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Who Really Cares About Women?

“Feminists” don’t always trust us to make our own decisions
5/6/02

I just remembered why feminists annoy me.

Of course, all feminists don’t annoy me. I’m very grateful to early feminists – like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony – for securing a woman’s right to vote. I’m even grateful to some of the mid-20th century feminists for expanding women’s role in society and helping create a world where “men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs” are no longer listed separately in the classified ads. And, today, I’m extraordinarily grateful to the women of “Feminists for Life”, who stand up for the rights of the unborn.

It’s the modern-day “establishment” feminists who bug me. (Or, as Dr. Laura Schlessinger calls them, the “National Organization of I-Don’t-Know-What-Kind-of-Women.”) They don’t know when to quit. Their “foremothers” helped create a world of unparalleled opportunity for women. Their job is done. But apparently fighting for women’s rights is a career field with a lot of perks, and to admit they’d won would be to admit themselves out of their jobs. So they just keep at it -- pushing for more and newer “rights.”

They aren’t helping any more. They’re just meddling.

My current annoyance started with a new book called Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. I’m not annoyed about the book. It looks good. I haven’t read it, but I did see the author, Sylvia Ann Hewitt, interviewed on TV. She writes about professional women who delay childbearing, and then find that when they’re “ready” for motherhood, their biological clocks have run out. Apparently 33 percent of high-income-earning professional women age 40-55 are childless, and that number goes up to 42% in corporate America. Most are not childless by choice, but rather “chose” to become mothers too late in the game. After 40, only 3-5% of these women who try to get pregnant – even using artificial fertility technologies – will succeed. Hewitt’s book is filled with stories of 40-year-old-plus women who desperately want children – women who turned down proposals from perfectly wonderful men in their 20’s and 30’s only because they weren’t “ready” to slow their careers. Now they’re sorry.

At the same time, young professional women in their 20’s and 30’s continue to delay motherhood, convinced that they will be able to conceive well into their 40’s and even 50’s.

Hewitt’s point in simple – women who want children need to understand that fertility declines after age 35, and drops steeply in the early 40’s.
Honestly, as a woman nearing that chronological neighborhood who still wants children, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear the news. But it’s the truth – biological fact – and I appreciate Hewitt’s candor in sharing it.

What I didn’t appreciate was the “response” interview with Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women. She didn’t like the book. She called it a “scare tactic” aimed at discouraging young women from having careers. She considered it a “step back” for women, narrowing their options and driving them out of their exciting careers and back into stay-at-home motherhood. Even when pressed about the factual, biological nature of the information being presented, she insisted that women shouldn’t be given this information about their own fertility.

Gandy isn’t alone. Feminist columnist Ellen Goodman complained (on Mother’s Day, no less) that, as a society, we’re giving women contradictory messages. We tell them not to have children when they’re too young, and then we turn around and tell them not to wait until they’re too old. “Not to young, not too old, just right. She sounds a lot like Goldilocks.”

Well, yeah. It’s biology, Ellen. That’s just the way the plumbing works.

All this fuss about the “messages” we give to women makes me a little suspicious. I’m a woman, and I know what I want. The facts. That’s all. Just give me the straight truth. I’m a grown woman, and given those facts, I can make my own decisions, thank you.

I’ve honestly come to believe that some feminists don’t want women to have all of the facts. The whole feminist movement is supposedly based on letting women control their own lives. But they don’t seem to trust us to do that on our own. They want to censor the information we’re given, so that we make the choices they want us to make. I see it over and over in the abortion debate, where feminists consistently fight informed consent laws – laws that do nothing more than tell a woman what an abortion really is. Now, they want to keep the facts about declining fertility from us, because then we might not choose careers, or choose the upwardly mobile careers they want us to choose.

They don’t want men to control our lives, but they don’t want to give us the reins, either. They want to control our lives.

Personally, I find it all very condescending.

Of course, we shouldn’t encourage women to panic and run down the altar with the first available man. Nor should we discourage them from pursuing their dreams. Hasty marriages have nasty ramifications. So do premature and single parenthood. Most women, if they have the facts and understand the ramifications, are quite capable of making good decisions in this regard.

Women have the capacity to participate intimately in the creation of new life. That doesn’t mean all women will – or should – have children. But that capacity is not a “right,” to be exercised whenever we choose. It’s a gift, a privilege -- that lasts only a brief period of time.

And that’s a fact.

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