TIME Military

Measuring War’s Impact on Women

US Marine Cpl. Michelle Berglin (C) assi
ADEK BERRY / AFP / Getty Images A female U.S. Marine on patrol in Afghanistan.

First-ever book on the topic assesses how female troops fare

American women have been marching off to war in increasing numbers over the last generation. Soon, the Pentagon expects to lift its ban on their service in ground combat, its most demanding, dirtiest and bloodiest form. Is this a good thing?

In Women at War, Army veterans Elspeth Cameron Ritchie and Anne L. Naclerio have produced the first book detailing what war does to the physical and mental health of the growing number of women waging it. Featuring contributions from many military and academic experts, the volume doesn’t advocate putting women in the trenches. “Women are already in combat,” says Ritchie, a psychiatrist who earned three combat patches before retiring from the Army as a colonel in 2010. The book also doesn’t wade into the controversy over whether women have the physical strength to accomplish the mission. Instead, it collects widely-scattered data about what combat does to women and puts it in one place to serve as guidance as the number of female soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines slowly rises.

Bottom line: women can do it, but it may not be easy.

Some 2.5 million women have served in uniform since the Revolutionary War, Lieut. General Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general, notes in the book’s forward. “Given recent policy changes, by January 2016 it is expected that all military occupations, positions, and units will be open to women,” she adds, “thus ensuring that they will play even larger roles in future military operations.”

The number of women engaged in major U.S. combat operations is steadily growing. They climbed from 770 in 1989’s Panama invasion, to 41,000 in 1991’s Gulf War, to 300,000 in the post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. About 15% of U.S. troops today are female. They represented 10% of those deployed to Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and 8% of those sent to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013 (they were under-represented because they are generally barred from serving in combat units. That also accounts for the fact that they represented only 2.3% of U.S. troops killed in action).

More facts from the book:

  • In the post-9/11 wars, women deployed nearly as frequently as men (1.5 times per male soldier; 1.3 times for females), and for nearly as long (10.9 months per male soldier; 10.5 months per female soldier).
  • Women suffered slightly more psychological problems (15.1%) in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones than men (14.9%).
  • More men dispatched to the war zones were diagnosed with PTSD (3.9%) than women (3.0%).
  • 15% of the soldiers who had to be medically evacuated out of the war zones for serious mental-health issues were female.

The 40 contributors (including 10 men) write about women’s health on the front lines and the challenges of being a soldier and a mother. “Mothers who deploy may be viewed as uncaring or negligent, rather than serving selflessly and patriotically,” Army psychiatrist Elizabeth C. Henderson writes. “It is more culturally acceptable for men to go to war.”

“I tried to avoid thinking of [my child] most of the time,” a mother deployed to a war zone said. “I had something to do right after every phone call so that I would not retreat to my tent and start crying.”

Women in uniform also are subject to shunning by their male colleagues. “Women who are working in primarily male career fields—or, as in the military, are breaking into previously closed combat positions currently held by males—may suddenly find themselves part of a social group that has difficulty fully accepting or integrating females,” writes Pentagon psychologist Kate McGraw. “The negative impact of this type of behavior may intensify during periods of high stress, such as in combat or deployed locations.”

But experience can ease such trepidation. “I felt tremendous pressure to live beyond reproach, and over time, I have learned that this is an incredibly intense, stressful, and ultimately unsustainable and inhumane way to live,” then-Lieut. Paulette Cazares wrote of her first tour as a doctor aboard a U.S. Navy submarine. “Come the second year and second deployment, I was able to dance in bars at ports of call and enjoy a cigar with the CO and know I was on stable footing.”

She also writes that her time aboard gave her the confidence she needed to save a young female sailor from dying of appendicitis on what was supposed to have been a quiet Thanksgiving. “At the beginning of that deployment, I would never known or had the courage to … demand that a helo move faster,” she recalls. “But a few months at sea made this girl a little saltier than she was when she left San Diego.”

