Cookie Consent by
Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Special Issue Introduction

Vol. 5 No. 1 (2023): The Childfree Woman in Literature, Film, and Television

Childfree Female Characters: Narrating Pronatalism

December 12, 2023


On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court officially overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision thus ending the constitutional right to abortion. Much of the subsequent mainstream media narrative has focused on the fact that this decision does not even carve out exceptions for victims of rape and incest, which, while important and horrifying, diverts attention away from the actual issue: a person's right to decide not to give birth for any reason. This reframing of the abortion debate around the most extreme cases is clearly informed by a pronatalist ideology that is still pervasive in US culture. However, it is not just the news media that frequently buys into this pronatalist narrative by evading the inclusion of, if not actively undermining, a woman's right to be childfree. Depictions of abortions are rare in popular fictional narratives, be it in television, film, or literature, and so are voluntarily childless female characters, not only but particularly when it comes to lead characters. This introduction to the special issue on childfree female characters in fictional narratives frames the issue of childfreeness, i.e., voluntary childlessness, in the still dominant pronatalist ideology and examines some stereotypical depictions in recent US-American television series.


  1. Abma, Joyce C., and Gladys M. Martinez. "Childlessness among Older Women in the United States: Trends and Profiles." Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 68, no. 4, 2006, pp. 1045–56.
  2. American Civil Liberties Union. "Access Denied: Origins of the Hyde Amendment and Other Restrictions on Public Funding for Abortion." ACLU, 1 Dec. 1994,
  3. Archetti, Cristina. "No Life without Family: Film Representations of Involuntary Childlessness, Silence and Exclusion." International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, vol. 15, no. 2, 2019, pp. 175–96.
  4. Arnold-Baker, Claire. "Birth Strike: Holding the Tension between Existence and Non-existence." Eco-Anxiety and Planetary Hope. Experiencing the Twin Disasters of COVID-19 and Climate Change, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Springer Cham, 2022, pp. 57–65.
  5. Bailey, Stephanie. "BirthStrike: The People Refusing to Have Kids, Because of 'the Ecological Crisis.'" CNN, 26 June 2019,
  6. Beaujouan, Éva, et al. "Has Childlessness Peaked in Europe?" Population and Societies, vol. 540, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–4.
  7. Blackstone, Amy. Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creat-ing a New Age of Independence. E-book ed., Dutton, 2019.
  8. Cain, Sian. "Why a Generation Is Choosing to Be Child-Free." The Guardian, 25 July 2020,
  9. Chancey, Laurie, and Susan A. Dumais. "Voluntary Childlessness in Marriage and Family Textbooks, 1950–2000." Journal of Family History, vol. 34, no. 2, 2009, pp. 206–23.
  10. Cherjovsky, Natalia. "Reproductive Villains: The Representation of Childfree Women in Mainstream Cinema and Television." Childfree across the Disciplines: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Not Choosing Children, edited by Davinia Thornley, Rutgers UP, 2022, pp. 112–26.
  11. Clausen, Christopher. "Childfree in Toyland." Childfree across the Disciplines: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Not Choosing Children, edited by Davinia Thornley, Rutgers UP, 2022, pp. 87–97.
  12. "The End of STR Laurie." The Good Fight, season 6, episode 7, Paramount+, 20 Oct. 2020.
  13. "Eleven Years Later." Will and Grace, season 9, episode 1, NBC, 28 Sep. 2017.
