Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another casualty

"Where have all the good fathers gone?" asks journalist Tracee Hutchison in a recent column.

The question was prompted by the competition between several men to be declared the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby. After watching Larry Birkhead jubilantly confirm that he had been found to be the real dad, Tracee felt a little undone:

I suspect I wasn't the only single, childless woman of a certain age who belched up a slightly sour-tasting ironic burp ...

... it seemed incredible, from my experience, that each of them seemed so desperately keen to own up to firing the winning sperm.

If only there were men queueing up for fatherhood duties with such fervour in the real-life version of what happens to women in their late 30s. With due respect to the many doting fathers I know, who love and support their kids in one — or two — homes, I seem to know a lot more women who have either given up chasing child-support payments from absent and/or financially gymnastic fathers or given up the idea of having a biological child at all.

If anecdote is the litmus test for truth, the latter category feels like an epidemic. Especially if you're immersed in that special something that happens to women when their body clock starts shrieking like a wounded hyena and there's not a willing bloke within cooee.

... There aren't enough blokes with sufficient enthusiasm for child-rearing to go around.

What can explain this lack of willing fathers for late-30s women? I'd put the answer as follows.

Back in the mid-1980s Tracee Hutchison was an idealistic feminist:

I was young, passionate and idealistic and felt I was part of something with powerful momentum. I walked with thousands of other women in the annual women's day marches and proudly wore the green, white and purple colours of the sisterhood. I felt that - together - we could make the world a better place.

Feminism in those years did have a powerful momentum. Its message to young women was to remain autonomous, which meant in practice focusing on careers, travel, and casual relationships. The independent, single girl lifestyle was to be stretched out as far as it could be, with marriage and motherhood deferred until some time in a woman's late 30s.

The hold of such ideas over university educated woman was very strong in the late 80s and early 90s. It couldn't help but affect the male attitude to relationships. Men discovered that women were rewarding players and shunning men with traditional, family type qualities. They were also confronted with the message that the male family role was sexist and "anti-woman"; the male effort to provide, for instance, was no longer thought of positively but as a source of inequality hurtful to women.

What were men to do? Some accepted the player role; others opted out completely; some focused on careers or personal interests; a number tried to complement a female autonomy with a male one, in which a loss of love and marriage was to be compensated by a greater freedom of choice in work and a greater independence in relationships.

When many women eventually did decide, in their 30s, that they wanted marriage and motherhood they faced a significant problem, the one troubling Tracee Hutchison. They had been all too successful in their 20s in discouraging the family instincts of men. Suddenly there seemed to be a lack of "good men" who would commit to the role of self-sacrificing husband and father.

So the problem derives, at least in part, from the tendency of feminism to follow the autonomy strand of liberalism, in which what is thought to matter most is our ability as an individual to be self-determining (and therefore independent). This didn't lead most women of Tracee Hutchison's generation to reject marriage or motherhood in absolute terms, but it did lead them to fatally defer such commitments.

Which raises an interesting question. Autonomy liberals often talk about life being given a purpose by our having a life plan which is determined not by tradition but by our own reasoned choices.

Can it really be said, though, that the feminist cohort of the 1980s and early 90s had a life plan based on reasoned choices?

Even when I was in my early 20s, I thought some of the choices women were making were madly shortsighted. Why would you defer motherhood to your late 30s, to the very last moments of potential fertility? Even now Tracee Hutchison speaks of women in their late 30s having shrieking ovaries, when fertility decline actually sets in much earlier at about the age of 30.

Why too would you sacrifice the opportunity for love in your 20s, at the very time we are most impelled toward love by our romantic and sexual impulses? Why would you accept a more cynically casual attitude toward relationships at exactly this time?

It wasn't difficult to predict, even back in the 1980s, that there would be many regrets later on, such as those experienced now by Tracee Hutchison and her circle of friends.

So why might autonomy liberals find it difficult to make life plans based on rational choices, when this is so frequently emphasised in their philosophy?

I suppose we could answer with Edmund Burke that individual reason is not as effective an instrument for most people as liberals assert it to be:

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages.

Yet, even if a feminist woman had enough private stock of reason to generate a successful life plan, there are other factors likely to hold her back.