NIKAYLA SHODEEN / U.S. ArmyU.S. Army soldiers, including women, train to become Rangers at Georgia’s Fort Benning.

Being different can pose challenges when nature calls. “In 2011, with all our sophisticated battle systems and unarmed aircraft, women in combat were still wearing diapers because we hadn’t figured out how they could take care of basic bodily functions in the back of an armored personnel carrier or transport vehicle,” Naclerio says. There remains, after a decade of war, ignorance among both military women and their medical advisers about minimizing such issues, she adds. (Only 4.5% of women in Iraq in 2005-2006, for example, were using commercially available female urination devices, which allow women to relieve themselves like men.) Both Naclerio and Ritchie express surprise at how little research has been done to smooth the integration of women into the military.

Sexual assault is a “major issue” in the U.S. military, the book notes, and has received extensive professional and press coverage. But there has been scant attention paid to consensual sex in the ranks downrange. “A taboo area seems to be the sexual desires of women who deploy,” the authors write. “But young women—and most women who deploy are young—do have sexual desires, perhaps heightened by the daily exposure to death and close bonding in the combat zone.” This taboo has led to a dearth of information. “We have very little knowledge of the actual amount of consensual sexual activity that is occurring during deployments between military members because very little research is done on that topic,” writes Navy psychiatrist Ann Canuso. (Think of it as a new version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”) “Studies indicate that as many as 12% of deployed women had an unplanned pregnancy during deployment in 2008.

The dearth of women on the front lines makes them a rarity. But that’s slowly expected to change. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last month that he wants 25% of Marine recruits eventually to be women, more than triple their current 7% of the corps.

But until that happens (and Marines, both male and female, believe it’s a tall order), women on the front lines will continue to feel like they live in a fishbowl. “My presence there seemed to make everyone stop and stare,” one forward-deployed woman told Canuso of her visits to the gym. Some of their male counterparts acknowledged their role. One told Canuso about the time he was instructing other young men when a female colleague walked by in her workout gear. “We all just stopped and stared at her for almost a full 30 seconds,” he said. “Then I just went back to teaching the men. I never would have done that stateside.”

TIME society

What It Was Like to Have My Tweet Become National News

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

The more loudly people complained that the tweet was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism

xojane

Monday morning I was still in my day pajamas – you know the look: yoga pants, tank top, sports bra – when there was a knock at my front door, and I opened it up to find a man with a necktie and thoroughly gelled hair. “Are you Abi?” he asked me through the screen door. “Did you write the tweet about Target?”

I wrote the tweet about Target a week before, while my 7-year-old son and I were browsing the toy section. Actually, that’s not entirely true: I snapped the picture of the aisle sign while we were browsing the toy section, sometime between Pokèmon cards and Minecraft action figures. I wrote the tweet later, while I was waiting for him outside the restroom so we could check out.

“Don’t do this, @Target,” I wrote, and attached the photo of the sign that said, “Building Sets / Girls’ Building Sets” just as my son emerged from the bathroom. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked him as I tapped tweet.

And now my tweet had brought this smiling, be-gelled man to my front porch: a reporter from a Cleveland news affiliate, here to interview me.

“I was actually down here to do a story about LeBron,” he said, “but the office called and diverted me to this instead.” Before the Target tweet, the closest I had come to social media stardom was the time Roxane Gay RT’ed a selfie I took with her at a book signing. Now I had bumped a LeBron story.

I threw on a dress and some makeup, thanked God for dry shampoo, and within 15 minutes was miked and on camera. I was brilliant and articulate, I hoped, as I explained why I thought the sign was a problem – because making girls’ building sets a distinct category from building sets made it sound like girls are a separate category from kids; because the notion that girls would only be interested in special “girly” sets for building pink and purple hair salons and dollhouses and malls is the same nonsense that pigeonholes girls and women into certain roles – as my cat watched us from the front window.

