Sunday, July 19, 2009

Missing out

What leads women to rethink feminism? Earlier this year an English playwright, Zoe Lewis, explained the transformation in her beliefs.

Before quoting some of her thoughts, I'll set the scene. A liberal society takes autonomy to be the highest good. Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. Therefore, feminism will aim to maximise female autonomy.

How can you make women more autonomous? One way is to stretch out for as long as possible an independent single girl lifestyle based on casual relationships, travel, shopping and parties. Another is to make career (in which women became financially independent) more important than marriage and motherhood.

And what about equality? If you believe that you should be self-determining, then you won't want your predetermined gender to matter in what you do. An autonomous woman will want to "match it with the boys" and prove that she can do whatever they can do. There will be an equality of sameness.

Young women get the message that to be free they should put career first; enjoy an independent single girl lifestyle in their twenties and into their thirties; and prove themselves by matching it with the boys.

Is this an adequate base on which to build a life? For many women, the answer will turn out to be no. Zoe Lewis is one of the women who was burnt by the feminist and liberal take on freedom:

I never thought I would be saying this, but being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is that the rustle of taffeta I hear as the suffragettes turn in their graves? Possibly. My mother was a hippy who kept a pile of (dusty) books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bed ... She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. I fought with my older brother and won; at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.

Now, nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen. I feel like a UN inspector sent in to Iraq only to find that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams - to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.


Her career did not bring the power, glamour and life success she thought it would:

Ten years ago The Times ran a piece about my play Paradise Syndrome. It was based on my girlfriends in the music business. All we did was party, work and drink. The play sold out and I thought: “This is it! I'm going to have it all: success, power and men are going to adore me for it.” In reality it was the beginning of years of hard slog, rejection letters and living on the breadline.


She once thought Madonna was a living embodiment of liberal autonomy: of being unimpeded in determining one's life so that it was possible to do anything and be anything:

A decade on, I have written the follow-up play Touched for the Very First Time in which Lesley, played by Sadie Frost, is an ordinary 14-year-old from Manchester who falls in love with Madonna in 1984 after hearing the song Like a Virgin. She religiously follows her icon through the years, as Madonna sells her the ultimate dream: “You can do anything - be anything - go girl.” Lesley discovers, along with Madonna, that trying to “have it all” is a huge gamble. I wrote the play because so many of my girlfriends were inspired by this bullish woman who allowed us to be strong and sexy. I still love her and always will, but she has encouraged us to chase a fantasy and it's a huge disappointment.


Women are missing out on being wives and mothers because these roles were rejected by liberals in favour of female independence:

This month the General Household Survey found that the number of unmarried women under 50 has more than doubled over the past 30 years. And by the age of 30, one in five of these “freemales”, who have chosen independence over husband and family, has gone through a broken cohabitation.

I argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront, trampling the traditional role of women underneath their Doc Martens. I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear.


Zoe Lewis is not alone in having a change of heart. But for some it will be too late:

Increasing numbers of my feminist friends are giving up their careers for love and children and baking. I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side, but the problem is not so much time as mentality. I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships because I thought I had all the time in the world. Many of my friends did the same. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.


There are some important points made in the above excerpt. First, what the liberal emphasis on autonomy leaves out is the importance of love and family. Essentially, what Zoe Lewis is arguing is that "freedom" (i.e. autonomy) is not the sole, overriding good after all. There are other important goods in life that can't be overridden, such as love, home, children and family.

Second, note that Zoe Lewis confesses that "I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships". Unfortunately, this was part of the middle-class, tertiary educated culture of the times. Women thought that family formation could be indefinitely postponed and therefore did not want to settle into a serious relationship.

This had significant consequences. It meant that women no longer favoured family men. Men were rewarded for being unsuitable in some way. So the attitude of men changed as well. Some adapted to the culture of casual relationships by becoming players. Some withdrew from the whole dating game and adapted to a lifetime of bachelorhood. Some looked elsewhere for women. The result was that when some of these middle class women did finally start to look for husbands they met men who were no longer as keen to commit.

Zoe Lewis makes another notable admission:

I thought that men would love independent, strong women, but (in general) they don't appear to. Men are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes.


This too is significant. Zoe Lewis now recognises that it's not possible to make gender not matter. When it comes to heterosexuality, opposites attract. Men are hardwired to find the feminine qualities of women appealing.