For example, the belief in autonomy has two separate effects. First, it generates the idea that we should determine our own life plan based on rational choice as a means to bring meaning to our existence. Second, it then tells us that these life choices should maximise our autonomy.

But the two effects can only complement each other if it's always rational to prefer autonomy over other goods in life. Otherwise, the second effect (of always maximising autonomy) leads us to make irrational choices.

This is, I believe, what happened to the feminist cohort. They were encouraged to choose an independent, single-girl lifestyle over marriage and motherhood as this appeared to maximise autonomy. Yet the single-girl lifestyle was unlikely to prove a superior good in the longer-term for most of these women, and so it involved a set of irrational choices (whilst serving a "logic" of autonomy).

There are other factors too in explaining this problem of liberal life plans, but I'll leave discussion of them for a future post.


  1. Meh.

    With advances in medicine, it won't be too long before the biological clock becomes as relevantas the cuckoo clock. Even those who don't like that might have to admire the ability of the new technologies to sweep the abortion issue from the table.

  2. Anonymous (of Wednesday, 18 April 2007 08:07:00 AM EST) fails to realise that there is more to human experience than science, and more to the human condition than biology.

    The marginalisation of men and male principles from the public realm has, and will continue, to do women immense collective harm.

    Feminists, of course, will faithfully blame all their woes on men... presumably the same men who gave them the vote, the pill, and a place on the corporate board via affirmative action law.

    In the context of the global Islamist threat and the near timid defence of the West these 'progressives' offer, I sometimes I wonder if these characters are worth fighting for.

    After all, we're fighting to defend a liberalism that permits them to undermine the values upon which it was fostered.

  3. Irrelevant. The time of white, secularist women is over. Feminism, among other leftist 'progressive' philosophies see all white societies with terminal birth rates.

    Game over.

  4. A good Mark Steyn quote: "a secular society needs the birth rate of a religious one to survive" (or words to the effect).

    I would add, a masculine society will find devouring a feminised one as effortless as breaking wind.

    Kind of places the "tolerant" West is a precarious position when facing aggressive and less accommodating ideologies in, say, the Middle East and its demographic proxy warriors in our own suburbs.

  5. With all of Feminism's vanity, you'd think one of them would own a mirror.


  6. Yet another top notch post Mark.

  7. Personally I think the big aspect of the Tracey Hutcheson whinge was the total lack of personal responsibility. If she's upset about being in her late '30's and childless (and "partnerless") then whose fault is it? Is it because she made some decisions to privilege some things that now seem less important to her now that she has partially matured her outlook? Of course not. It's those nasty men who don't want to "embrace fatherhood". Never mind the fact that a "feminist" isn't supposed to want an "old fashioned" man who wants the responsibility of providing for a wife and children.

    It is a continuing case of victimology. Previously Miss Hutchinson would have been complaining (and likely still does) that those nasty men are denying her intelligence, her "independence" and her "maturity" by blocking her career, and not accepting she is a fully person capable of making her own decisions. Now, of course, she isn't responsible for her decisions, it is those same "nasty men" who aren't falling into line over her latest wish. It is similar to aboriginal advocates (many not aboriginal) who complained for years in the 1960's that banning sales of alcohol to aboriginals was "demeaning" and "treating them as children without the mental faculties or maturity to make their own decisions". Now that there are serious problems with high rates of alcoholism, alcohol is a "white poison" and selling it to aborigines is "profiteering" and seeking to destroy them.

    I suppose all this fits into Mark's general view of liberals being defined by insisting that individual autonomy is the highest aspiration for human existence. So when faced evidence that individual choices have led to misery or loss, the knee jerk reaction is to blame some other party, hence shift the blame from an autonomous mistake. If you're free to make your own decisions outside of any generational wisdom, it means you're free to make mistakes, and often bad ones. I suppose that liberal ideology, particularly for some, just can't cope with this. And these sort of people call global warming sceptics "denialists"!

  8. Is it too unkind to refer to women who deliberately don't have children as Darwin's Dead-Enders?

  9. Heheh, jaz. Not at all.

    I have to agree with anon at 12.41.

    I've been spending a bit of time lately over at some of the feminist blogs, and these girls really have no clue about the world.