That afternoon when the segment aired, I watched it from the waiting room at my dentist’s office with the receptionist and a hygienist on her break. “SIGN OFFENDS LOCAL MOTHER,” the title bar said, as if the aisle sign had stuck its foot out to trip me while I was shopping and then called me four-eyes.

We watched in silence for two and a half minutes as my onscreen self stammered and gestured through my interview, and when it was over, the receptionist changed the channel to Cartoon Network. “Huh,” she remarked conversationally. “If I’d seen that sign I would never have read anything into it.”

By that evening, Local Mom was being offended in every local news broadcast. The next day the story jumped to national news shows and websites, where I became the Ohio Mom who was “angry,” “upset,” “outraged,” even “furious.”

Strangers tweeted at me that I was just looking for attention and should be spending my time worrying about more important things, oblivious to the irony that they were spending their time seeking me out to give me attention. Libertarians lectured me about how consumers drive the free market, as if I weren’t a consumer who was now doing exactly that.

Men’s Rights forums picked up the story, and my twitter mentions became about what you’d expect from MRAs. I had written a four-word tweet, and now I was being called an ISIS supporter who hates homeless, starving children.

As the conversation unfolded, I found myself being made into a gender stereotype, too. I wasn’t a writer, a grad student, a university instructor; I was Ohio Mom. My critique of Target was angry and offended; they stopped just short of calling me shrill.

In my Twitter mentions, I became fat, ugly, and unlovable. The more loudly people complained that this was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism.

And yet, I began to agree with some of the trolls. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Shouldn’t I be worrying about more important feminist issues, like violence against trans women of color? Didn’t this attention rightfully belong to the activists who had earned it, instead of just some mom from Ohio?

I told my therapist that I felt very aware of the white- and class-privilege that had put me at the center of this story; that I wasn’t sure if I had anything important to say, or if I should even try.

“Women have fought for decades to have a voice,” she said, “and yet so often we minimize the voice we have. Your words are powerful, and you can give yourself permission to use that power. You don’t have to feel guilty for speaking up.”

Together we made a plan for how I could own my power. I started asking interviewers not to label me “angry” or “offended,” and some of them obliged – it didn’t change the narrative that was already out there, but it was a step toward reclaiming my identity.

I gave a friend my Twitter password and asked her to filter my mentions for me for a few days, weeding out the worst of the trolls. I stopped letting the increased attention and scrutiny affect the way I was interacting with my social media communities.

And my community stepped up, too. Online friends made fun of the trolls in my mentions and sent me cat GIFs. Local friends stopped by with wine and moral support.

When a producer from a national talk show scheduled a camera crew to come to my house for an interview, friends offered to watch my kids and help clean my living room.

There is something absurd in a single tweet gaining this kind of national attention. This is how the 24-hour news cycle sausage is made – by taking these small, nuanced conversations and turning them into overblown, oversimplified issues.

But the beauty of social media is that we can use our voices and take our power, support each other, call for change on a whole spectrum of issues. And we don’t need a man to show up uninvited on our doorsteps for that to happen.

Abi Bechtel wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY women

These 10 Countries Already Have Women on Their Currency

And here's a look at the bills themselves.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Wednesday night that it will put the image of a woman on the new $10 bill in 2020.

No figure has yet been selected for the honor, but it will be a woman who played a major role in U.S. history and was a champion of democracy.

Got any suggestions? The government will be soliciting input from the public on a new website it plans to launch soon and on Twitter using the hashtag #TheNew10. “We’re going to spend a lot of time this summer listening to people,” said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you should know that at least 10 other nations, including Syria, the Philippines, and Israel, have already recognized female leaders on their banknotes—all of which you can see in the gallery below.

Read next: Who Should Be the First Woman On a Modern Dollar Bill?

  • Syria

    Queen Zenobia
    Khaled Al-Hariri—Reuters/Corbis

    Syria’s current image is that of a nation wracked by civil war and struggling against the violent militant group ISIS. But it outpaced the United States on one sign of social progress: recognizing women on official currency.

