Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Woman to woman

Does feminism fail women?

By Mark Richardson, posted on Dads on the Air

The January 2007 Marie Claire featured 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 among 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 labelled 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".

First published at Oz Conservative on January 22, 2008.


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