30 January 2009

Infertility moral panics: Bah!

Well, it's 43 degrees Celsius (110 F) in Melbourne and I'm moving house. In between packing up my life, I've decided to have a bit of blogging break (I've got air con in my office, thank you jebus) Oh and good news first, you may all refer to me as Dr. BabyBump. That's right. Thesis passed, no amendments. Whooowah.

Anyway, back to business. Nothing irks me more than the current media exhortations to women in their mid-late 30s that if they don't start popping out babies soon, their ovaries will become the next vestigal organ. It seems that the pressure to procreate is now coming even earlier thanks to a new campaign by the American Fertility Association (AFA) to remind women in their 20s that their biological clocks are ticking. The campaign consists of posters like the obnoxious one above and a seminar called 'Manicures and Martinis' at the Dashing Diva Salon in
Manhattan. In these sessions women can have alcohol-free 'Fertilinis' and talk about the the risk of infertility. "I wanted to create a program that was soft, that was light and that was non-threatening," says Corey Whelan, AFA's director of development, now 53 and the mother of 13-year-old twins conceived through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The goal is to inform women so they can explore their options at an earlier age, she says, and the message is "one of hope, not one of doom and gloom." Uh huh. Sounds like a load of malarky to me. Whenever women (of any age) start to gain real power or privileges in the public sphere, it seems almost uncanny that someone/thing like the government or other institutional powers-that-be, in one fell swoop, can undermine women's political and social gains and start moral panics about becoming a mother as soon as possible. A brief history:

In June 1998, Time magazine asked its readers: ‘Is Feminism Dead’? Tracing the history of the American feminist movement through the images of Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinham, Betty Friedan and Ally McBeal, the boyfriend-obsessed, if not charmingly neurotic character played by Calista Flockhart.

With the inclusion of Flockhart, the magazine answered its own question: Of course, it is.

The 1990s were a decade that was nurturing ambitious, confident women. For women, going to work was viewed as a hallmark in their liberation from economic dependence and boredom. High-achieving woman were aspiring to a sexy body, a high-powered career and a great wardrobe. Becoming a mother and baking cupcakes only got in the way of fighting off men to climb the corporate ladder. As Ally McBeal was seen to define independent single women, Time told its readers that the good ship Feminism had sailed. Modern women ‘had it all’ and were no longer in need of feminism, ironically, at a time when feminism was seeing a resurgence among younger women. The ‘third wave’ was taking shape in the eyes of a new generation of women who had grown up with the fruits of the labour of their second wave foremothers. Having never lived in a time without the gains of the second wave, the third wave was about defining what a feminist looks like. It became a movement of the individual, of women who had grown up with the right to vote, the right to choose and the right to sleep with whomever they wanted, uniquely defining the ‘F’ word according to their own experiences.

Thanks to the sassy gals from Sex and the City, the television show that opened the eyes of women worldwide to frank discussions of sex, love and relationships in 1998, just two years later, Time was asking its readers, ‘Who needs a husband’? Charlotte, Miranda, Carrie and Samantha were deemed ‘the daughters of the women’s movement’. By standing in as spokeswomen for sexual freedom and independence, the single woman, it seemed, ‘had come into her own’. Not only was it acceptable for women to buy their own homes, buy their own drinks and spend $400 on strappy sandals if they wanted to, hell, they could even buy their own diamond rings. By the close of the millenium, the ‘Ah’ ring became the sine qua non of the power of the affluent single woman. Symbolising that a woman is ‘available and happy’ (or is it affluent and hyper-competitive?), the Ah ring was made specifically so that single women could have a diamond ring paid for on their own dime. Feminism, apparently having softened its stance on that whole partiarchy thing, was seemigly allowing middle-class women to crash the engagement party with a ring worn on the right hand as a status symbol and not necessarily one’s status of being ‘owned’ by a man. If women could circumvent the antiquated trappings associated with marriage, single women could certainly invest in solo pregnancies. With the popularity of IVF, surrogacy and adoption, more of those single and fabulous women were saying to themselves, ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the sperm for free?’

In the new millenium, singlehood was described as the ‘logical result’ of a generation of gals empowered by the women’s movement. While ladies were being patted on the back for not settling for anything less than Mr. Right, a perfect baby and a white picket fence, they were simultaneously rewarding themselves with the ‘choice’ to foster their own spirit, to relish in their own company. Yet, not only was the essence of the third-wave deeply embedded in a woman’s right to choose (or should I say shoes?), it was also firmly entrenched in having a hot body to match. Whereas becoming a mother was once the essence of femininity, the next generation of women were finding their empowerment in their tiny-waisted ones, big-breasted bodies. With the rise of television shows like What Not To Wear in which the bodies of everyday women are scrutinised from their saggy boobs to their tree-trunk ankles or the covers of tabloids that act as metaphorical calipers squeezing the flesh of female celebrities.

So who is fit to mother? Whereas in earlier generations, mothers seemed to be (un)happily singing the same tune of domestic drudgery, selfless mothering and settling into long days spent with a child on the hip and dinner in the oven, in these uncertain times (economically, socially and politically), an obsessive attention to being a good mother has posed something of an existential crisis for women who want to ‘have it all’ as sexy, high-achieving, independent women.

The whole industry (and yes, it is an industry) of infertility is reliant upon women who are told that as soon as they hit the age of 35, the egg factory will be invariably shutting up shop. Women must be aware of their fertility from the moment they begin to menstruate and are encouraged to have children early in life so as to circumvent any unforeseen 'problems' later on, as a sort of reproductive 'insurance' policy. The overriding message is that if you wait too long, you can find yourself with a 'barren womb' and it is nobody's fault but your own. Why fault women for finally making themselves happy? I thought we had evolved past the women-as-baby-making-machines.

Source: http://www.newsweek.com/id/181840

1 comment:

Cherryskin said...

Firstly: congratulations!!!! That is truly awesome, Dr. Babybump!

Okay, now I am going to say something which I am almost afraid to say because I don't know how to put it without sounding like a feminist cop-out...

You say: "Whenever women (of any age) start to gain real power or privileges in the public sphere...someone/thing...can undermine women's political and social gains and start moral panics about becoming a mother as soon as possible."

But the problem as I see it is that motherhood is not seen as powerful by society in general, or feminists as far as I can gather. WHY???!!! Yes, I know that money is power, money is seen as the be-all-and-end-all in our society, and raising children usually leads away from money rather than towards it, but that is where I see the problem lies -- WHY is the enormous (in fact, pretty damn absolute) power of growing, bearing, birthing, nurturing and raising new human beings not given any credence. Any. By anyone. Except a few outspoken and strong women I know (in my experience). And this is not to mention other "typically" feminine traits/powers which are also derided, such as inuition, nurturing, etc. Historically, some societies have given women proper respect (as I see it), but certainly not ours today.

Are there any at least feminists out there who believe that women already have the truest power, just that it's not given one iota of the respect it should?

What I'm saying is why join them when you already have the power to beat them?

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