    Syrian Queen Zenobia, known for fighting back against Roman colonizers in the second century AD, appears on the 500-pound note.

     

  • Philippines

    Philipine 500 and 1000 peso notes
    Edwin Tuyay—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    During the mid-1980s, the Philippines introduced a 500-peso note featuring prominent senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who had been assassinated in 1983. His wife, Corazon Aquino, went on to become the first female president of the Philippines—and the first female president in Asia, for that matter—and her image was added to the bill after she died in 2009. Early 20th-century suffragette Josefa Llanes Escoda also appears (alongside two men) on the 1000-peso note.

  • Turkey

    Nick Fielding—Alamy

    In Turkey, the current 50-lira note features turn-of-the-century novelist and women’s rights activist Fatma Aliye Topuz on its reverse side. (The first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, appears on the front of every bill.)

  • Mexico

    500 Mexican pesos notes on a table with traditional Mexican ornament. The note has the portrait of the painter Diego Riviera on one side and Frida Kahlo on the other.
    Daniel Sambraus—Getty Images

    Mexico’s 500-peso note shows muralist Diego Rivera on the front and his wife and fellow artist Frida Kahlo on the back. Her image is a 1940 self-portrait, alongside a famous painting of hers from 1949, “Love’s Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl.” Seventeenth-century Mexican writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz appears on the 200-peso note.

  • Argentina

    Eva Peron (1919-1952) on 2 Pesos 2001 Banknote from Argentina. Second wife of President Juan Peron.
    Georgios Kollidas—Alamy

    Argentina’s beloved former First Lady Eva Perón—widely known by her nickname “Evita”—appears on the current 100-peso bill. The 20-peso note depicts 19th-century Argentine political activist Manuela Rosas along with her father, politician Juan Manuel de Rosas.

  • New Zealand

    New Zealand 10 Ten Dollar Bank Note
    Glyn Thomas—Alamy

    Like many other former British colonies, New Zealand features Queen Elizabeth II on its currency—the 20-dollar note to be precise. But Kiwi banknotes also honor suffragette Kate Sheppard, who in 1893 helped New Zealand become the first country in the world with universal voting rights for both men and women. Her image appears on the 10-dollar bill.

  • Israel

    Wikimedia Commons A portrait of Israeli poet Rachel Bluwstein, who lived from 1890 to 1931.

    The Bank of Israel recently announced that it will be adding images of two female Israeli writers to forthcoming 20- and 100-New Shekel banknotes, respectively. The former will feature turn-of-the-century poet Rachel Bluwstein, and the latter author, poet, and literary expert Leah Goldberg, who died in 1970.

  • Sweden

    Artwork showing the designs of new folding Swedish krona, or kronor, currency notes due to be issued in 2014 stands on display at the Riksbank in Stockholm, Sweden, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.
    Bloomberg via Getty Images—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Imagery on the krona celebrates several women in Sweden’s history. Currently there’s Selma Lagerlöf—the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature—on the 20-krona note, as well as 19th-century opera singer Jenny Lind on the 50-krona bill. Starting this fall, a new line of banknotes will feature Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren on the 20-krona, 20th-century soprano Birgit Nilsson on the 500-krona, and classic film actress Greta Garbo on the 100-krona note.

  • Australia

    An Australian one-hundred dollar banknote
    Carla Gottgens—Bloomberg via Getty Images Dame Nellie Melba on the Australian 100-dollar banknote

    Australia has one woman on either the front or back of every banknote currently in circulation. They include Queen Elizabeth II on the front of the $5 bill, social reformer and writer Dame Mary Gilmore on the back of the $10, 19th-century businesswoman Mary Reibey on the front of the $20, politician and social worker Edith Cowan on the back of the $50, and turn-of-the-century soprano Dame Nellie Melba on the front of the $100 note.

