Women without men who want children: Must they find a man first? Must they behave so indirectly in the pursuit of what they want?
The post has generated intense controversy with over 120 posts since this morning, and with charges flying back and forth of female selfishness, male-bashing, and “dinosaur” attitudes toward women.
As a single, 42-year-old woman, I sympathize with women who are nearing the end of their fertile years and haven’t found the right man. I’m not anti-child and I have some regrets about the fact that I have almost certainly forgone motherhood, but I don’t feel an intense longing for a child, either, and I cannot say with any certainty what route I would have taken if I did. I’d like to think, however, that before I even considered a sperm bank, I would have made more of an effort to find “the right man,” and made different choices in some of my past relationships.
What troubles me is the selling of single motherhood by choice as “female autonomy.” First of all, as some of the commenters on Althouse’s blog pointed out, parenthood by definition limits one’s autonomy. Second, single parenthood by choice almost inherently perpetuates gender inequality: because of biology, it’s a choice far less available to men. (I don’t know the statistics, but I would assume that gay male couples are far less likely to raise children biologically related to one of the parents than are lesbian couples.)
Thus, we are seeing a paradoxical phenomenon: on the one hand, we expect married fathers to be far more involved parents than they were in the traditional nuclear family model; on the other hand, we are far more accepting of a family model that shuts out fathers completely. One might see this trend as a modernized version of Victorian “separate spheres”: child-rearing and family are a female domain. Only, in the modern version, women get to participate more or less equally in the traditionally male domains of work and public life, while men are even less connected to the female domain than they were in the Victorian era. Something tells me this is not a good thing for male-female relations, children, men, or women for that matter. Among other things, let’s not forget that according to numerous studies, everything else being equal, children do fare better when both parents are present.
Some of Althouse’s posters (almost invariably men) suggest that the inability of these women to form a lasting romantic relationship suggests that they are ill-suited for the committment of child-rearing, too. This claim may be too simplistic, and the charge of selfishness may be quite unfair in some cases — as is, of course, the “man-hater” charge that one poster levels against Althouse. Yet I do think that the attitude toward men displayed by Althouse and some of her female posters is rather troubling. They seem to assume that if a woman cannot meet a man she considers a suitable partner, the problem has to be with men. Could it be that some of the women have an inability to commit, or an unwillingness to share control over child-rearning? Could it be that asking them to lower their standards is not always unreasonable? If, as Althouse and some commenters on her site have noted, professional success tends to narrow a woman’s marital options, this is partly because many successful women do not regard a less successful, lower-earning man as a suitable mate.
Listen to one of the women in the excerpt quoted by Althouse:
“You’re paying for it, so you kind of want the best of the best,” said Anna Aiello, 38, of Moriches, N.Y., on Long Island, the mother of 1-year-old twins, who saw her ability to select a 6-foot-2 blond, blue-eyed, genetic-disease-free donor as some consolation for not getting to fall in love with someone who would most likely have been more flawed.
Female autonomy does not frighten me; but this mentality does. What are the odds that Ms. Aiello has unreasonable expectations toward men? What are the odds that she will impose unreasonable demands of perfection on her “flawless” twins?
I don’t want to issue a blanket condemnation of single mothers by choice. While biology favors women when it comes to the ability to choose solo parenthood, it also imposes on women a “now or never” choice that men don’t have to face. But it’s one thing to be understanding; it’s quite another to celebrate this choice as an expression of female freedom and autonomy.
I can see that people will find it disturbing that the normal desire for a child doesn’t stay part of the pressure on women to make matches with men. This is hard on men, but maybe it will put a good pressure on them to become better husband material.
Personally, I think it is far more likely to promote more rancor and division between the sexes, and a growing estrangement of men from family life. And that’s nothing to celebrate.