  14. Gamio, Lazaro, and Amy Schoenfeld Walker. "Where Trump Counties in Ohio Voted to Support Abortion Rights." The New York Times, 8. Nov. 2023,
  15. Gaviola, Anne. "Canadian Teens Are Pledging Not to Have Children to Fight Climate Change." VICE, 16 Sep. 2019,
  16. Gee, Alastair. "Anti-Abortion Laws Gain More Ground in the USA." The Lancet, vol. 377, no. 9782, 2011, pp. 1992-93,
  17. Gobbi, Paula E. "A Model of Voluntary Childlessness." Journal of Population Economics, vol. 26, no.3, 2013, pp. 963–82.
  18. Graham, Melissa, and Stephanie Rich. "Representations of Childless Women in the Australian Print Media." Feminist Media Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, 2014, pp. 500–18.
  19. Greer, Amanda. "'I'm Not Your Mother!': Maternal Ambivalence and the Female Investigator in Contemporary Crime Television." New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 2017, pp. 327–47.
  20. Hamad, Hannah. "'I'm Not Past My Sell by Date Yet!': Sarah Jane's Adventures in Postfeminist Rejuvenation and the Later-Life Celebrity of Elisabeth Sladen." Women, Celebrity and Cultures of Ageing, edited by Deborah Jermyn and Susan Holmes, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 162–77.
  21. Harrington, Rebecca. "Childfree by Choice." Studies in Gender and Sexuality, vol. 20, no. 1, 2019, pp. 22–35.
  22. Heffernan, Valerie, and Gay Wilgus. "Introduction: Imagining Motherhood in the Twenty-First Century – Images, Representations, Constructions." Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 29, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1–18,
  23. Hellstrand, Ingvil. "The Shape of Things to Come? Politics of Reproduction in the Contemporary Science Fiction Series Battlestar Galactica." Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, vol. 19, no. 1, 2011, pp. 6–24.
  24. Helm, Sabrina, et al. "No Future, No Kids – No Kids, No Future?" Population and Environment, vol. 43, no. 1, 2021, pp. 108–29,
  25. "Henceforth Known as Property." The Good Fight, season 1, episode 4, CBS All Access, 5 Mar. 2017.
  26. Houseknecht, Sharon K. "Voluntary Childlessness." Handbook of Marriage and the Family, edited by Marvin B. Sussman and Suzanne K. Steinmetz, Springer, 1987, pp. 369–95.
  27. Kaklamanidou, Betty-Despoina. "The Voluntarily Childless Heroine: A Postfeminist Television Oddity." Television and New Media, vol. 20, no. 3, 2019, pp. 275–93.
  28. Kelly, Maura. "Women's Voluntary Childlessness: A Radical Rejection of Motherhood?" Women's Studies Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3/4, 2009, pp. 157–72.
  29. Krähenbühl, Mathilde. 'Environmental Childlessness?': Reproduction and (Im)possible Futures amidst Environmental Crises. Graduate Institute Publications, 2022.
  30. Kreyenfeld, Michaela, and Dirk Konietzka, editors. Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences. Springer, 2018.
  31. Letherby, Gayle. "Childless and Bereft? Stereotypes and Realities in Relation to 'Voluntary' and 'Involuntary' Childlessness and Womanhood." Sociological Inquiry, vol. 72, no. 1, 2002, pp. 7–20.
  32. Liptak, Adam. "In 6-to-3 Ruling, Supreme Court Ends Nearly 50 Years of Abortion Rights." The New York Times, 24 June 2022,
  33. Macklin, Eleanor D. "Nontraditional Family Forms." Handbook of Marriage and the Family, edited by Marvin B. Sussman and Suzanne K. Steinmetz, Springer, 1987, pp. 317–54.
  34. Managan, Dan, and Kevin Breuninger. "Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade, End-ing Fifty Years of Federal Abortion Rights.", 24 June 2022,
  35. Mandujano-Salazar, Yunuen Ysela. "It Is Not That I Can't, It Is That I Won't: The Struggle of Japanese Women to Redefine Female Singlehood through Television Dramas." Asian Studies Review, vol. 41, no. 4, 2017, pp. 1–18.
  36. Martinez, Gladys, et al. "Fertility of Men and Women Aged 15–44 Years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2006–2010." National Health Statistics Report, no. 51, 12 Apr. 2012, pp. 1–28.
