not a thing

Some New Jargon for You: Motherhood vs. Otherhood

Photo: Miramax

Here it is, piping warm and dubiously helpful, some new quasi-feminist jargon. It’s a word to describe the 38 percent of the women of childbearing age (20 to 44) in the U.S. who don’t have kids. The word for this group is otherhood. It’s like motherhood without the M and without the children.

Melanie Notkin, the woman who brought you the PANK, is behind otherhood. At a conference on otherhood hosted by DeVries Global, she compared her newest term to De Beauvoir’s notion of the second sex, where otherhood is like the second second sex — because women without kids are even more relegated. It’s sex squared, or maybe doubled, if you will.

In Notkin’s view, the media and the people that sell things ignore women who don’t have kids. She says:

Otherhood is living our true authentic life, whether or not that life is the life that we expected. I think when media and marketers and society begins to talk to us, we have to make sure who is listening, are we listening as a woman who feels less than or as a woman who feels empowered and equal too. When we begin to realize that and know that then society and the media and marketers will believe us. We have to do our part as well. And our part is to find that new kind of happiness, to keep living authentic lives, to keep moving forward, and to literally turn the page to our next challenge.

The conflation of “happiness” with “being part of a category recognized by marketers” is a bit perplexing. But, just for you, curious otherhood-observer, Notkin has written a book about it. The book has chapters with titles like: “The Dating Bermuda Triangle,” and “Where Are the Suitable Men?” and “A Date With Destiny.”

Meanwhile, using the research information from DeVries, Upworthy produced a sponsored video that laments that women in the otherhood demographic are stereotyped as fictional characters from ‘90s pop culture: either “FRIVOLOUS like Carrie Bradshaw” or “INCOMPLETE like Bridget Jones.” “But the truth is BIGGER than that,” the video promises. So what is the truth?

Well, the truth certainly is that women exist who have no children. Other truths, according to DeVries: women embracing otherhood travel more, buy more beauty products, and more expensive groceries. And some of those women (Notkin, at least) would like to receive more solicitous attention from the companies that sell beauty products and expensive groceries. Mostly, though, from Notkin’s perspective and Upworthy’s, otherhood seems to be a defense against nosy-smug-marrieds who ask why you’re not popping out lil’ bebes.

But perhaps we could all just imagine a conversation in which someone asks if a woman is a mom, and that woman answers, “No, ha ha, no kids, thanks for checking in, though.” No self-conscious, punny terminology required! Now it’s your turn! Give it a whirl.

Some New Jargon for You: ‘Otherhood’