  • England

    Jane Austen to feature on banknote. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, with the ten pound note featuring Jane Austen at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, near Alton. The Austen note will be issued within a year of the Churchill £5 note, which is targeted for issue during 2016.
    Chris Ratcliffe—PA Wire/Press Association Images The new Jane Austen £10 note will look like this.

    If featuring women on currency were a contest, the Bank of England would win, with every note since 1960 depicting Queen Elizabeth II on the front. Past bills featured nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale on the back, current 5-pound notes show 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry, and the next 10-pound bill will celebrate famed 19th-century author Jane Austen.

TIME Money

What Happened When the U.S. Decided to Put a Woman on Currency in 1978

Portrait Of Susan B. Anthony
GraphicaArtis / Getty Images Profile portrait identified as Susan B Anthony in her 30s by SouthworthHawes (Albert Sands Southworth 1811-1894 and Josiah Johnson Hawes 1808-1901, American) (from a daguerreotype in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), c 1850.

There were lots of suggestions for who it should be, but the end result was a disappointment

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced that an upcoming redesign of the $10 bill, which features the likeness of Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury, should include the image of a woman. In a statement, the Treasury said it should specifically feature one “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy.” The note would be unveiled in 2020, a century after women were given the right to vote. But in the mean time, the Treasury is asking Americans to voice their opinions about the change on social media.

This won’t be the first time the Treasury decided it would be a good time to make the nation’s currency a little less male. As TIME reported in 1978:

Susan B. Anthony, the celebrated suffragist (1820-1906), is the front runner, but Amelia Earhart is closing fast, well ahead of Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt. Harriet Tubman, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Fanny Farmer, Grandma Moses. Martha Mitchell, Sara Lee, Anita Bryant. Shirley Temple and Whistler’s Mother. All are candidates in a campaign to put a woman’s face on a dollar coin that the Government plans to issue, probably in mid-1979. Since word became known of the plan, the Treasury has been receiving 700 to 800 nominations a day.

The Treasury’s official suggestion, meanwhile, steered away from historical women. The Statue of Liberty was their pick. (Which didn’t go over well: “We have real birds and real buffalo on our coins; it’s time we had a real woman,” said Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado congresswoman.) It was expected that the chosen face would be one that Americans would get very used to seeing. The new coin worked in vending machines! It didn’t fall apart! If you kept it in your pocket in the laundry, no big deal! Plus, its unique shape would be a help for the vision-impaired.

A year later, however, it was clear that those hopes were misplaced. More than 750 million of the coins had been minted, but only about a third were in circulation. Congress had acted to make sure that introducing the coin didn’t mean phasing out bills, and the public didn’t seem interested in making the switch voluntarily, especially because many felt that the coin was too easily confused for a quarter.

It wasn’t in production for very long—minting was “postponed” in August of 1980—but it did go through a brief resurgence in 1999, when it was reissued for a little while in order to meet demand as vending-machine change in the time between depletion of reserves and the issuance the following year of the Sacagawea coin, which has stuck around but similarly failed to inspire the nation to put away their notes.

Now, however, it looks ever like those who want to see a woman on currency won’t have to ditch their billfolds.

Read all about the 1979 decision to put Anthony on the dollar coin, here in the TIME Vault: Numismatic Ms.

TIME harassment

Meet the Woman Helping Gamergate Victims Come Out of the Shadows

Shannon Sun-Higginson's 'GTFO: The Movie' gives voice to victims of harassment in gaming

Shannon Sun-Higginson was investigating sexual harassment in gaming before Gamergate was even a thing. She almost single-handedly made GTFO: The Movie, a documentary about women in gaming debuted SXSW in March, stoking an ongoing debate over accusations that gaming culture is sexist. The film was released for the general public on iTunes last week and TIME caught up with Sun-Higginson to talk about the reactions she’s been getting, why gaming matters, and what surprised her about the trolls.

You said you’re not a big gamer yourself, so why did you make this documentary?

