We're in the Middle of a Big F*cking Feminist Backlash
This post originally appeared on Shakesville. Have I mentioned in the last three seconds that we're in the middle of a Big Fucking Backlash? Because we're in the middle of a big fucking backlash. The following are excerpts from Eleanor Mills' article for the Times titled (I shit you not) "Learning to be left on the shelf" (emphasis mine), in which feminism is blamed for women who were bred not to breed, or something:
This isn't just about me. One in five females of my generation will never have children; and the Office for National Statistics reports that the more successful you are professionally, the less likely you are to breed. ...What has gone wrong? Last week Joanna Trollope, the novelist, blamed modern women's "absurd" expectations for their lack of husbands. She said women are looking for a man who "has to earn £100,000 a year, has to be able to cut down a tree, play the Spanish guitar, make love all night and cook me a cheese soufflé". I don't think my single friends are on their own because they are too picky. I think it is because as a generation we were bred not to prioritise finding a husband and having a family. Unlike generations of females before us, we were bred to work. I was born in 1970, in the middle of women's lib. My mother and her peers were conscious-raising and feminist. ...At dinner with girlfriends the other night, the feeling was we'd been let down. That society, by leaving us to fend for ourselves and offering no guidance or advice on the crucial subject of finding a mate, had failed us. After all, throughout history, pairing off the next generation has been a key function of most societies, from Jane Austen's balls to Indian arranged marriages.Et cetera. Leaving aside the evident cis- and heterocentrism, and Mills' evident disbelief that there are a lot of women who are (or will be) happily childless and/or unpartnered in their 40s and beyond, and the reeking classism and entitlement that makes the piece nearly unreadable, I just have to ask on what planet, exactly, did she and her friends grow up where
No one, not my family or my teachers, ever said, "Oh yes, and by the way you might want to be a wife and mother too."—because NO. I have lived in Britain, and the claim that little girls are not bombarded with images and narratives that they are to seek out wifedom and motherhood is absurd. Mills is only four years older than I am, and even from 4,000 miles away, I knew as a child that Margaret Thatcher was a WIFE! and a MOTHER! goddammit, not just a prime minister. Buried somewhere beneath all the gender essentialist fairy-tale ending bullshit, Mills does have a legitimate complaint. Our culture's not really set up for optimal biological parenting in particular. It's easiest to parent financially if you've got a white-collar career, but a professional woman has to wait to have kids until she's established in her career, which usually means mid-thirties at least. We need better family leave laws (Scandinavia is much better in this area, especially Sweden) that facilitate genuine co-parenting (not the fake-ass lipservice to co-parenting we give while it's still women who do the vast majority of the child care) and allow people to have children at an earlier age without fucking their careers. (Or their shitty jobs.) But. It's feminists who advocate for better family leave laws. It's feminists who routinely point out how easy it is for a man to become a parent in his 20s without missing a beat in his career, and how noteasy it is for women to do the same. And it isn't feminists who would recommend searching for "an exotic man who would open up a whole new kind of life for me" at the expense of being interested in "a nice man who wanted kids" if you are a woman who wants kids. Feminists tend to be the ones who suggest using romantic comedy plots as a blueprint for one's own life isn't, perhaps, the wisest idea. Don't find someone to complete you; find someone to complement you is the romance section of the feminist didactic. But I digress. This is yet another in a long string of similar "Feminism told me I could have it all, but I got snookered!" articles—although this one is an even more self-indulgent reach than the usual twaddle, given that Mills did essentially get everything she ever wanted, but is apparently miffed she had to work for it—in which the author blames feminism for not delivering on its promises, with not a single shred of ire reserved for the institutional biases that serve as roadblocks to material progress. And when I read of privileged women who have great careers, but are struggling to navigate the integration of career and partnerdom/motherhood, and blame feminism for that struggle, I can't help but wonder if they don't understand that even the existence of that imbalance is evidence of feminism's successes, even as it is muse for feminism's continued necessity. There was a time when work/life balance wasn't an issue, because work (outside the home) wasn't an option. Except for those un-privileged women for whom it was a necessity to survive. Who, I trust it goes without saying, didn't have their pick of careers. Mills doesn't even realize she has feminism to thank for the luxury of her disdain. But the biggest problem with this piece, and the others (so many others!) just like it is this: Mills says "This isn't just about me," but...it kind of is. The idea that partnership/kids is some kind of mystery to modern women thanks to feminism is patently silly. There are plenty of feminist women who have well-developed internal selves and successful careers and great partners and/or kids, and manage to integrate it all into one big messy life, if imperfectly and with occasional sacrifices they wish they didn't have to make, sometimes small and sometimes almost inconceivably huge. And there are plenty of feminist women who don't have everything they want, and maybe never will. And, in either case, those feminist women look at the ways in which their lives have been limited, their goals made elusive, the balance of their interests made infinitely more difficult than it needs be, and they don't advocate for less feminism, but more.