Sunday, January 16, 2005

Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit: Here's What You're Missing, Dumbass - Historical Context and Social Pressure

Man, I keep trying to ignore these dumbfucks, but then the other feminist bloggers jump on board, and I have to bitch.

Here's the panic - I would say "latest panic" but they've been preaching "smart, successful women won't get married and have kids, and they'll regret it and spend their nights sobbing into their empty nest and eating bonbons, so you should get barefoot and pregnant straight out of highschool to a Big, Successful Guy who can tell you who you should be, since you won't have enough time on your own to figure out who you are and want you want," for thirty years:

Over the past 30 years, the fraction of women over 40 who have no children has nearly doubled, to about a fifth. According to the Gallup Organization, 70 percent of these women regret that they have no kids.

Uh, hold on there, buddy. First of all, we don't have a population crises in this country. Fewer kids from well-to-do whites (or well-to-do Romans, yea, I've read this argument before) is the real issue. Let's not pretend otherwise. He's really talking about well-educated white women. The Roman state used the same sorts of arguments to try and get upper-class women to have more children.

But these women were smart, knew what contraception was, and knew that pregnancy killed 1 in 4 of them. So they kept their kid-cap to two. The Roman state started offering tax breaks to men who convinced their wives to have more children, and husbands were told to keep an eye on her use of contraception. Keep out the people providing knowledge, get rid of the ingredients for pessiaries, and above all, keep marrying women when they're very, very young so they have as little knowledge as possible coming into a relationship.

Sounds fun.

Yet more women in the US today have children than did a hundred years ago - they just have fewer of them. How can this be?

Well, it's social math: having sex before marriage, being an "unwed" mother, was the Absolute Worst Thing that could happen to a woman. It was far more discouraged a hundred years ago than now. Do I need to say this? Some women were still able to get away with this - and of course most marriages were "the baby's due in 6 months" sorts of marriages. However, it was expected that a certain percentage of women would be "old maids" without spouse or children, due to an imbalance of men and women (a hell of a lot of men died in those world wars, the civil war, etc. There have been long periods of lots-of-women-who-don't-have-kids). Keeping that pool of childless women out there was a good way to cut down fertility rates, too. Nice way to curb female agency and sexuality, as well.

Women today, however, have more options. You can choose (oh, thank all your feminist orgs for that) when to have children and how many you want. You don't have to be married. Hell, you don't even need a steady male partner, just a sperm bank. This is a great thing. This is not Evil. This does not lead to Sobbing Over Bonbons, though a lot of guys sure seem to wish it would.

But there is also one big problem that stretches across these possibilities: Women now have more choices over what kind of lives they want to lead, but they do not have more choices over how they want to sequence their lives.

WTF? This guy seems to think that a woman has to stay home with her kids for the first ten years of the kids' lives, so she's only got a couple of ten-year windows: either she's gotta be married and punching out babies by 25 or 35. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

I'm not sure what planet he lives on. He's really obsessed with this idea of a woman's "most fertile years." Like if these women don't have kids, the world will implode and we'll all die (read Joanna Russ's We Who Are About To).

I've never been especially concerned about my fertility or having children or getting married. I'm one of those, "If I meet a cool partner who's in it for the long haul and have a kid sometime, that'd be cool. If not, even better: more retirement money for me."

The women in my family are incredibly fertile, just the sorts this columnist would love. We're the wagon train women who signed up to marry some random guy so we could go populate the west and dig out a sod hut and drive cattle. My maternal grandmother recently told me about her mother's mother, who was purported to have been married five times - once to an Indian - and spent most of her evenings in the local pub playing the piano and singing baudy songs. Rumor has it both my grandmothers did the "hell, we're practically engaged, let's get it on - hey, oops" thing and were nice and rosy for their weddings, and it wasn't thirty days after going off the Pill that my mom was pregnant with me. My brother was the famous "oops" baby - my mom was trying to wean herself off Pill hormones, and my brother was conceived despite the use of spermicide and a diaphragm (needless to say, I don't use either of these forms of birth control. Learn from the women in your family. This is important). And then there's my sister and my "oops" nephew, of course.

All we have to do is roll out of bed, and hey, hot damn, look at that.

There's really no need to stress about babies.

I don't know about everybody else's parents, but mine have always worked. They were lucky in that they had a great babysitter in my French grandmother, who took care of me, my brother and sister, and my cousin during work hours for the first twelve years of my life. Either my mom or my dad picked us up after work, we always ate dinner at home, watched a lot of movies, and having a two-income household gave us the opportunity to go on some great roadtrips.

