safe reporting sexual assault, because they are either being abused by people that they need to report to, or because the careers of people who do report are ruined, or because they won't be taken seriously if they report - the list of reasons goes on and on. So the fault is not with the victims. But that's what the story implied.

  5. Huh. That really isn't a fix unless she's not concerned with people who are childless & not planning on reproducing.

    If she had fixed it, I would have spoken in her defense from my experience. I design a lot of surveys at work and it's amazingly easy to get them wrong - to leave out answers that seem obvious to others but which I don't see. This, of course, is why I need multiple reviewers with different points of view.