Updated: Jan 3, 2021
By Michelle Guan
Image created by Christine Tao - Voices of Gen-Z.
As a little girl, I dreamed of meeting my future husband at age 20, dating him for 5-6 years, getting married at age 27, having two kids by age 30, and being a loving mother while leading a successful career at the same time. Until recently, I had this precise timeline in my head and was convinced that any other version of my future would be a failure. Unfortunately, this pressure to base one’s life on this is common. The expectation for women to achieve traditional milestones during certain time periods perpetuates the belief that success can only come in one form, which is not true because everyone has different aspirations that may not fit the timeline that society has in mind.
The source of these pressures may be gender roles and one’s religion/culture. Women are often perceived as nurturing and caring individuals because they have historically taken on the role of the caretaker of their families. For instance, the American Revolution established the idea of republican motherhood, which “encouraged the education of women” so that they could uphold the desired republican values and teach them to their children. Although republican motherhood emphasized the importance of women in American society, it also caused society to place the responsibility of being mothers onto women, even in modern times. This expectation may be one of the reasons why women are often told to get married as quickly as possible because marriage often leads to having kids. According to traditional beliefs, marriage is a sign of permanent commitment and stability (this isn’t always true), so it would be more “practical” to have kids after marriage. The entire timing in a woman’s life is judged so harshly since the choice to have kids before marriage is still being looked down on because it’s viewed as a lack of planning and responsibility. Furthermore, the choice to not have kids is perceived as an act driven by a desire to live luxurious lives without any burdens. This is a significant misconception because it implies that kids are the ultimate responsibility to have in one’s life and that childless women lack the empathy to understand others’ different set of circumstances. From a biological perspective, it may make sense to pressure women to have kids in their late twenties to mid thirties due to their eggs decreasing as they get older, resulting in a higher risk of disorders that can impact their fertility. However, it brings up the question of why women are automatically expected to have kids without considering the possibility that some individuals can be happy without becoming parents.
These pressures that women receive can result in some people trying to achieve these milestones for the wrong reasons. For instance, they may get married to please society and receive social approval instead of getting married for happiness. Although some cultures may perceive marriage as a necessary commitment in life, marriage shouldn’t be perceived as a requirement for personal fulfillment. Furthermore, those who choose to be mothers may face confusion when trying to balance time for their families, careers (if applicable), other relationships, and themselves because they may not know how much time to dedicate to each category.
In response to social expectations, women have been following the traditional timeline less often. More Japanese women in the younger generations have been focusing more on their careers and don’t perceive settling down and starting a family as “an absolute responsibility in life”, causing the nation’s birthrate to significantly decline. This starkly contrasts with traditional Japanese ideals and labels the country as a childless society. Although the social pressures still exist, women in other countries are also resisting these pressures by choosing to not marry/have kids at all or choosing to marry/have kids later in life. These choices exemplify that people’s ideas of living successful lives are different, and some people may not be happy if they follow society’s ideal timeline. In that situation, those people should follow their dreams instead of following the timeline because there isn’t one specific timeline that can lead to a perfect life for all. Everyone has different circumstances, priorities, and values, so establishing a timeline for everyone to follow is limiting because that timeline may not fulfill everyone’s dreams. Not every woman wants to get married. Not every woman wants to settle down and start a family. And that’s okay.
Written by writer Michelle Guan