Monday, June 9, 2008

Feminism: No Time for Babies

The other day I came across this article from The Australian, courtesy of MamaMia. I have to say I agree with it - in today's society, having babies "young" (like, in your 20's when your fertility is ripest) is generally frowned upon - you need to establish a career, finances, travel, education etc etc before you think about reproduction. Feminism has given women the chance to empower themselves and achieve all these things, but at what cost?

THE strategic silences of feminism are having profound effects on society. For all the brilliant choices ushered in for women - the freedom to forge ahead with careers, to stay single, if that was their wish, not to be tied down by family and babies, if that was their choice - feminism failed women by refusing to inform them that their new-found choices came at a price.
By failing to remind women about their biology and their declining fertility, feminism deliberately ignored the innate desire of most women to have a child. The silence continues. It is there in the classroom where, like previous generations of young girls, the present generation is still not taught that fertility cannot be taken for granted.

Fortunately, there are moves to fill in the silence about infertility. If it happens, it may allow young women to make more fully informed choices about work and babies, avoiding the sorrow that afflicted many of their childless forerunners.

Unlike women in the 1950s and ‘60s, the liberated generation of women that followed in the ‘70s and ‘80s had the world at their feet. Yet feminism’s mantra of choice made little room for women who chose to eschew careers for babies.

Indeed, if we are honest, feminism never had much time for babies. Having babies meant leaving the workplace, opting out of the career track, at least for a time. With its unwavering focus on encouraging women to make great strides in the professions, making their presence felt in the boardroom, the courtroom and parliament, the feminist movement deliberately ignored motherhood as a legitimate choice for women.

The cost of feminism’s silence about fertility is etched in the faces of those women who pursued dazzling careers and carefree singledom but ended up childless. Women such as ABC presenter Virginia Haussegger, who a few years ago openly wrote about the price she paid for listening to the feminist mothers, who encouraged us to reach for the sky but failed to tell us the truth about our biological clock. Said Haussegger: “Here we are, supposedly ‘having it all’ as we edge 40; excellent education; good qualifications, great jobs. It’s a nice caffe-latte kind of life, really.” But something was missing. “I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase.”
(Click the above link to read the full article).

I was 21 when my daughter was born. Thankfully, I'd completed my university degree and spent a couple of years travelling, so I don't feel I've "missed out" on anything. Quite the opposite. I have this new sense of fulfilment that can only come with motherhood. Arguably, our fundamental point of existence is to procreate, so what happens when you've spent your 20's and 30's ticking all the other boxes? Do you then panic and think "shit! I'm going to be old and alone if I don't pop one out soon!" You can have all the money in the world but you can't really buy your own child. As fertility decreases, the need for expensive treatments and the emotional insecurity increases. Women in this situation are a product of their generation: they did what they were "supposed" to do and now one of the most innate desires of the majority of females has been left by the wayside. I am not in anyway trying to gloat, or to assume that women who are close to or in their 40's are selfish and money-obsessed. It's a catch-22 that we've created for ourselves. Instead of thinking/being taught, "I can, I must have it all", isn't it time girls and women were conditioned to think in a far more healthy way: "What do I want?"

Feminism is about choice. Women in the boardroom, strutting down the street in suits, company CEO's, those with large bank accounts all of their own doing, are but one aspect of feminism. What about the intelligent, university-trained woman who forsakes a career to spend her years raising her children? In today's world, that's almost as tough of a decision (and equally frowned upon) as women of generations past entering the workforce instead of staying in the kitchen. We've gone full circle.

I have got blisters in my arse from sitting on the fence so often, but as far as I can tell we should be looking at women's place in society in light of both ends of the spectrum: feminism has given women the choice and the power to enter the workforce on arguably as equal footing as men. By the same token, this has overtaken one of her most important roles, that of motherhood. If we've reached this point, surely the next is to take a teeny step back and admit that maybe we can't have it all. Men don't. And I've gone off track a bit. But the point is, what's the point of the feminist movement if it has begun to deny women of one of their primary tools of happiness? Any movement needs to develop and change over time. I think the time has come to adjust feminism to recognise, and to help girls and women recognise and appreciate, and choose to be a part of or not, that miraculous role they play within society, the role of life-givers.

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