Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No. She's deadly serious...

Interesting that I should find myself getting in on this debate. I always have a lot to say about everything although generally choose not to, or at most may engage in a private rant and then let it drop. However, I was asked for an opinion, thus I am giving it.

'Single Girl In The City' wrote an enpassioned response to Penelope Trunk's Boston Globe article: 'Want to have a baby? Now's the time' and I don't blame her, not just because her experience of men would lead most women to a nunnery.

It reminds me of the articles I used to read in the Femail section of The Daily Mail, penned by the likes of Melanie Phillips and Linda Lee Potter, that would have me throwing my notepad and a fair few expletives around. I recall with special fondness a paper (published under the guise of academia) which suggested working women's fight for equal pay was stealing the family wage from their male counterparts, because working women are single and working men aren't. Apparently. It's not the 1950s, love. Take off your pinny and stop smiling at your bloody washing machine.

And so to Ms. Trunk, who is entitled to her point of view, especially as she's clearly making a decent living out of having one. In case you haven't been and read her article, she states that women who want a family and a career should do the family bit first and put their career on hold. She says a lot more besides, so it's worth a read - only to put in context what follows and also what 'Single Girl In The City' has to say.

It is a biological reality that for women WHO WANT TO HAVE CHILDREN, this is best planned for and achieved well before the age of 35. To conceive later in adulthood poses various risks to both the mother and child, including increased incidence of Down's Syndrome, SpinaBifida etc. for the child and Pre-eclampsia and other complications of pregnancy for the mother. Early onset of menopause may bring lapses in ovulation and prolonged use of contraception can also impact negatively on fertility.

We know this already. It's what makes it perfectly acceptable for the old yet virile Michael Douglas to wed and bed Catherine Zeta Jones whilst the equivalent female with accompanying toy boy is frowned upon. Curiously in a species that has by and large managed to bypass or control most base instincts we still cling to the conventional wisdom that the ability to procreate is paramount to whether a sexual relationship attains social acceptability. This continues to extend to our treatment of gay and lesbian relationships.

Tying childbirth and / or parenthood to long-term partnerships is fundamentally unnecessary in contemporary western culture, where increasing acceptance is given to the notion of choosing a single life or indeed choosing to join a pre-existing family unit, regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals concerned. Putting aside the technology that allows for women to conceive without men, rearing a child can be achieved in the absence of one or even both biological parents - all children need is a stable and consistent emotional bond. With whom they form that bond is of no consequence.

In summary then, it's obvious that if a woman wants to have a baby of her own then she's best doing this earlier in adulthood. If a man wants to father a baby then he needs to meet a like-minded woman and fully commit not just to the deed, but the aftermath also. Women undoubtedly have far greater freedom to choose to parent in the absence of a partner. However, that freedom comes at a cost.

To even imply that women can have both a successful career and a family is nonsense, generally. Accepted: there are exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between. For almost every woman, the decision to start a family is one that is made knowing that from there onwards they are parent first, professional woman second. The career becomes the means to provide for the family. The family is not created to be a backdrop to the career.

The underlying issue is not about that ticking biological clock; it's about the fact that the world of work still refuses to acknowledge it. For women, the choice is family or career and it's not a choice men are faced with. Placating women with token gestures of paternity leave is not enough, because ultimately there is a game of sexual politics afoot and it goes something like this.

Women have one means to control and dominate men: their sexuality. The woman who gives off the 'one day I want a baby' vibe is terrifying, for she is implicitly stating to her male superiors that a) she is going to need time off; b) she is going to need to trap a man in the process and it might be one of them and c) she is an actively sexual being. On the other hand, there are the women who climb that ladder successfully because either they emulate men to such an extent that they are essentially men, or they exude a certain air of 'will suck cock for promotion' and men understand that this is as far as it goes, if it does get that far at all. Either way they are asexual beings (the former having given up their female sexuality, the latter prepared to sell it) and therefore not a threat.

A woman's career proceeds in a man's world, where equality does exist, but only if certain sacrifices are made. As long as this is the case, successful career women will remain largely despicable creatures, barren and devoid of maternal or other nurturing instinct, because those are the unwritten terms and conditions they accepted.

Alas the psychological research that suggests women will gain more satisfaction from finding a partner than having a good job, if it exists, is worth nothing. Firstly finding a partner and becoming a mother are entirely separate pursuits: one may engage in either independently of the other. Secondly the daily hassles associated with living with a partner and caring for a family are far more significant factors in long-term stress and ill-health than any possible counter-action caused by the happiness of securing a husband or a good job. The big things come, but then they go again and it's the little things that wear us down. And there really is a wealth of research to demonstrate this.

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