Monday, January 22, 2007

Does feminism fail women?

This month's Marie Claire features the heartfelt life story of Danielle. She knew as a girl that she always wanted marriage and children:

The eldest of five, I'd loved kids from an early age and knew, with an unwavering certainty that I would have at least two. I would live with my children and their father ...

It was not, however, until age 35 that she met Rob, a man she wanted to start a family with. Conception proved more difficult than expected and she subjected herself to four years of IVF.

Finally, she fell pregnant but the child had Down syndrome and she decided to undergo an abortion. Eight months later she was pregnant again, but this baby died in the womb.

She was shocked by this turn of events, being unaware of the difficulties of childbirth in later life. She tells us:

Although I'd just turned 40 I'd never even considered this risk. After all, my mother had given birth to my little brother at 44. I assumed - naively - that, having finally managed to conceive, I'd go on to have a normal healthy baby, just like she did. But it wasn't to be.

Her partner Rob was now in his 50s and was understandably reluctant to keep pursuing fertility treatment. She now had to choose between him and further attempts at IVF. She thought at first she might be strong enough to leave him but then decided not to:

How could I give up the love of my life to become a single mother in her 40s? How could I put that pressure on a child?

But things didn't go well for her:

Life became hellish. Grief was transforming me into a woman I didn't know. I had such a loving, caring, supportive partner and yet I wouldn't allow him to touch me. He had fallen in love with a happy, slim, successful, creative woman and now found himself relegated to the role of carer to a weeping, empty vessel, who had ballooned from a size 12 to a size 20 through lack of self-care ...

Although Rob's behaviour was never anything other than selfless and loyal, I felt that I had 'denatured' our relationship.

The relationship ended soon after, leaving Danielle feeling that she would "die with the pain". She moved in with her sister and her children.

Her lost dream of motherhood is still with her:

These days, I indulge myself occasionally in the fantasy of who my lost daughters would have become ... I imagine that I'm getting ready to drive to the school gates to pick them up. I don't want to lose touch with these phantom children growing up inside me. I feel like a better human being for loving them.

My lost motherhood will always be with me. It's like a dull ache that every so often, at unexpected moments, sharpens into jolting pain - like when I see the ecstatic face of a new mother as she looks at her baby.

So what went wrong? Why did Danielle end up in such unhappy circumstances? The men of my generation won't be surprised by her answer:

The trouble was, throughout my 20s and early 30s, my relationships with men were short-lived and problematic. I was always attracted to exciting, but emotionally unavailable men, who were anything but suitable husband - let alone father - material.

So Danielle, along with so many other young women, encouraged and rewarded the wrong sort of men. The family type man was bypassed.

What conclusion does Danielle draw from this mistake? She writes:

I still bitterly regret not having had children much sooner. I wasted precious time in my 20s and 30s waiting for the love of my life, when I should have just got on with it - whether or not the right man was by my side. He could have come later.

So she still doesn't get it. Even with the benefit of hindsight, when things are already too late, she isn't aware of the possibility of a culture in which men and women prepare themselves for marriage and parenthood at a reasonable age.

Her "solution", if generally adopted, would only drive the wedge between men and women more deeply, making things even more difficult for future generations.

What this illustrates is that individuals won't always figure out for themselves what to do, even in securing the most important things in their life. It helps if individuals are guided by a supportive culture or tradition.

But what is there to help modern women? You would think that modern women have all the support they need, as a whole feminist infrastructure has been set up for them.

But feminism has proven itself to be an inadequate support for women. It doesn't matter how many "women's officers" there are in government, academia and business, if all that feminism aims at is autonomy and careers.

Feminists have never seriously interested themselves in questions of how women might successfully marry and become mothers (only with how motherhood might be made less of an impediment to careers).

When my generation of women were delaying marriage and motherhood to some vague point of time in their late 30s, where were the feminists warning against such an obviously unwise move? Where were the feminists who were concerned about the unhappiness that such a life course would inevitably bring to many thousands of women?

As I recall it was a couple of male obstetricians who first sounded the alarm bells. And when an Australian journalist, Virginia Haussegger, found herself amongst the ranks of reluctantly childless women, and criticised feminism for focusing only on careers and not relationships, she was met with a harshly unsympathetic response from feminists and labeled an ingrate.

Unfortunately it seems likely that women will continue to suffer for as long as feminism remains their official support. What is needed is for more women to conclude, as Virginia Haussegger did, that feminism is "an inadequate structure from which to build a life".


  1. As of the 21st January, feminism as a debating club is no longer relevant. The Femocrats of this world will launch into full electoral mode, and the days of old feminism will be left behind.

    Plan B is under way.

  2. she isn't aware of the possibility of a culture in which men and women prepare themselves for marriage and parenthood at a reasonable age.

    Key sentence, IMO. There is a ridiculous expectation that young people should remain irresposible gits for as long as possible and spend their most fertile years not having children.

    And while men can father children at almost any age, it is probably generally not advisable to be waiting until one is old and lacking energy to be fathering children. Not good for father or child, I think.

    It's not just feminism though. Secularism in general has the absurd belief - easy to refute - that adult human beings are independent beings. In reality, we are all interdependent.

    Only a world view that takes this into account will help society.