However, it's not just that men don't go for masculine women. Zoe Lewis cannot deny her own feminine instincts:

Somewhere inside lurks a woman I cannot control and she is in the kitchen with a baby on her hip and dough in her hand, staring me down. She is saying: “This is happiness, this is what it's all about.” It's an instinct that makes me a woman, an instinct that I can't ignore even if I wanted to.


Again, Zoe Lewis in practice was not able to live by the credo of making her gender not matter. She couldn't ignore her hardwired nature (her instincts), even if for political reasons she tried to. As a single woman in her late 30s, these instincts appear to be asserting themselves in the strongest terms, perhaps more so than for a woman who had married and had children earlier in life.

Zoe Lewis now wishes she had taken relationships more seriously in her twenties:

Had I this understanding of my psyche ten years ago I would have demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour. There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer, but I wouldn't give up my dreams.

I talked to the girls who were the subject of my play Paradise Syndrome in 1999. Sas Taylor, 38, single and childless, runs her own PR company: “In my twenties I felt I was invincible,” she says. “Now I wish I had done it all differently. I seem to scare men off because I am so capable. I have business success but it doesn't make you happy.” Nicki P, 35 and single, works in the music industry and adds: “It was all a game back then. Now I am panicking. No one told me that having fun is not as fun as I thought.”


Women in their twenties are in a strong position. They are at the height of their desirability to men. The danger, perhaps, is that this makes them feel "invincible". They may not realise that their advantage won't last forever and that it's most sensible to find a partner when the going is at its best.

Why else doesn't the autonomy principle work well in real life? It's not just that men prefer feminine women, but the biological reality of a woman's ticking clock:

Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We have only a finite time to be mothers and when that clock starts ticking we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left, forgetting talk of deadlines and PowerPoint presentations in favour of Mamas & Papas buggies and ovulation diaries. Not all women want children but I challenge any woman to say she doesn't want loving relationships. I wish I'd had the advice that I am giving to my 21-year-old sister: if you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't do later (apart from having kids).


We can't determine everything through our own will. A woman still has to consider the reality of her biological clock. It's genetic and hard-wired. Furthermore women want, as part of their nature, loving relationships. Again, this is not something that can be changed according to individual will.

Therefore, Zoe Lewis does something that shows character. She cannot now change her mistakes, but she can try to steer younger women away from her own fate. So she encourages younger women not to reject good men and leave things too late.

Nor does Zoe Lewis take the easy option of blaming men or a patriarchy. She does not believe that it was men who prevented her achieving the right kind of balance in life. It was the feminism held amongst women:

In the future I hope that there can be a better understanding of women by women. The past 25 years have been confusing and I feel that I've been caught in the crossfire. As women we should accept each other rather than just appreciating “success”. I have always felt a huge pressure to be successful to show men that I am their equal. What a waste of time. Wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists.


She now feels it was a waste of time to pursue "equality as sameness". She recognises that a woman who sets out to do this won't ever give parity to the role of wife and mother.

Finally, she again makes the point that autonomy, whilst important, isn't the sole, overriding good to be chased relentlessly at the expense of everything else:

Choice and careers are vital, of course, but they shouldn't be pursued relentlessly. I love being a writer and still have my dream but now I am facing facts. The thing that has made me feel best in life was being in love with my ex-boyfriend and the thing that makes me feel the most centred is being in the country with kids and dogs, and yes, maybe in the kitchen.


She feels that she has missed out on the things that have turned out to be most important to her. She is yet more proof that liberalism is especially unsuitable when it comes to relationships.

13 comments:

  1. Zoë Lewis: “I still love her and always will, but she has encouraged us to chase a fantasy and it's a huge disappointment.

    Lead into misery, yet still adoring the leader.

    Zoë Lewis: “Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up.

    Admission that feminism is inherently misogynist. Us traditionalists have always known this to be true, but to the enlightened progressive, the only truth is a world bent to accommodate irrational desires.

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  2. So feminism is responsible for wrecking at least one generation of (educated) women's emotional lives. That's bad enough, but the collateral damage includes social breakdown throughout all Western societies.

    As the feminist ideals - and in particular the quest for autonomy - pursued by professional women have filtered down (in many a garbled form) to the masses, the personal calamity that Zoe Lewis describes has mutated into a huge number of socially destructive behaviours.

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  3. What leads women to rethink feminism?

    Reality?

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  4. Choice and careers are vital, of course

    Choice? Yes, but only a choice of good things. Careers? Not really. Vocations? Yes!

    Or, as Cardinal Pell said, "One mission is worth more than a thousand options."

