As women, we are inundated with countless messages from society about what to do with our bodies.
But have you ever thought about how those messages might be influencing our reproductive choices?
In this blog, we’ll discuss the far-reaching implications of societal expectations and how they can lead to women making choices about their reproductive health that may not always be in their best interests.
Overview of Global Reproductive Expectations
From as early as childhood, you’ve been bombarded by messages about what it means to be female. Your sense of identity and how it relates to gender roles have been shaped by the world around you—including family, peers, and society in general.
As a result, when it comes to reproductive decisions, women have had to navigate multiple expectations imposed on them from the outside. Societal expectations can have a massive influence on women’s reproductive choices. To understand why and how, it’s important to consider the global context – it starts in an individual’s home and extends outward to the entire cultural milieu: family, community, religious groups, employee groups, etc.
From a global perspective, certain gender roles have been charged with meaning over many centuries. These have included expectations surrounding the number of children that local communities expect women to have, when they should become pregnant, and even in some cases how they should be dressed outside of the home.
In many societies around the world, childbearing is seen as essential to a married woman’s identity.
So, the global context affects how women’s reproductive choices are perceived within their communities—and even how they view themselves about their ability to fulfill those expectations.
Impact of Gender Expectations on Women’s Reproductive Choice
One cannot overlook the extent to which gender expectations have contributed to women’s reproductive choices. From an early age, girls are encouraged and expected to prioritize others, putting their own needs and desires at the very last. When it comes to reproductive choices, this can mean feeling obligated to carry a pregnancy to term even when it’s not what they want for themselves.
In addition, some women worry about upholding familial expectations or religious beliefs surrounding pregnancy. For example, some religions may disapprove of abortion outright or expect family members to either understand or revolt against a woman’s decision not to pursue parenthood.
Finally, societal expectations influence women’s reproductive choices because of the stigma surrounding abortion and contraception. A woman might feel shame for not wanting or being able to bear children—this makes it difficult for her to pursue contraception or abortion without feeling judged.
Structural Constraints Imposed on Women’s Reproductive Choices
Structural constraints imposed by society can limit women’s reproductive choices. These constraints include social, political, and economic contexts that shape how women make their decisions.
For example, the lack of access to family planning services and resources means that women often don’t have the full scope of reproductive education or healthcare they need to make informed choices.
This also extends to a lack of access to medical care—due to poverty, geography, or language barriers—which can prohibit certain reproductive options. In addition, religious dictums, cultural expectations, and social taboos all form part of the societal context in which women may find themselves constrained in terms of making their own choices about reproduction.
When these barriers exist, they can leave women feeling powerless over their bodies and health. In many cases, this feeling is justified—as without adequate resources or education on birth control and pregnancy options women are not able to exercise their right to make autonomous decisions about their reproductive health.
Power Dynamics at Play in Reproductive Choices for Women
Societal expectations can play a big role in women’s reproductive choices. Power dynamics are at work here—there are gender, racial, and class-based disparities that can have a real impact on women’s reproductive autonomy.
For example, women of color who live in poverty may not have access to quality healthcare or the resources needed to make informed decisions. In some cases, they may also be cowed into silence by being made to feel unheard or disrespected by their healthcare providers.
- Cultural Expectations
Cultural expectations can weigh on a woman’s decision-making process as well. This could mean facing judgment from family members, religious leaders, or her community if she chooses abortion or other forms of contraception.
It could also mean being forced into an arranged marriage if she refuses to marry someone she does not want to marry, or not having support for her decision if she chooses adoption for her child instead of raising it herself.
- Limited Choices
Lastly, women often face limited choices when it comes to reproductive choices. Even if they have access to some form of contraception, they may not be able to commit to using it regularly due to financial constraints which limits its effectiveness. They may also not be able to access certain options due to cultural stigma, legal restrictions, or lack of education about the subject matter.
These power dynamics contribute greatly to the lack of reproductive autonomy that many women experience and thus should be addressed for them to truly exercise control over their bodies and decisions about their fertility and motherhood status.
The Exploitation of Women and Their Reproductive Choices
When it comes to women’s reproductive choices, the expectations of society can have a profound effect. For example, in nations where women are expected to control their reproductive choices out of fear of being ostracized from their community, this can exploit them, denying them full autonomy.
Women in these societies may be more likely to:
- Suffer from forced abortions
- Receive little to no health care for themselves or their families
- Allow others to dictate their reproductive choices
This systematically subjugates women by leaving them unable to make decisions about their bodies, often resulting in further physical and psychological harm. The exploitation of women’s reproductive choices is a pervasive issue that needs to be addressed if we are going to ensure that all women have the resources and support which is needed to make informed decisions about their bodies.
All in all, it’s clear that when it comes to making decisions related to reproduction, women are subject to numerous external factors such as societal expectations, cultural norms, and economic pressures. Women’s reproductive choices are constantly being policed and by both men and women.
Regardless of the timeline and the choices that women make, these reproductive choices shouldn’t be the cause of any judgment or stigma. To ensure women are free to make these choices without pressure, we need to ensure that these influences are understood and addressed. This can only be done by creating an open dialog, valuing everyone’s choices, and respecting every woman’s reproductive decisions.