The two commonly asked questions that women most receive throughout their lives are: “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?”
Simple conversational questions, which the underlying answers to are anything but simple.
With statistical data on divorce rates and domestic violence publicly available and people’s struggles with infertility and miscarriage, commonly known, it’s unfathomable that some people cannot see the harm in asking these questions.
These reasons alone should equip people with enough common sense to realize that these questions, especially in today’s society, are no longer appropriate.
In fact, were they ever?
Isn’t it about time we stop to think about what’s really being asked?
When you ask a woman, “Are you married?” a simple “no” isn’t the first thing that comes to the mind of a woman who has suffered horrendous abuse from her ex-husband. Instead, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is the vision of his face, his hateful words, his controlling behaviour, his brutality toward her. Then, just like a movie, those horrific scenes replay in her mind. The ferocity in his voice as his fists come toward her, the sheer force behind the delivery of a devastating blow that on impact fills her mouth with the metallic taste of blood.
For you didn’t just ask if she was married—you asked her to relive her trauma.
The woman to whom you asked, “Do you have children?” She cannot. Your question conjured up her disappointment over many failed fertility treatments and the devastation of being infertile. For you didn’t just ask if she has children—you asked her to reaffirm the painful reality that she’ll never bear children.
The woman you asked, “Are you married?” has dreamed of getting married since she was a little girl. She desperately wants to find her soul mate, settle down, and get married, but she’s had nothing but heartbreak and disappointment throughout her life. She is older now, and most women her age are married. She often wonders what it is she did to be so unlucky in love.
For you didn’t just ask if she was married—you asked her to feel a myriad of emotions she shouldn’t have to feel like unworthiness, misfortune, failure, disappointment, and fear of judgement for being an unmarried woman.
When you unwittingly asked the childless woman if she had children, her mind instantaneously recalled the babies she never got to meet and the one who passed not long after birth. The excruciating pain and suffering felt over the loss of a child revisited her with those four words, and your question caused distress. It pained her to think of the answer, and it was torture to say it.
For you didn’t just ask if she had children. You retraumatized her.
The independent woman you asked, “Are you married?” and, “Do you have children?” took offence to the questions that reinforce society’s outdated notion that marriage defines a woman, and that women must conform to the stereotypical societal role of wife, mother, and caregiver.
For you didn’t just ask if she was married or has children—you belittled her for nonconforming and by asking the questions that underpin the relentless expectations of our ever-patriarchal society.
These are just some of the reasons why it’s not okay to ask a woman (or even a man for that matter), “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?”
Furthermore, is someone’s marital and parental status really any of our business?
Instead of asking intrusive questions that may inflict pain upon those answering, how about we ask more thoughtful questions that all can comfortably answer? Questions that’ll light people up and put a smile on their face, questions like #whatmakesyouhappy? And #what’sbeenthemostspecialmomentinyourlife?
Not only are these questions kinder to those harbouring pain around the answers to their marital and parental status, but if you still think it’s any of your business to know if someone is married or has children—you’ll get those answers when you ask: #what makes you happy? And #what’sbeenthemostspecialmomentinyourlife?
This time, by those who can comfortably answer.