No man can become sexually aroused through an act of will. Augustine noted it a very long time ago. It ought to be well enough understood by now.
At some point men figured out that women had the power to provoke sexual arousal. Relations between the sexes have never been the same.
Similarly, no woman can become pregnant through an act of will. A woman may choose when and where to have a child, but her options, as many women have discovered, are constricted by biology.
Women have always exercised some level of free choice in the matter of having children, but the ultimate decision is out of their control. For that reason many people have considered conception or lack of same to be an expression of God’s will.
Nature always has a say in when, where and how a woman conceived.
Some women, caught up in the fervor of second wave feminism, seemed to believe that they had overcome the restrictions imposed by human biology. Liberated from nature they could be free to choose when to have children.
They saw reproductive endocrinology as a godsend that would help them overcome natural law. In some cases, it has. In many other cases it has not.
The result, a significant number of women today end their childbearing years childless. In some cases they have never wanted to have children. In other cases they have been happy to have been liberated from the burden of childrearing and motherhood.
The feminist argument for reproductive freedom, for freedom to choose tells women that they should not have children until they are fully established in their careers. It does not tell them that delay creates a risk of not having children at all.
As contemporary feminists have redefined the issue, conception is no longer a blessing. It is a curse imposed by the culture to prevent women from being all that they can be, from fulfilling their human potential and from attaining the highest level of career success.
Childless by choice is not a new thing. In prior days women who did not want to be housewives could choose the life of a celibate nun or the life of a courtesan.
For both nun and courtesan pregnancy is bad news. That does not mean that it has never happened, but it was not a matter of choice. We would note that courtesans led the world in the practice of birth control.
Today’s feminist is unlikely either to want to become a nun or a courtesan. Both roles require far too much concern for other people.
Nuns do not have children, but their lives are devoted to caring for others. Courtesans have children more often than nuns do, but their role is defined by their ability to please a man.
An independent, autonomous feminist is only in it for herself. She seeks to realize her own desires, regardless of what anyone thinks. She might even take the disapproval of others as a sign that she is fully attuned with her desire.
Today’s young women are more likely to be stigmatized for wanting to be wives and mothers than for sacrificing their childbearing potential to fulfill themselves in their careers.
Some feminists believe that the fault lies with a patriarchal society that forces women, for no discernible reason, to mother their children. They tend to see motherhood, whatever its biological basis, as a socially constructed conspiracy to oppress women.
They have bemoaned the pressure that women feel to have children and chalk it up to patriarch oppression rather than, say, a biological imperative.
Obviously, the future of your genes, your community and the species depends on whether or not you decide to procreate. It’s a choice, if you will, but you are not the only one affected by your choice.
One feels compelled to point out that, for most young women, the individuals who pressure them the most about having children are… their MOTHERS.
It feels like a Darwinian wish to see one’s genes survive.
On this score, feminism has succeeded. Over the past four decades we have seen a massive increase in the number of women who reach their mid-forties childless.
Kate Bolick explains it in a review of a new anthology, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed, edited by Meghan Daum:
Today 19 percent of American women reach their mid-40s without ever having a child — a figure that has nearly doubled in four decades, a truly staggering statistic. The sheer velocity of its emergence suggests a unity of intent, as if an army of Gen Xers came of age razing day care centers and burning diapers, and continues to march steadily into the future, attracting new recruits by the minute.
A 2012 Centers for Disease Control report shows that among women in the 40-44 age bracket — the final reckoning, according to such surveys — 22 percent were “childless by choice,” compared with 35 percent who felt they didn’t have any say in the matter. Far from being a unified front, this growing demographic tilts toward women who had a wish about how their lives would turn out that didn’t come true.
Feminism persuaded women that becoming wives and mothers would force them to sacrifice their humanity. The concept is so pervasive that Bolick throws it in without thinking about how strange it is:
Our societal conviction that women are mothers foremost, people second, is so pervasive that the possibility of debunking it can seem its own kind of wish.
We should mention that ours is not the only society that assigns to women the role of mother. All societies do so. Some primitive societies have defined the division of labor differently, but, ask yourself: do you really want to live in a primitive society?
In her review Bolick does not mention feminism. She seems not to want to give feminism the credit or the blame for her own childlessness.
A writer who was an early second wave feminist rectifies and clarifies the situation.
Vivian Gornick analyzes the concept of childless by choice:
FORTY YEARS AGO, when the second wave of the American feminist movement was young, and its signature phrase, “the personal is political,” was electrifying, many of the movement’s radicals (this reviewer among them) went to war with the age-old conviction that marriage and motherhood were the deepest necessities of every woman’s life. If we looked honestly at what many of us really wanted, as we were doing in the 1970s and ’80s, it was not marriage and motherhood at all; it was rather the freedom to discover for ourselves the lives we might actually want to pursue.
Second wave feminism persuaded women that they did not want marriage and motherhood. What women really, really wanted was a freedom to self-actualize as individuals who can make their own rules.
As we moved inexorably toward the moment when we were bound to see that we were throwing the baby out with the bathwater, nearly every one of us became a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice: the place in which we were to find ourselves time and again.
In this cultural maelstrom the freedom to choose was transformed. It was no longer the freedom to choose when to have children. It was the freedom to choose between motherhood and career. The women who embrace or regret that decision have been speaking out about it. Naturally, they resent men for not having to make the choice:
Essentially, and collectively, they are all saying: “I have found that I must make a choice between having children and working full out and, given my particular temperament, not only have I chosen the latter, I have never regretted it.”…
Men have almost never had to entertain the question of whether to work or have children. In fact, for them a definition of self never even included having to face squarely whether or not they wanted children. For women, obviously, it has been otherwise. It has always been assumed that every woman not only wanted children but would make any sacrifice necessary to have them.
Of course, this also demonstrates that a man can only have a successful career if he devotes himself to it. He cannot do so if he is sharing household chores or being a stay-at-home parent.
Q. E. D.