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  5. Zoe Lewis: "I wish I'd had the advice that I am giving to my 21-year-old sister: if you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't do later (apart from having kids)."

    Women are, indeed, realising the dangers of feminism at last, but it doesn't go far enough. I keep seeing women who are recognising that there is a biological imperative to have children earlier and who are embracing the domestic arts; but they still pursue career, take on men competitively, and have a mindset that says women can do anything.

    More and more, I come across 'younger' mothers - i.e. women who haven't waited until their forties - who dump their children in child care (or with the grandparents) and carry on pursuing their career ambitions. They still want it all. Women like Zoe Lewis haven't rejected feminist autonomy, they're just amending it to include marriage and motherhood in their ambition. Sad to say, too many mothers have children as just another one of their goals rather than cherishing them as a priceless gift.

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  6. When I said something similar to my fellow coeds 20 years ago, I was told just how wrong I was.


    Most young women were rather unhappy with the whole casual sex merry-go-round but stayed on I think under pressure from their zealous sisters. I don't remember any young women who was promiscuous enjoying the fact that the boys rarely called. In fact they often cried. Then they went back out to the parties the next weekend for another connectionless hookup...sigh very sad, really.

    "Men were rewarded for being unsuitable in some way. So the attitude of men changed as well. Some adapted to the culture of casual relationships by becoming players. Some withdrew from the whole dating game and adapted to a lifetime of bachelorhood. Some looked elsewhere for women. The result was that when some of these middle class women did finally start to look for husbands they met men who were no longer as keen to commit."

    I think you are missing one component here. Women desire the bad boys because it would make them feel special to tame them. I do not think players are a reaction to lack of marriage partners for the men. Rather, being a player appeals to the female desire for adventure and to feel more desirable than other women. If she can tame the bad boy, then she is prettier, more fun, higher status than everyone who came before her.

    Most men are not players, they don't have the status, skills or looks to pull it off even if they want it. These men get very little in regards to casual sex, affection or relationships. The players on the other hand enjoy many, many women each.

    The new promiscuity of most women does not guarantee the same for ordinary men.

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  7. I forgot to add...
    Many players are the type who would have been unlikely to marry in the first place. They were called "confirmed bachelors" in the past.

    They are just doing what comes naturally to them in an environment that benefits them more than any other human(women, children or non-player men.)

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  8. A great post Mark.

    "It's not just that men prefer feminine women, but the biological reality of a woman's ticking clock..."

    As you say, there's no denying innate pre-disposition. Men desire women that are feminine, embrace the female role, and are not brash mini-men.

    But putting evolutionary biology aside, let's face it, in this day and age, there's no reason for a man to marry a woman unless she's willing to settle down and have children. He can get everything else he needs without marrying, so if a woman isn't willing to provide him with children, well what worth is she to him?

    "...there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't do later (apart from having kids)."

    This I think is the key phrase for women today. Feminism directs them to get their priorities out of sync with reality. Other than child bearing, there is nothing a woman cannot put off until later. Like college and career. And in fact, I think that if a woman does place the priorities of vocational schooling college and paid employment below that of finding a good mate and starting a family, not only will she be much happier, she isn't as likely to absorb toxic and self-defeating political dogma. Which will make her happier times two.

    Bring on the Zoe's, I say. No surprise to me either that this op-ed was in a British rag and not an American one; the British media has been much more sanguine and less ruthless with enforcing the party line wrt sexual politics than the American variety.

    LL wrote:
    "The new promiscuity of most women does not guarantee the same for ordinary men."

    It surely does not. In fact, ordinary men are the biggest losers in the new slut-hood of the average gal. It is only a select few men who rack up Wilt Chamberlain style notches in the bedpost. The rest of the realm of man-dom must be content with Skinemax and a box of Kleenex.

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  9. "I seem to scare men off because I am so capable."

    You don't scare men off because you are "capable". You put men off because you are totally self-centered, and much more interested in yourself, your career, your pleasures, and your happiness than in them.

    I dated a couple of women who were in med school, and it wasn't their "capableness" that annoyed me, it was their total 100% dedication to medical school and their total unwillingness to devote any attention to a relationship with me. I understand they had to be 100% dedicated to get through med school, but by the time they were ready to pay attention to men, they were too old to have kids or interest young men, and all the good older men were taken.

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  10. Zoe says: "Wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists."

    And I agree - there is NOT a single correct path that has moral superiority over the other. Feminists who look down on stay-at-home mom's are guilty of this, as are conservatives who condemn women who chose a different path.

