Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is autonomy the female dream?

Does modernism work in relationships? For evidence that the answer is no, consider a recent article by Lori Gottlieb.

If modernism is right, then the highest organising principle of society is individual autonomy. For women, the primary aim of life will be to maintain their independence. They will aim for economic independence in careers, and they will assert a right to raise a child independently of men. They will act with self-confidence as single girls, claiming not to need men in their personal lives.

Lori Gottlieb did all this. She and a female friend even chose, "in a fit of self-empowerment", to have their children as single mothers through sperm donors. She is not, though, at all content with what such autonomy has brought her. She tells us of a moment when she and her friend, both never married single mothers in their 40s, were out on a picnic with their children:

“Ah, this is the dream,” I said, and we nodded in silence for a minute, then burst out laughing. In some ways, I meant it: we’d both dreamed of motherhood, and here we were, picnicking in the park with our children. But it was also decidedly not the dream. The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist — vehemently, even — that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know — no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure — feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.

What does all this really mean? First, Lori Gottlieb is telling us that independence isn't the sole overriding good in life. Being part of a family is what is most important to her. Furthermore, she points out that this is not some individual quirk on her part, but a predictable, natural desire of women in general.

The implication is that we should be aiming, as a society, to create the conditions for successful family formation, rather than limiting our sights to enabling ever more radical forms of individual autonomy.

There is a second part to Lori Gottlieb's article. She discusses the idea of women settling rather than holding out for Mr Right. I found her approach to this idea disconcerting, but I'll leave this for a future article.


  1. Another unhappy customer of feminism.

    The whole article is interesting reading. She has started to realise that she was sold a lie, but still is mistaken about why it was wrong.

    Interesting that she thinks women in their 30s are more picky about men than they are in their 20s. I have noticed the exact opposite.

    However the failure to form successful marriages does not just lie at the women's feet. Without traditional responsibilities, too many men refuse to grow up, considering their lives to be one long adolescence, with success judged by how many women they can get into bed.

    When they get a bit "bored" with one, they move on. Have seen several female friends who were happy to be married in their 20s, hang around with a man for years, only to get dumped in their 30s, so he can play the field again or because he wasn't "ready" to be married.

  2. The author is just another example of a selfish over entitled "feminist."

    She brought a child willingly into a one parent household and "shockingly" realized that the ideal situation is having a mother AND a father.

    I really don't feel any sympathy for her because there were probably scores of guys that would have married her except she probably was attracted to the type of guy who would never settle down leaving the stable guys by the wayside.

    And now she's alone with the all to real prospect of being single for life.
    The other aspect I disliked about her article was the idea of settling. She makes it seem as though she was and still is the epitome of perfection except for some crow's feet and will now "generously" accept the advances of men she previously deemed inferior.

    Even though I have never met her, I can guarantee that she is alone for a reason now.

    Her view of marriage is equally dismal. She is basically looking for someone to help share the child rearing duties and pay for half her expenses. She certainly isn't looking for someone to be physically intimate with. What guy would want to get into a marriage with a woman who views sex as a chore?

    What I find amusing is that since she is obviously looking for someone to help share the responsibilities of parenthood with, why not move in with her other single mother friend? Why isn't that a viable option for this feminist. She obviously didn't need a man when she had her kid. Why mess with her independence with a husband she will most likely make miserable?

    I'm guessing since she wouldn't be able to take half her roommates net worth if things went sour is probably part of it.

  3. Wpc, I agree that there is now a class of men out there who string women along (my wife has a friend who spent her 30s with several men of this type).

    Anon, yes, Lori Gottlieb's view of marriage is dismal. Settling ought to mean accepting someone who is imperfect, but whom you nonetheless love and wish to share a genuine union with. Her view of settling is more drastic than this. It means accepting someone you don't love and have no feelings toward in order to get some of the benefits of marriage.

    I intend to write a post on this shortly.