A friend of mine sent me a video of a woman being sexually harassed during a gaming tournament. It was 15 minutes long. I was shocked, like many people are when they see something like that. So I just started shooting it that weekend. I knew that sexual harassment was rampant, but I didn’t know just how bad it was.

For me what was most striking about that video was that this guy was harassing this woman but there were tons of people around. It was an officially sponsored event, and he just felt comfortable enough to harass this woman, he was part of an environment in which he felt like he could do that. One of the things that we really try to get across is that watching it happen to other people is being complicit.

Why should people who don’t care about video games care about this?

I think that anybody who cares about gender equality would care about this subject. I’m trying to shine a light on a niche industry, but it’s really so mainstream. Every kid plays video games—it’s a topic for parents and feminists and scholars.

But some people argue that equality in video games isn’t as important as, say, equality in medical school. Why is it so important that women be accepted in gaming?

Video games are just the clearest and most current example of a group trying to enter an industry and being rejected and harassed. As technology develops, there will be new examples and new fields. It has happened in medicine, it has happened in law, it has happened in literature—games are becoming so much a part of our everyday lives, just as movies are. Just as there are terrible gender ratios in film, the same thing is happening in gaming. Games are important in that they are ultimately for fun, but the games are a reflection of us and we of them.

Besides, games have a lot more merit than people give them credit for. There are educational games, there are world building games, the genre is really just at the beginning of such an enormous and exciting creative possibility space.

What was something surprising you learned while making this movie?

I was surprised and thankful that so many women were willing to talk to me on the record about this. Their interest in getting this issue out there is more important to them than the ramifications. I was expecting way more rejections or requests for anonymity.

What did you learn about women gamers?

I was impressed by these women who stay in games, even though some of them are getting harassed multiple times a day.

A lot of these women in the movie are friends with each other. Every woman who referred to another woman in the movie was more concerned for their friend than they were for themselves. They’re getting harassed, and they’re really just trying to look out for each other.

And I found that women often go hand in hand with the independent games, made by smaller developers.

And what did you learn about the trolls?

I was definitely surprised by how many of them were adults. When you think of people saying really obscene things online, you think it’s a teenager. Hearing those adult male voices was pretty shocking.

Did you meet any of them in person?

I definitely didn’t want to give a voice for those people in the movie. And I shot it almost entirely by myself, and that’s just not a situation I wanted to put myself in.

What is the lesson you hope people take from your film?

At the other end of that message, there’s a mom and you just told her you’re going to murder her children. This isn’t just going out into the interwebs, this is a real person, and she deserves respect.

Have you faced any backlash yourself?

Something that I found kind of funny is that people have been putting negative reviews online, but because of what they refer to in the movie I know that they haven’t watched it. People were giving me negative feedback on the movie when the Kickstarter ran, which is before the movie even existed.

There are legitimate criticisms you can make about the movie, and I’m interested in what people think about it. So if you’re going to hate-watch it, can you actually hate-watch it and tell me what you think?

You can buy GTFO here, or download it on iTunes.

 

 

TIME

Poll: Which Woman Should Be on the $10 Bill?

Cast your vote

The U.S. plans to put a woman on the $10 bill in 2020, and will choose someone who played a large role in American democracy. Take this poll to vote for the women you think deserve the honor.

TIME feminism

Female Perfect Imperfections Shine Through in Photographer’s New Project

perfectly imperfect ker fox photography
Ker-Fox Photography

Beautiful portraits of 16 women of all body types make up the first part of the ongoing project

In her new project Perfect Imperfections photographer Neely Ker-Fox goes out of her way to highlight the beauty in women of all sizes, shapes, ages and backgrounds. Inspired by other popular postpartum series by the likes of Jade Beall and January Harshe, Ker-Fox took photos of 16 women for the first series of her project and has made plans to shoot 10 more.

“I wanted to represent everybody,” Ker-Fox told People this week. “I didn’t want there to be anybody that saw this project and felt left out.”

