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Jewish World Review April 14, 2002/ 4 Iyar, 5762

Suzanne Fields

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Feminist winners sing the blues | Are women whining, or what?

Some of the most privileged women in the Western world are complaining that their advantages have become disadvantages.

Women at Harvard Business School tell Lesley Stahl of "Sixty Minutes" that men don't want to date them as soon as they discover they've got brains.

Maureen Dowd, columnist fatale of the New York Times, tells how offended she was recently when a man told her she'd never get a mate because she was too, well, "critical."

Molly Haskell, successful writer and movie critic, writes in the New York Observer how she feels sympathy for Islamic women who like their burqas because then they don't have to worry about hair, makeup or the latest hemline. Women once had only to compete with other women for men, and now must compete with them for work and love.

Even Judi Dench, who wins acting awards for playing imperious queens, is insecure because she's not a tall, thin youthful blonde. The first page many of my single friends (of various ages) read in the Sunday papers are those with the wedding announcements. Not necessarily to check out who's getting married, but to check out the ages and careers of the brides. They want to see whether the brides are changing their last names. Many are.

Haskell calls the name change complete capitulation, "taking the veil of privacy or anonymity that a husband's name provides."

The underlying theme of these complaints is that life is unfair to women. After four decades of successful feminism, the Man in this scenario still has the edge. He doesn't have to be so concerned about his looks or his biology (though power, money and testosterone don't hurt). To paraphrase Rousseau, a feminist may be born free, but she is everywhere in chains to the aging process. If anatomy is not destiny, it's a major contender in determining life's choices.

It's ironic that feminists whose mantra is "choice" have trouble understanding the meaning of the word as it applies to personal decisions. Choices have consequences. There are forks in the road and roads not taken. The sexual revolution and feminism multiplied choices, but didn't eliminate the need to choose.

The most heartbreaking complaints come from those women who delayed having babies and find that the sand in the hourglass has run out. What they thought would always be possible has a time limit. A generation of women who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s knew that 35 was a major divide for getting pregnant, but the fact of that divide got lost in the expanding career stories of the next three decades.

So it's news when Time magazine does a cover story about the problems of fertility and reports that a woman, age 20, who has only a 9 percent risk of a miscarriage finds her risk doubling at 35, tripling in the early 40s. At 40, half a woman's eggs are chromosomally abnormal; at 42 that figure rises to 90 percent. Childlessness is on the increase for women between the ages of 40 and 44, as high as 1 in 5. It rises to almost 50 percent for women of that age who have professional or graduate degrees.

Of course, some professional women choose not to marry and others choose not to have children because they prefer to give more time to work. But they're a tiny minority. Unlike the pre-feminist generation, these women can pursue their careers as aggressively as a man and reach high achievement. But it's difficult for women with children to work that hard and be there for their children, too. One of the choices an ambitious woman has given up, at least psychologically, is the goal of marrying in her 20s.

Gone too, are the once ubiquitous stories about young mothers enjoying family life. For decades, references to "The Feminine Mystique," published in 1963, emphasized the boredom experienced by college graduates who became full-time mothers. But that was a distortion.

Most of the women Betty Friedan interviewed for "The Feminine Mystique" complained about their lives after their children had entered school. They lived in the suburbs without public transportation and they were stuck as chauffeurs-on-call.

Today, young mothers have infinitely more opportunities when their children go to school. They can go back to college, take a graduate degree, train on a job or seek a professional career, and do all that without the anxiety of wondering whether they'll be able to have babies. Once the culture - men and women - supported that choice. No more, and that's sad. ground.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS