THE IMPACT OF STIGMA – EVEN WHEN IT IS NOT INTENDED
In addressing this issue, we adopt Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman’s definition of stigma as a “profoundly discrediting attribute,” in which an individual is perceived as “atypical” or not “normal” within their community.
For our study, we looked at the stigma associated with a “harmless,” “innocent,” and culturally common question, “Do you have a child?” – both in the women’s countries of birth and in New Zealand.
While the question may seem harmless, our participants found it quite the opposite.
They said the question seemed to devalue their being and position them as a tainted and discounted individual, due to their involuntary childlessness.
This question has given participants room to review their identity as female, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, Sri Lankan, and Asian, but not in a favorable light.
REDUCED SOCIAL CONNECTIONS AND SELF-ESTEEM
We also learn that there are various social consequences and impacts from the question about children.
First, this stigma has caused social isolation and social exclusion among a number of these women, both from New Zealand’s ethnic communities and from their relatives in their home countries.
We found that our respondents received more questions and shared more shame and guilt about not having children than their husbands. They were stigmatized both in their ethnic communities in New Zealand and in their home countries, by members of their extended family, such as uncles, aunts, even nephews and also acquaintances.
These have caused them to withdraw from social ethnic gatherings in New Zealand. Subsequently, they tried to distance themselves from connecting with their family in their home country, for example by calling the family less often, so they didn’t need to answer the same old questions.
Other couples tend to shorten their vacation time, such as reducing a month’s vacation to two weeks, to protect themselves from social and public scrutiny.