The project came out of Ker-Fox’s own struggles with her body image. “For the last 9 months I have struggled with my postpartum body,” she wrote on her website, saying she “barely recognizes” her postbaby frame and has struggled with stretch marks, sciatic nerve pain and even an umbilical hernia. Acknowledging that “we as humans all have insecurities and we are all scarred, imperfect and flawed in some way physically and emotionally,” Ker-Fox said she hoped to show the deeper beauty that shines through in women.

See some of her photos at People

TIME women

Why I Don’t Want to Have Children

Pacifier
Getty Images

I’ve spent years carefully crafting the most amazing life I can

What I want is to be happy.

I’m often told that I’d make a good mother. Depending on my relationship with the person making this wildly incorrect statement, I have one of two reactions: either a small, insincere smile and a “mmmm” response that does not invite further discussion or a hearty laugh followed by a firm “No.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love kids. They’re hilarious, they’re adorable, and I (mostly) enjoy spending time with them. But without a doubt, I do not want them. And here’s why.

I don’t want to worry about diaper rash and “tummy time” and I don’t want to know what colic is.

I don’t want to put a kid on a kindergarten waiting list and I don’t want to decide between public and private education. I don’t want to coordinate basketball practice drop-off with ballet lessons pick-up, I don’t want to help with trigonometry and darling, I will not deal with your teenage angst because you best believe I invented that. I’d rather have bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails than try to figure out how to pay for my child’s college while I still owe roughly twelve kajillion dollars for my own degree. I’ve more than once done something “just to tell the grandkids about it,” but I never actually planned on there being any grandkids.

It amuses me to tell people I don’t want children because no one ever quite knows how to respond. I’ve gotten “Well, when you meet the right guy, you’ll change your mind,” which is basically suggesting I’m incapable of making decisions regarding my own life without consulting a nameless, faceless FutureMan and is, by the way, astonishingly offensive. Others immediately ask what I do for a living, as though my employer holds the key to my womb and has locked it up until I retire. I don’t really consider myself a career-minded kind of girl; I’ve always worked to live, not lived to work.

Two mothers have actually said to me, “I didn’t know what love was before having a baby. You should reconsider.” I’m happy they’re happy now but “not knowing love before kids” is one of the most acutely sad things I’ve ever heard. Occasionally, I get a hearty “yeah!” from like-minded women, some of whom will eventually become mothers and some of whom will not. I appreciate the support.

But at this point, it doesn’t matter how much anyone tries to change my mind because the decision’s been made — permanently.

Last October, I spent a wonderful morning with my doctor, during which he performed a tubal ligation on me.

Yep, I got my tubes tied at 28.

I admit that once my doctor agreed to perform the surgery, I had a moment of panic. It immediately crossed my mind that maybe everyone was right and I was wrong and I would wake up at 30 and want a baby more than anything in the world or that maybe my “hard pass” on kids was a rebellion against expectations simply for the sake of a rebellion.

Maybe I would love the complete upheaval of my priorities and schedule and life in general. Shortly after these hysterical thoughts raced through my mind, though, I regained my sanity. I picked a date for the surgery. Done. Tubes tied.

Here’s the thing: I’ve spent years carefully crafting the most amazing life I can.

I’m surrounded by people I love very much, who love me in return. I’m well-educated and well-traveled. I have endless time to learn about things that interest me and to see wonderful things and to meet the greatest people on earth. I leave piles of library books all over my bedroom and plan fabulous trips all over the world. I stay up until 6 a.m. watching Sons of Anarchy because I know no small person is relying on me to feed them in a few short hours. I occasionally eat chips and salsa for breakfast and drink beer for dinner and feel no guilt that I’m teaching anyone horrific eating habits. I spend my days finding my bliss, like all the inspirational posters beg of me.

All this being said, I can’t wait to be an auntie. Whenever my friends start popping out kids, I’ll be there with inappropriately loud and expensive presents. I’ll be the aunt who slips them a vodka martini on their 16th birthday and I’ll rant and rail with the best of them whenever they feel slighted by other kids.