  37. McBride, Dorothy E., and Jennifer L. Keys. Abortion in the United States. 2nd ed., Bloomsbury, 2018.
  38. McIntosh, Heather. "Representations of Female Scientists in The Big Bang Theory." Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol. 42, no. 4, 2014, pp. 195–204.
  39. Merz, Eva-Maria, and Aart C. Liefbroer. "The Attitude toward Voluntary Childlessness in Europe: Cultural and Institutional Explanations." Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 74, no. 3, 2012, pp. 587–600.
  40. Moore, Julia, and Patricia Geist-Martin. "Mediated Representations of Voluntary Childlessness, 1900–2012." The Essential Handbook of Women's Sexuality, vol. 1, edited by Donna Castañeda, Praeger Publishers, 2013, pp. 233–51.
  41. Nakkerud, Erik. "Choosing to Live Environmentally Childfree: Private-Sphere Environmentalism, Environmental Activism, or Both?" Current Psychology, 22 Mar. 2023,
  42. Nakkerud, Erik. "'There Are Many People Like Me, Who Feel They Want to Do Something Bigger': An Exploratory Study of Choosing Not to Have Children Based on Environmental Concerns." Ecopsychology, vol. 13, no. 3, 2021, pp. 200–09.
  43. Osaka, Shannon. "Should You Not Have Kids Because of Climate Change? It's Complicated." The Washington Post, 2 Dec. 2022,
  44. Planned Parenthood. "Roe v. Wade: Its History and Impact.", Jan. 2014,
  45. Rainey, James. "For Some Millennials, Climate Change Clock Ticks Louder Than Biological One." NBC News, 21 Apr. 2019,
  46. Rice, Lynette. "Will and Grace Revival to Pretend Finale Never Happened." Entertainment Weekly, 2 Aug. 2017,
  47. Rieder, Travis N. Toward a Small Family Ethic: How Overpopulation and Climate Change Are Affecting the Morality of Procreation. Springer, 2016.
  48. Robinson James D., and Thomas Skill. "Five Decades of Families on Television: From the 1950s through the 1990s." Television and the American Family, edited by Jennings Bryant and J. Alison Bryant, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001, pp. 139–62.
  49. Rowland, Donald T. "Historical Trends in Childlessness." Journal of Family Issues, vol. 28, no. 10, 2007, pp. 1311–37.
  50. Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. "The Environmental Politics of Reproductive Choices in the Age of Climate Change." Environmental Politics, vol. 31, no. 2, 2021, pp. 1–21.
  51. Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew, and Kit Ling Leong. "Eco-Reproductive Concerns in the Age of Climate Change." Climate Change, no. 163, 2020, pp. 1007–23.
  52. Shead, Sam. "Climate Change Is Making People Think Twice about Having Children." CNBC, 12 Aug. 2021,
  53. Silberner, Joanne. "Unborn in the USA: What Happened and What's Next for Roe v. Wade and Abortion Rights?" BMJ, vol. 377, no. 1184, 2022,
  54. Snitow, Ann. "Feminism and Motherhood: An American Reading." Feminist Review, no. 40, 1992, pp. 32–51.
  55. Steinke, Jocelyn. "Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films." Science Communication, vol. 27, no. 1, 2005, pp. 27–63.
  56. "Sweatshop Annie and the Annoying Baby Shower." Will and Grace, season 9, episode 13, NBC, 8 Mar. 2018.
  57. Thornley, Davinia, editor. Childfree across the Disciplines: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Not Choosing Children. Rutgers UP, 2022.
  58. Totenberg, Nina, and Sarah McCammon. "Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade, Ending Right to Abortion Upheld for Decades.", 24 June 2022,
  59. Webb, Samuel. "Stop Having Kids? What Is Antinatalism and How Does It Relate to the Climate?" The Independent, 27 Jan. 2022,
  60. "The Wheel." Mad Men, season 1, episode 13, AMC, 18. Oct. 2007.
  61. Williams, Alex. "To Breed or Not to Breed?" The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2021,

Similar Articles

1-10 of 89

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.