Special issue of the  Journal of the Austrian Association for American Studies (JAAAS)

Deadline: January 12, 2023

The JAAAS is calling for contributions to the special issue “Childfree by Choice: Pro-Natalism in American Literature, Film, and Television” guest-edited by Cornelia Klecker.

Website: https://jaaas.eu/index.php/jaaas/announcement/view/11

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. As Betty-Despoina Kaklamanidou observes in her analysis of the voluntarily childless television heroine, “current narratives on mainstream American television seem to promote pronatalism by upending women’s gains around their reproductive rights . . .” (285).

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. And of the already very few instances, many do not even remain childless. Penny (Kaley Cuoco) from The Big Bang Theory serves as a prime example: She stood out as a female lead on a Network sit-com who declared that she did not want any children and remained steadfast despite being pressured not only by her husband but also her two closest female friends. And yet, the series concludes with her getting unintentionally pregnant, which surprises and briefly worries her but does not actually make her unhappy. In fact, not keeping the child is not given a moment’s consideration, is not a choice that seems to even exist in this series’ storyworld. Thus, her identity as a woman, which is still so persistently linked to motherhood, is restored and the pronatalist ideology normalized once more.

In the field of sociology, the voluntarily childless woman has received considerable academic attention in the past few decades and there are some studies on mediated representations of childless women, as well, but fictional depictions of voluntarily childfree women have largely remained unexplored (see also Moore and Geist-Martin 246). The aim of this special issue is, therefore, to fill this gap by focusing on female characters who choose not to have children and the narratives that produce them in popular American literature, film, and television. All approaches and methodologies are welcome, from exploring such a character’s framing in a single text in the form of a close reading to broader considerations in several texts of a certain time period or historically, in one medium and/or genre, or across media and/or genres.

We invite authors to submit completed articles of 5,000–9,000 words by January 12, 2023, via the JAAAS online platform (please make sure you select “Childfree by Choice” as the section you submit to). This special issue is slated to be published no later than spring 2024. Interested scholars may submit abstracts or informal inquiries to cornelia.klecker@uibk.ac.at for preliminary feedback.

The Journal of the Austrian Association for American Studies follows a double-blind review process for all articles.

Works Cited:

Kaklamanidou, Betty-Despoina. “The Voluntarily Childless Heroine: A Postfeminist Television Oddity.” Television and New Media, vol. 20, no. 3, 2019, pp. 275-93.

Moore, Julia, and Patricia Geist-Martin. “Mediated Representations of Voluntary Childlessness.” The Essential Handbook of Women’s Sexuality, Volume 1: Meanings, Development, and Worldwide Views, edited by Donna Castañeda, Praeger, 2013, pp. 233-52.