  4. LOL!

    I read this article in the Atlantic several weeks ago when the copy came in to the Border's off Pitt Street Mall (Sydney), and thought that there would eventually be some commentary on it at OzCon.

    There are more of these women coming out, seeing that something is wrong, but so enthralled with liberalism that they just can't seriously consider that their world-view is wrong.

    It's funny how absolutist and narrow-minded the progressive is: she just can't acknowledge the possibility of flaw in her own system of thought - and all the time, it is us, the conservatives, that are labeled "rigid".

  5. My observations are that many women's standards are too high, and they want to have a guy who has a more successful career than they do, but at the same time want that high-powered career (independence) of their own.

    If you ever read a book called "The Cinderella Complex", you will find out more about this phenomenon. Google it. Essentially it's about how some women are waiting for Mr Perfect to sweep them off their feet.

    The longer I live, the less I believe in opposites. Whilst women may idealize being independent, they also believe in being rescued by a Prince.

  6. I have written a fairy tale about this, Princess Bubble. We all naturally feel the need to be rescued-but there is only one prince that will bring us happily ever after, The Prince of Peace!

    Disney has taught us (women) that if we are rescued by a prince we will live happily ever after and it does not work that way. You can not expect another human to supply your happiness you must share your happiness.

    For most of history, women have needed to marry to survive. This is no longer the case. Now we can marry just for the enjoyment of a helpmate. This change in history has changed dynamics of dating for most of single women. I personally am not interested in marriage just to get married or have a wedding. I would only want to marry if I find someone I respect and don't find that very often.

    Women reach 40, and if you hear the clock ticking some women feel it would be easier to have a child alone than to raise a child with someone they do not respect or love. I personally have no interest in being a single mother; but feel for these women with this struggle.

    As women have more opportunities and choices, I imagine this makes it difficult for men to process because their opportunities have not changed but their roles have changed in many cases. The fairy tale has a new story line but the same characters are all still part of the story.

    Happily Ever After!

  7. I would only want to marry if I find someone I respect and don't find that very often.

    Susan, don't you think it's odd that you can't find men you can respect? Either there's something wrong with the way you mentally process the men you meet, or else the culture we inhabit is failing to produce men of a high enough calibre.

    Why can't you respect a hard-working, well-intentioned male who'd like a wife to start a family with?

    If there really are few such men in your part of the world, what has gone wrong to discourage such a male character type?

  8. "feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried"

    Yes, but along with the truth about womens' declining fertility rate with age and increase rate of birth defects with age, the feminists will do all they can to squash this.

    They insult and shame women who would place higher value on forming a meaningful bond with a man than pursuing their own education and career. Yet, which is more fulfilling and rewarding to women in the long run?

    Feminism encourages women to pursue a path in life that makes them less desirable as wives. Placing career and personal achievement ahead of housework and others, waiting to look for a husband after their best looking years are in the past(lest not pretend looks aren't important to men) and postponing child bearing all lower their value compared to the traditional female model(marry early, take only minimal jobs as opposed to career, make the house inviting and clean. cook, start to have babies in twenties, going to college once kids are grown if at all.) This feminist lifestyle is great and liberating for women who want to pursue only a career. It doesn't work at all for the others.

    About this insulting settling nonsense, Ms Gottlieb needs to wake up to reality that probably the man would be settling for her. Few boys grow up hoping their wife is in her 40's when they meet with a child by an anonymous stranger. Many men would consider marriage to her as scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    Throughout history marriage has never been primarily about the happiness or emotional state of the individuals married. Those were secondary effects of a good match. It was most concerned with societal stability, strengthening family bonds, improving family rank/class, securing inheritance and establishing legitimacy of offspring. Clearly, Ms Gottlieb, like many others, doesn't place any value on the last item of the list.

    What affect will it have when these children start learning they were conceived by a man who didn't know, care about or even touch their mother? Especially after growing up with no male role model, this could be dangerous for society. How angry may these young boys become because their mothers wanted them just like a new accessory to complete their wardrobe?