And when I’m off for six months teaching scuba in Venezuela, I promise to send lovely postcards.

I get the reasons people want kids. I do. I’m not such a heartless, selfish monster that I’m incapable of understanding the appeal of a small person who loves you unconditionally and relies on you to guide them safely through a scary world. Parents are brave and strong and incredible people. But so are astronauts and brain surgeons and I don’t want to be those things, either.

What I want is to be happy.

And I’m doing that. I’m there, I’m living that dream. I’m happiest not being a mom, but hey… Call me if you need a babysitter. I’m great in a pinch.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

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TIME Soccer

See the History of the Women’s World Cup in 8 Extraordinary Moments

The FIFA tournament kicked off on June 6, with Team USA hoping for a record third title. Here are images of golden moments in the tournament's 24-year history

  • 1991: Michelle Akers leads the U.S. to victory in the first ever Women’s World Cup

    Michelle Akers-Stahl us womens world cup 1991
    Tommy Cheng—AFP/Getty Images

    On Nov. 30, 1991 Michelle Akers, center, scored two goals for the U.S. to win the first FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football. She is seen here holding the trophy together with teammates Julie Foudy, left, and Carin Jennings, right.

  • 1999: Brandi Chastain scores goal in penalty shootout to beat China

    Brandi Chastain US china 1999 world cup
    Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

    On July 10, 1999 Brandi Chastain scored the fifth and final goal in a penalty shootout to lead the U.S. to victory over China. Her famous celebration made the moment one of the most iconic in sports history.

  • 2003: Nia Kunzer scores a 98th-minute goal to defeat Sweden in the final

    womens world cup 2003 germany sweden
    Steve Grayson—WireImage/Getty Images

    On Oct. 12, 2003, Nia Kuenzer of Germany scored the winning goal against Kristin Bengtsson of Sweden during overtime in the final. She became the first woman to win the German title “Goal of the Year” for her late-game shot.

  • 2007: Brazil’s Marta scores to defeat the U.S.

    brazil us womens world cup 2007
    Feng Li—Getty Images

    On Sept. 27, 2007 Marta of Brazil scored one of the most memorable game winners in the history of the Women’s World Cup. The goal won Brazil the semi-final match against the U.S.

  • 2007: English forward Kelly Smith kisses her boot after scoring back-to-back goals against Japan

    womens world cup 2007 japan england kelly smith
    Paul Gilham—Getty Images

    It wasn’t just through her skills that England’s Kelly Smith captured the world’s attention. Her famous celebration after scoring against Japan on Sept. 11, 2007 cemented her as a Women’s World Cup celebrity.

  • 2007: Germany beats Brazil in the final

    2007 womens world cup brazil germany
    Guang Niu—Getty Images

    The Sept. 30, 2007 final was truly a contest between an unstoppable force (Brazil had 17 goals the way to the final) and an immovable object (Germany had not given up a single goal). In the end Germany prevailed, holding onto their perfect defensive run, winning the game 2-0 and becoming the first team to win back-to-back Women’s World Cups.

  • 2011: Team USA beats Brazil in the quarterfinal

    brazil us women's world cup soccer
    Alexandra Beier—FIFA/Getty Images

    After 120 minutes of regular time and extra time, the U.S. and Brazil were locked in a 2-2 standoff in the quarterfinals on July 10, 2011. Abby Wambach scored a late-game equalizer to push the game to a penalty shootout where Hope Solo made two diving saves to bring the U.S. to victory.

  • 2011: Japan defeats the U.S. to win the World Cup

    japan us women's world cup final 2011
    Christof Stache—AFP/Getty Images

    Only months after the devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan, the Japanese clenched their first Women’s World Cup victory on July 17, 2011. After a close match that ended tied 2-2, the game was decided in a penalty shootout, 3-1 in favor of Japan.

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