Once I was twelve, I stayed home with my younger brother and sister and looked after them, and my mom finished up her MBA. Our job was housecleaning, which took some of the load off my mom (my dad just isn't big on the housework, it's true - their deal was that when my mom made more money than my dad, he'd take over cleaning the house. This has happened only once, because for 20 years my parents worked for a company that consistently paid my father $100 more a paycheck than they paid my mother, even though they had the same job. Why did they do this? Because, apparently, their boss thought that paying them equally would somehow disrupt my parents' marriage. So he got paid more and promoted first, all the way up the line: he'd become a manager, then her, then he was an area manager, then her, then he was VP Operations, then she got VP Human Resources. Yea. Fucked up. My mom still remembers the days when they'd pay the male burger flippers more than than female ones because "men are the breadwinners. They have to support a family on their salary. Women are just earning money on the side." :;snort:: My mom said that when she was 16, this made a lot of sense, until she actually stopped and thought about it. "Hey, but, wait a minute, we're doing the same work! And I'm doing it better than him!").

This guy's seriously suffering from a lack of imagination about the way the world can work. He's got a very small box.

So there are women now who, like my sister, can have kids and not be married or attached to anybody in particular and can live on their own with limited social stigma (depending on the circles). Mainly, they can do this because it's not only so incredibly common, but incredibly visible: you're allowed to talk about being a woman who has a kid and not a husband. Yea, you still get flack for it, but it's a serious option, as is buddying up with another woman, picking a friend or going to a clinic, and having and raising a kid together.

Options aren't bad things, and I don't believe that women who are over 40 and haven't had kids are really all that broken up about it: anybody who really, really wants kids is going to have them at the right time in their lives. You find a way to do it. What you're hearing from the Famous Over 40 women is them interrogating their lives based on studies like this, on panic-hysteria about how you're more likely to get killed by a terrorist than get married after 40 (total bunkum. Completely disproved. Read Backlash), and how you should be feeling guilty for not having kids, and you must be some kind of selfish bitch to have this free life, and don't you feel Hollow and Empty? Ask people this enough times, and they're going to start thinking they're weird for saying they're not.

They'll start questioning themselves, and feel bad or not-normal for their perfectly valid life choices.

I'm a woman. That doesn't mean it's my biological duty to have children. It doesn't mean that that's my ultimate purpose. Not everybody's here to have kids. That's a good thing.

Having and raising children is too fucking difficult a thing to do because you felt pressured into it, because you felt you had some sort of biological duty that you thought you were weird not to feel.

And I resent these studies that don't take the issue of women's social pressures to have children into account. The day we're given positive images of childless, single, Over 40 women who have lots of great friends, a great job, and perhaps the occasional lover in Paris or Milan, is the day when we might be able to ask women for real how they feel about being Over 40 and free of children.

6 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Funny post, thanks. Journal of Family History and others (Bio Social Science/History) will tall you that for a very long time before the modern era, way back into the 12-14th C. in France say, studies of church & baptismal records consistently show that upwards of 1/3 of all conceptions typically occurred prior to marriage. It's a grand and a very old 'tradition'. But the aspect of social control here does indeed stink, even from those over educated tenderly supposedly 'hip' white males. Living in the South is a bit worse, but even here the change over generations has been telling. Still there was always social 'space' for single women with kids. But they were more barely seen than heard from, and there was many a bad marriage that was stuck in neutral for 20 years, 'for the sake of the kids'. There's some real value in that, but it is dysfunctional just the same, although it will appear 'normal' to everyone on the outside.

It sounds like you were fairly fortunate in your parents. I tell folks that for most of human history, that's what the family looked like. The grandmothers/grandparents would look after the kids while the parents worked. That brief 1950's ideal of mom staying at home and caring for the kids exclusively was an aberration. For all sorts of demographic, economic and social reasons this experience was and is unlikely to be repeated. After all, WW11 does not come around often and we rarely produce the kind of surplus and excess capacity to be able to 'sideline' a substantial portion of the population. There are plenty of downsides to insisting that your educated elite spend their capital and most productive years in essentially what is unremunerative labor and production in rearing a family, especially if it is to be done at the behest of the state for a needlessly pro-natalist policy.  

Posted by VJ

Anonymous said...

I've personally vowed not to get pregnant until after a Democrat is elected President. Fuck David Brooks. 

Posted by Maureen

Anonymous said...


Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I never did understand the thought that women who didn't have children were somehow selfish. I want to have kids one day and I'm sometimes troubled by the fact that this is a very selfish thing to do. Caring for children isn't selfish, but bringing children into this world just because I want babies seems deeply selfish to me. This isn't a perfect world, it's nowhere near a perfect world and creating more people to suffer along with this imperfect world seems kind of mean. Not that I'm going to let that stop me, but then again I'm at peace with my selfishness.  

Posted by Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Amused to see a reference to "We who are about to".

Maureen, don't bother. Brooks is gay. He and the pope fall in the same category re: reproduction. "You don't play the game, you don't get to make the rules!" 

Posted by NancyP

Anonymous said...

Dude, is that true?

That's so enormously beautiful... Oh, the irony... 

Posted by Kameron Hurley