Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The book is Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who has gotten oodles and boodles of ink lamenting that women over 40 who focused on their careers are unlikely to have those babies they, um, postponed because their eggs are All Dried Up.

Boo hoo.

The sound you hear is a boomerang in our culture, or at least in the mediaocracy, a neat sound bite whistling through the air aimed straight at the heads and hearts of women. A few years ago, after some long overdue advances, we got the "it's more likely a woman over 40 will be killed by a terrorist than get married" boomerang.

This was, of course, long before 9/11.

Now it's been replaced by a slightly different version, basically boiling down to, "it's more likely a woman over 40 with a good job will be ALONE than have a good marriage and a baby."

The media doesn't play the terrorist card so often anymore, now that we've actually had to deal with them.

I don't really mind the boomerangs so much: that's what mass media is for. It's just I wish they weren't aimed at us girlies so often. I just wish every once in a while, I'd hear a news story like this: "Men's sperm: the motility crisis!"

A few days after I'd heard about this, I saw woman after woman stand up during an Oprah show and complain that their ob-gyns had FOOLED them into delaying children, never suggesting that their eggies were aging by the minute. Not one of them seemed to bother to actually investigate the research on fertility, or to bother to talk to women who had chosen to have their children later in life. Growing up Catholic in the 1960s, I saw a lot of women, driven by their own faith, having lots and lots of children into their 40s, exhausted, overburdened, strapped, and sometimes ending up with a Down's syndrome child, which is one of those pretty-available-if-you-bother-to-look statistics that takes a huge bump when you have a kid in your 40s. And guess what? Those women exist still, but not in the privileged enclaves the Oprah complainers live in.

Feminism was supposed to be about choices, I heard at least once on the Oprah show.

Boo hoo again. No, gang, feminism isn't just about choices, unless you're talking about a certain fabulously privileged minority of women (of which I am one). It isn't about picking out stuff in the Life Catalog and having it come the next day by UPS. It's about basic human rights, and priorities, both of which are still pretty screwed up in this culture, though not so screwed up, say, as Afghanistan.

Behind all this complaining is an assumption: "My life was supposed to go a certain way."

Behind all this complaining is another assumption: "My life is personal, not political, and all that feminism stuff is supposed to be DONE by now."

What a huge surprise it's not. The modern civil rights movement is only some 55+ years old, and modern feminism, depending on what your benchmark is, only sprung up in the 1960s. Which, yeah, I know, is a million years in our current short-attention-span culture. But it's actually a blip in history.

Here's the deal with feminism, whether we want to be barefoot pregnant mamas in our 20s, or high-stepping Egg-Depleted Single Career Women in our 40s: We're not done yet, and we shouldn't be blaming our gynecologists for it.

We're not done yet if our culture puts so much weight on the flimsy structure that is the nuclear family it regularly implodes even without two careers and perfectly timed children--and then usually blames the mom when it happens.

We're not done yet if we keep telling ourselves in the U.S. that we live in a child-friendly culture when the people we lionize (again, except on September 11th) are mostly male captains of industry who only mention their children when it's convenient--like when they're leaving a CEO job that's turned bad. We're not done yet if the schools suck. And they do.

Real revolutions--and feminism, despite attempts to dilute it, is a revolution---aren't pretty, fast, or easy. They generally involve taking apart structures that don't like to be taken apart. Those structures, like chameleons, will do almost anything they can to keep themselves going. Remember Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' character in "X-Men?" She could shape shift with the best of them. Well, that's the patriarchy, baby: a flipping living, breathing, alien funhouse.

So the next time you regret a choice, and start to blame feminism, take a big healing breath. Look around. Is the world really the way you want it? Have we really achieved perfect parity, assuming that parity looks like equal pay for equal work, and the Senate and the House reflecting the gender/color balance of our country. Do you really think feminism's job is done, and you don't have to join up?


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