by Melanie Notkin
Seal Press, 2015
Review by Hennie Weiss on Mar 31st 2015
In her latest book Otherhood: Modern Women Finding A New Kind of Happiness, Melanie Notkin uses the term otherhood to describe "modern women" who are single with no children, even though they would like to have a family of their own very much. The otherhood is mainly made up of professional and successful women who are in their early thirties to late forties, and who, despite trying relentlessly to find a partner, remain childless and without a husband. For it is true that the women in the book (which represents life in New York) do not only want a child and a long-term partner, they want marriage and children. Interestingly, the same women who realize that feminism has contributed in many ways to professional opportunities for women, also blame feminism for them not being able to find "real men" who will plan, execute, and pay on dates. "Don't get me wrong. I am very grateful for all the things feminism enabled for our generation. But as women began to act more like men and men began to act more like women, we began to meet in the middle and now have no desire for each other anymore. It's the price we paid" (p. 13). As successful as these women are, they are also quite traditional in their way of thinking when it comes to romantic relationships and in the way they want to be courted by men. It is quite surprising that so many of these women feel that feminism has somehow made dating more difficult and that a movement for women inadvertently contributes to their childlessness due to an inability to meet men.
Women in the otherhood, as Notkin points out are often blamed for their own situation, for not having children, and are often said to have put their careers ahead of marriage and children. Notkin states that this is not true, and that the women of otherhood have decided not to settle for relationships in which they are not happy or fulfilled, even though this means not having children. They are not choosing to be childless per se, but are also not interested in having children with someone who they do not truly love, or feel a deep connection with. As much as these women have chosen not to settle for less than they feel they deserve, the concept of choice, but also agency becomes slightly muddled as the author explains the notion of choice in these women's lives, in various situations. "To me, when you tell a woman she's made "choices," it implies that she made the wrong choices, the choices that lead her away from falling in love, marriage and children" (p. 133). At the same time, Notkin points to women choosing to wait for the right person, choices that are right for them; "They chose to wait for the love they're meant to have, the love that will add more meaning to their lives" (p. 147), or choosing not to have children on their own, while waiting for the right partner "And while I chose not to even investigate single motherhood myself, I am envious of those who did and are on their way" (p. 198). It is true then that these women make choices in their lives, we all do on a daily basis, even though they did not choose to be without children (as some women do), they chose not be single mothers, and to wait to have children until they found the right person to have children with. For them, these are the right choices, but such choices do not point to them not wanting to be mothers. It is upsetting that the women of otherhood feel so deeply judged by people around them, as if somehow their choices are selfish, rather than calculating and informed.
As Notkin points out, a very powerful and empowering consequence of the women of the otherhood not having children of their own is that many of them turn much of their attention into providing love and care for other children in their lives, such as nieces and nephews. Many of these women are also involved in volunteer work in which they help other children. The women of the otherhood have much love to share and are very generous when it comes to children that they love and care deeply for.
Notkin is not shy about sharing her story about otherhood. She is sincere when describing her feelings, whether it is loving her life, grieving not having children, feeling jealous over friends who have children, giving up on dating, feeling a renewed spirit about dating, as well as coming to terms with the fact that she might never become a mother. Reading about the women of the otherhood is both powerful and personal, and many women who are in the same situation will most likely recognize these feelings. The book is written for women of the otherhood, women who want children but are childless, and women who hope to one day become parents.
© 2015 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.