    And I mean 'girls' because with all their blather about an oppressive patriarchy, and how every man is a rapist they are showing a remarkable lack of maturity and insight.

    They are the squeaky wheels, (hi, Tracee) and as such make life more difficult than it need be for both men and women.

    Perhaps Tracee and her fellow travellers should ask themselves a few questions.

    Some good ones to start with would be:
    What are my good points?
    What are my bad points?
    Do I want a partner/boyfriend/husband?
    What do I want in a partner/boyfriend/husband?
    What do I have to offer a partner(you get the picture)?
    What am I prepared to negotiate on?

    And if she finds that offensive, it's not intended to be.

    These are questions I've been asking myself for years, and they stand me in good stead.

    I'm single because it suits me to be, not because I can't find a husband.

    I can safely predict that there will be a whole lot more women over the next few years who will be whining along with Tracee about the dearth of good men, as opposed to players, but until they learn to own up to their own part in the scheme of things, they will never settle down to a satisfying relationship/marriage.

    Apologies if I sound a bit harsh, but these whiny little girls really get my goat!

  10. NILK SAID:
    “Apologies if I sound a bit harsh, but these whiny little girls really get my goat!”

    You weren’t being harsh at all Nilk.

    The problem is that our culture, as a whole, babies these (as you so correctly put it – ‘girls’) – that they remain in a suspended state of petulant adolescence where everything revolves around their precious ‘feelings’. As such, very few end up being a strong woman that a sensible man would marry. (Let alone be the responsible mother of his child).

    Whenever the hypocritical notion of what feminists ‘want’ (ie. A strong old-fashioned man AND a sensitive male doormat) – Im always reminded of a paraphrased saying that goes something like;

    “Nothing is as big a pain in the backside on God’s green earth, as someone who follows you around demanding that you master them.”


  11. Thanks for the many good comments.

    Anonymous of 12:41 focused on an interesting issue. It's true that Tracee Hutchison doesn't in her column ever stop to consider that she herself, or women like her, might have contributed to their lack of success with men.

    I remember the assumption amongst such women back in the 1980s and 90s that men would just fall in line with what women wanted. The kinds of questions Nilk puts forward, such as "what do I have to offer", weren't openly considered.

    To explain why women like Tracee Hutchison took this view would require a column in itself. In addition to the point made by anonymous it may be that:

    1) This cohort of women was taught to look at such issues in terms of politics (the personal is the political). Hence a very abstract view of how things developed, with faith pinned on (utopian) political developments to set things right. A closer view of what really motivates men (in terms of instinct, emotion, masculine self-identity etc) was largely abandoned.

    2) Autonomy theory doesn't make it easy to naturally claim things from others. The focus is on others not interfering with our individual pursuits, rather than how we need to behave as individuals to achieve common aims.

    So one option for liberals might be not to make claims or have expectations of how the opposite sex should behave toward them.

    Another option might be for liberals to make such claims not at a personal level ("I am a loving, lovely woman, with desirably feminine characteristics) but in a more forced way in terms of universal principle ("You should fall into line with what I want because that would satisfy demands for gender equity").

    3. Jim Kalb in a recent comment at View from the Right spoke about feminism in a liberal society as follows:

    "Since the point of life in general is getting one's way, the point of women's lives is also getting one's way."

    So we shouldn't be too suprised if a cohort of liberal women assume that they should get what they want at any particular time.

  12. With advances in medicine, it won't be too long before the biological clock becomes as relevantas the cuckoo clock.

    Hardly. I doubt there'd be many women over 50 who'd want to be having their first baby. The biological clock will always be of relevance to women.

  13. LYL SAID:
    “I doubt there'd be many women over 50 who'd want to be having their first baby. The biological clock will always be of relevance to women.”

    A good insight.

    One would no more expect to ‘indoctrinate’ a child into foregoing his/her childhood stages of making forts, climbing trees & playing outside – in favour of introducing it ‘later’ in life.

    The point is the ‘time’ for it has passed. Both in necessity (of what it brings to someone at THAT stage of life), and current desire (an adult has no real use for it now).

    Many feminist ideals are exercises in language & ‘theory’ only. They tend to fail when put up to a real-world litmus test.