Ruby Warrington has never wanted children. Not while she was growing up in England and not later in her life, a commitment that was tested by an unplanned and rare pregnancy — she was using an IUD at the time — when she was 23, shortly after she graduated from the London School of Fashion. She had an abortion.
She moved into magazine journalism after studying fashion and was a Styles editor of The Sunday Times in London, before turning her attention to books (her first was “Sober Curious”). Today she lives in Miami with her husband of 20 years.
In her fourth book, “Women Without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood,” which was published in March, Ms. Warrington, 47, writes that women who don’t have children are “no longer pariahs or misfits, but a natural part of our evolution and collective healing, as women, as human beings, and as a global family.”
Ms. Warrington spoke to The New York Times about this new landscape in the edited interview below.
Is there a term you use to refer to yourself? Some people believe “child-free” is celebratory and “childless” sounds draconian or judgmental.
I’ve been toying with “areproductive,” to describe myself, like “asexual.” “Child-free” and “childless” have definitely served a purpose, but they’re sort of binary.
Mother’s Day is upon us, the fourth in a pandemic that has exposed a child care crisis, with women taking on three times as much child care as men. What do you say to exhausted mothers who may be envious of your freedom?
By being loud about this, about being women without kids and our reasons, oftentimes we are rejecting motherhood, because motherhood looks really hard. It looks thankless. It looks risky. So, in a way, it shines a light on how hard it is for mothers. I’m conscious of acknowledging there’s nothing wrong if you find this hard. You’re right.
The system is not set up to support mothers. If it’s hard for you, it’s not because you’re weak. It’s not because you failed. It’s because the scales are still so unequal. I found a lot of mothers have received that message from the book, and been very grateful. It’s helped them feel less defective.
Non-mothers are often expected to show up for their friends when they become mothers, but how can women who have kids show up for their friends who don’t?
I think that oftentimes when a woman becomes a mother, the lion’s share of her energy, focus, attention — not to mention love — is now directed to children and home life. And women without kids can feel excluded or pushed out. We want to be included still.
How have your friendships with women who are mothers evolved?
What I’ve noticed in my friendships with moms is that I am valuable as someone with whom they get to be the woman they were without their kids. And I think that’s such an important role within any kind of family structure or community.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birthrates in the United States have fallen for the past five decades. Where do you see this trend going?
Gen X women are the first generation of women to have been born with this message, “You can do, be whatever you want in your life.” And I’m talking about Gen X Western women. Obviously, this message is not available to women in many countries.
This is the first generation who lived our entire reproductive lives with that message. That’s why we’re seeing such a rise in the numbers of women without kids. We’ll see a steeper drop-off as Gen X women and millennial women reach menopause, without having reproduced — the impact of the past 50 years on women’s attitudes and choices when it comes to reproduction.
Speaking of that change, your book calls for a “sexual evolution,” a “total reimagining of our sexual selves.” What might be the environmental impact of more non-procreative sex?
The human population is growing to a point where we’re severely taxing earth’s natural resources. Rather than a biological imperative, what if human sexual expression was primarily about well-being, fulfillment, connection, relaxation — pleasure — and sex as procreation a conscious choice? What if religious and cultural heteropatriarchal ideology about sex had never existed? If human beings had been given permission to engage with sexuality in whatever ways felt good, maybe we’d have just the right amount of people on the planet.
Is growing older without children to potentially help with your care something you think about?
This is the No. 1 question that kept me questioning my instinct that motherhood wasn’t for me, this idea of who will look after you when you’re older.
First and foremost, I have my own retirement savings account. I’m preparing to be active in my career for as long as I’m physically able to be. The notion that older women in particular will need people to care for us, which ultimately means pay for us when we’re old, I think we’re overturning that.
And then I hear a lot of conversation among myself and my friends without kids about how we can build in support networks to care for each other. I’ve had so many conversations with people about, “Where will we live?” We have, our whole lives, relied on our found family connections for our sense of belonging and support. Now we will just continue to invest in these found family networks.
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