  3. The story you tell here mirrors my own in many ways. My wife and I waited until we were "older" to have our children and we had trouble, We were lucky in that we did not need to use IVF but I met so many couples on the IVF treadmill and believe me there is no torture more nasty than that..

    I see my nephew who is 22 and still acting as if he is 15 and there are so many "adolescents" who are nudging thirty...

    I chose to have my children later in my life but given my time over I would have began in my twenties rather than my forties.

  4. Iain, lyl, thanks for the comments.

    lyl, you're right to point out that trying to have children later in life isn't ideal for men either.

    Male fertility does decline as men age; men won't have the same energy at 50 as they would have at 30; and the older that men father their children the less likely it is that they'll be young enough to really play a role in the lives of their grandchildren.

    lyl, I agree too that the problem doesn't only rest with feminism - for exactly the reason you outline.

  5. The appeal of feminism to women is all the concessions it affords them. As Lyl said, it allows people to be “irresposible gits for as long as possible and spend their most fertile years not having children.”

    The question is; how does our culture make feminism unappealing? If feminism is telling young girls that they can indulge in anything they like with little (or no) consequences, and the future will, y’know, like, be great! – then it’s an uphill climb to pry this movement from the collective girls’ fingers.

    In my opinion, more older women who have lived through feminism’s disappointment need to mentor the younger girls to avoid it’s ideals. Instead, we have older women who are seen as ‘survivors’ (or martyrs), and wanting to avoid embarrassment, they accept this victim status because it affords them support, sympathy and further concessions from feminism.

    Once feminist rights & concessions are given, they are reluctantly surrendered. Feminism is a youthful paradise for women. Feminism has created a temporary utopia for young girls/women, but ignored it’s consequences in later life. Feminism’s solution to the ‘temporary’ aspect is to ‘re-educate’ men into different modes of thinking. (ie. ‘Older women are as appealing as younger women ); but it doesn’t work. The amount of single men (and never married men) reflects this. If women chose to willfully exclude themselves from men & marriage in their fertile years (& basically indulge in excess for as long as their sexual appeal allows), then unfortunately it makes the feminist rant of ‘patriarchy’ an even more self-evident misapprehension.

    With sencerity (and now more than ever), the adage, “you reap what you sow” seems relevant to women today.


  6. Dear Sir:
    I'm a conservative Canadian blogger in the US and would very much like to link up with some Australian conservative bloggers like yourself.
    You can find my email on my site, I wasn't able to locate one for you unfortunately.
    All the best,

    J. Strong

  7. ”When my generation of women were delaying marriage and motherhood to some vague point of time in their late 30s, where were the feminists warning against such an obviously unwise move? Where were the feminists who were concerned about the unhappiness that such a life course would inevitably bring to many thousands of women?”

    That statement just confirms my long-held opinion that the female condition (compounded HEAVILY by feminism) needs it’s hand held, or at the very least; someone to blame.

    ”Where are the feminists concerned with women’s long-term happiness?”

    The answer is - they don’t exist.

    Feminism is a short-term ‘holiday’ for women in their middle ages. It’s fun, fun, fun. It’s victories over men, and conquests over other people. It’s ‘feeling’ good at the expense of others. It’s a half-fisnished exercise in wishful thinking. And once that middle-aged ‘window’ of feminist fun has gone, it leaves women alone, unloved and empty. At this point, women will usually point the finger at men, because (as we’ve discussed previously) – feminism exists only in ‘one’ direction’. It takes no responsibility. It has no reflection in the mirror. It (apparently) doesn’t really exist, or it exists in so many forms as to be undefinable – and as such – unblamable.

    After middle age, women will have to (to coin an often used feminist term) – “move on”.

    The question is –

    To where?
    With whom?


  8. I still think that the tide is turning. I have chosen to start my family at a "younger" age, having watched my aunt's contemporaries struggle. My aunt was lucky and did not need any help to have her children - but the vast majority of her friends tried IVF - and it didn't work for them. They ended up heartbroken like Danielle. Poor Danielle, I feel a little heartbroken myself reading her story!

    I think part of the problem is a stupid romanticism. When I was in my early 20s, I dated a guy who was really pretty crazy in retrospect, but I thought that I could somehow "save" him. I think there's a notion in society that emotional angst in a relationship = passion. The relationship is stormy but so romantic (like Pride and Prejudice)! No, emotional angst in a relationship means pain. Fortunately, I got over that phase, much to the relief of friends and family.

    To be honest, I don't think it's just about feminism (although a certain variety of feminism has definitely contributed to this problem). It's a broader societal malaise. Relationships take work and require compromise. It isn't always going to be rosy. But the way the world is now, I think a lot of people think that they shouldn't have to compromise, shouldn't have to work at it, and if something goes wrong - well, just throw it away. People feel that they don't have to commit any more. That being said, of course there are some circumstances where relationships just can't work any more (violence, infidelity, abuse).

    I guess I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl when it comes to family - I take my marriage vows very seriously. :-)

  9. I realize this is a very late post in the game, but I find it incredibly telling that not once did the woman in question mention adoption.

    As I see it, modern feminism is all about "me." You can have all the fun you want, you can have your career without consequences, and medicine will fix you up in the end.