    Why can't the conservatives give "career" parity with "motherhood"??

    Indeed - you missed out entirely on her call for parity: "She recognises that a woman who sets out to do this won't ever give parity to the role of wife and mother."

    Most women I know who have chosen not to have children have a lot of respect for those who have. I've personally heard more condemnation of those who have chosen not to have kids.

    And more: "She is yet more proof that liberalism is especially unsuitable when it comes to relationships."

    Uhm, no. She is proof that one particular woman has some regret about the path that she is on.

    *ugh*

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  11. the author says "She is yet more proof that liberalism is especially unsuitable when it comes to relationships."

    I very much don't concur. What this whole article says is that pursuing any life path without balance tends to make for a lopsided and potentially unhappy life. Lack of balance is the issue, not liberalism or conservatism.

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  12. "Lack of balance is the issue, not liberalism or conservatism."

    Balance is a conservative concept not a liberal one.

    For example, balance requires common sense, which liberalism dismisses as the product of ignorance. Simlarly, conservatism argues that history goes in cycles, allowing society to rebalance itself, while liberalism argues that history marches in a staight line towards utopia (or more likely dystopia).

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  13. Misogyny in Ancient Rome , Greece , Persia , etc brought me the truth ... hatred that feminists have for men , femininity and masculinity demonstrated to me that something must be wrong

    I want men and women to be united ... to love one another

    I still can't believe that feminists are SO hateful of masculine men and instead love gay men ... I discovered that in Ancient Greece that gay men were in charge and many times despised women )=

    All my life I thought that the Greek philosophers were enlightened and that in particular the Spartans were barbarians ... that religions like Christianity were primitive and that Eastern religions were rational , inclusive and tolerant ... that agnosticism or deism were the best ( I didn't like Theism as much as I didn't like Atheism ) ... after I saw '' 300 '' I decided to research further

    I always thought that gender roles were created by society to oppress women and that they were not genetic but I was baffled by one thing :

    There is a '' power structure '' or '' dynamic '' in Ancient Greece ... the active ( top ) and the inactive ( bottom/versatile ) ... I though that this could not exist since homosexuality means sameness but I remember my conservative father's sayings of masculinity seeking femininity and femininity seeking masculinity ( I thought could this exist in the gay world ? ) ... even so I was confused )=

    Then I discovered that the Greek Philosophers , Thebeans , etc were practicing '' man - boy '' love and I though that either this is extreme heterosexual misogyny or something else ...

    Then I discovered that Spartans did not like boys and were practicing ( in some areas ) '' man love '' ( what people would refer as '' adult homosexuality '' ) but then I saw how homosexuality and masculinity contradicted each other -___-

    That masculinity is the provider instinct and the protector one and that homosexuality has the opposite instinct ... homosexuality simply either has indifference or repulsion toward women but whatever the case it is not the loving instinct that masculinity has and then I thought what if they mix ? Could they mutate into something worse ? The masculinity qualities of strength and power but with the indifference/repulsion toward women ? Then I saw it ... the man whom abused women )=

    On the same level as the pederatists )=

    And the weirdest thing was that the '' feminine gays '' in Ancient Greece with their '' man - boy '' love were the ones whom hated women but since they are '' feminine homosexuals '' shouldn't they love women more ? Then that the '' masculine homosexuals '' were nice toward women but if homosexuality and masculinity mix shouldn't that lead to mutations ? Or '' hyper masculinity '' ( too much masculinity ) ? Alas many times it did but many times they cared for women and did not hate them ( the example of Sparta )

    Then I saw what danger this does ( to play with gender roles and mix homosexuality with masculinity or femininity )

    How could I have been so blind ... how could I ever thought that gay men were supporters of women ... that gender roles are fabricated ... that multiculturalism is good for society ... that masculinity and homosexuality are compatible when I saw that it can mutate into something worse )=

    Argh !!!!!!! And women these days complain about the dating scene and that there are no '' good men '' or '' real men '' left ... why would there be ? You killed them ... you went after the feminine guys and put more and more true males down ... you also went after the thugs and the '' bad boys '' ... you with your narcissiscm and gender feminism and want it all mentality treating men like doormats ... not to mention treating babies in the womb as if they were a bunch of cells )= (I'm no longer ''pro choice'')

    I am only on my third year of college but thank goodness that I've seen the light while I am young

    Keep on the good fight
    More and more women (I think) are breaking through

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