Women discuss ‘selfish’ child-free life in new documentary

Therese Shechter has never wanted kids, and she refuses to explain herself.

“No one ever asks parents why they want children,” the 60-year-old documentary filmmaker told The Post. But, for some reason, even strangers feel comfortable asking her why she doesn’t.

Her new film, “My So-Called Selfish Life,” explores the scrutiny that childless women face — and the barrage of propaganda and messaging they receive trying to push them toward motherhood.

“What does it mean to live in a world where motherhood is our destiny? And what happens when we say ‘no’?” Shechter asks in the documentary, which premieres Mother’s Day weekend.

Shechter interviewed an array of historians, health professionals and childless women for the film, including Marcia Drut-Davis, who made history when she appeared on a 1974 episode of “60 Minutes,” in which she told her shocked in-laws that she and her husband did not want to have children.

That admission was so unheard of that her mother-in-law suggested Drut-Davis “may have a selfish attitude.”

Almost 50 years later, that judgement persists. Just this January, Pope Francis slammed couples for choosing to have pets instead of adopting or having their own children, labeling them “selfish.”

A childless woman, in particular, is seen as a threat.

Shechter said: “If you [as a woman] push back, something is wrong with you. You’re not following the rules . . . Society thinks that women need to be mothers to the exclusion of everything else and at the expense of her ambition, health, career and relationships.”

“Any time a woman does something she wants to do, she’s called selfish,” she added.

Chanel Dubofsky
“It’s just not accepted,” Chanel Dubofsky, above, told The Post of being a childless adult woman.
Iris Ng

Chanel Dubofsky, a Brooklyn-based writer featured in the documentary, spoke of her struggles to find a place in her Jewish community as a childless adult woman.

“It’s just not accepted,” Dubofsky told The Post. “It’s kind of exhausting to have to explain and defend and justify it. Everyone wanted an explanation, and I had to make them feel better about it.”

“It really touches a nerve,” she said.

Myriam Schechter and Therese Shechter
Filmmaker Therese Shechter (right) with her mom Myriam Shechter.
Iris Ng

A panic has risen due to declining birth rates. Researchers have struggled to pinpoint why people don’t want to have kids, blaming factors such as the climate crisis, rising housing rates, increasing student loan debt and the pandemic.

While these issues may influence some women’s decision to forgo having children, Shechter insists that some women just don’t want them — and that they shouldn’t have to explain their choice.

“Ultimately, we only have one life, and people need to be able to think deeply about what they want out of that life and be able to do it with the proper tools, information and support,” she said.

The documentary feels particularly timely now, with the recent leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

“People who don’t want children . . . are especially motivated to control their reproductive health,” Shechter said on the topic of birth control and abortion.

Therese Shechter
“No one ever asks parents why they want children,” the 60-year-old documentary filmmaker told The Post.
Rachel Lears

Despite the looming court decision and the concern about the declining birth rate, attitudes are changing.

A recent poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post found that the majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Just last year, a Pew Research Center study found that 37{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of childless adults don’t want and aren’t planning to have children. And a 2021 Match.com survey found a 19{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} dip in singles under 40 who said it was important to have a partner who wanted to have kids compared to 2017.

“Saying you’re not gonna do [motherhood] is seen as a certain kind of taming [of women] that we’re rejecting,” Dubofsky explained. “I’m not gonna sacrifice myself . . . I’m gonna choose myself.”