“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Much of what we tell ourselves is a lie. The ability to lie to one of the closest confidants that we have — ourselves, is one of the reasons of personal and public conflict. Although this might seem like a “psycho” or frivolous idea, it is one of the things that cause us to react in inappropriate ways and ultimately make the wrong choices in life, love, business and politics. I want to put this in the context of women, children and feminism.
“The language of fruitfulness, certainly that employed by Pope Francis, has biblical roots. The first words God speaks to humans in the Bible, in Genesis 1, are the blessing “be fruitful and multiply.” The idea that EVERY WOMAN should be the vessel of “multiplication” was deeply resented in an article that I read in the “Daily Beast”. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/20/pope-francis-vs-the-bible-a-history-of-the-debate-over-being-childless.html
The book “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing,” by Helen Gurley Brown was published in 1982. The book was a guide to “having it all” which includes “more love, more money, more stability and, inevitably, more sex — and were willing to work for it.” He book outlines instructions on everything a woman needs to know to “get to the top” which includes “whether to sleep with your boss (“Why discriminate against him?”), what to eat (“You may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight . . . not a heavy case, just a little one!”) and how to please your man (“Don’t grab too hard” and make sure to “keep your teeth behind your lips”).
I have a dear friend who says that it all started with “Sex And the City”, the very hip and cool situation comedy of a generation ago (THAT is hard to believe) , my youngest daughter Austen was 2 when it started (she is now 18) and the eldest, Aubrey, was in the 5th grade when it ended — she is now in graduate school, but its roots came with the first wave of feminism in the early 20th century. The four friends at the center of this program(Sex And the City) “had it all’. They had great apartments, wonderful clothing (which surprisingly could still be worn today), great shoes, great jobs, great hair, great looking boyfriends, and YOU guessed it, everything was great. These single thirty-something women “had it all” and the rest of the female population who had homes with mortgages, kids who needed chauffeuring , jobs that were not so great, husbands who were not interested in shoe shopping or a UPS man who resembled john Goodman at his heaviest instead of Brad Pitt with winking blue eyes and tight brown shorts were the real “saps”.
But the real seeds of this started ions ago, perhaps with the feeling that it was unfair that the differences between the sexes were “unfair”. The Feminine Mystique written by Betty Friedan focused on the plight of the upper class, well-educated white woman who was “stuck” as a housewife — the antithesis of the “Sex And the City” gals. Helen Gurley Brown’s book showed how to overcome this by using the exact “feminine wiles” and “tricks” that got you “stuck” in the first place in order to make the way to the top! Most of the time it did not work BTW.
Missing from both Helen Gurley Brown’s book and “Sex in the City” are “children”. What happens to the kids? Even with the earlier Friedan book, the missing link was the children. Who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with white men to the professions? And, what if the men were absent or the children not self-sufficient or you don’t make enough money to hire a maid, nanny, chauffer and cook? Friedan had three children; Gurley-Brown had none as did Gloria Steinem. Children, or the one child who made it to birth on the “Sex in the City” drama was very young, well behaved, cute and quiet. He was somewhat like a cute, bobble head doll.
So let me wrap up with the “what if’s?” What if the “fetus” or the “tissue” that we aborted as a means of birth control was really a baby and was really the last great chance we had to bring life into this world? This is a real tragedy, even overlooking the moral decision. What if the kids were not OK as we handed them off to “Susan” or “Maria” or “Magda” every day and sometimes on weekends as we pursued our goals and dreams? What if we knew this and said to ourselves “they’ll be okay” even when we knew that it was a great probability that they would not be. It doesn’t seem matter that study after study shows that daycare kids have elevated cortisol levels — a hormone released in the body in response to stress. It doesn’t matter that this increase of cortisol levels can lead to myriad health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and impairment of memory and concentration.
The answer is that we cannot have it all, at least all at once. During his tenure Francis has directly described those who choose not to have children as “selfish” and as obsessed with material things. While this MIGHT be true in some cases, I know people who have chosen to be childless that I could not imagine as parents of children or even owners of pets, they are better off with 4 cars and multiple vacations. THEY did not lie to themselves and THEY were not selfish.
In contrast, Betty Friedan’s husband, after maintaining years of silence even when she described him in disparaging terms, said “She (Betty) operates by terror. Anyone who knows her well will tell you all about what she is really like.” The couple, who had three children, lived increasingly separate lives until their divorce in the early Seventies but remained on good terms until the publication of her memoirs. He also stated “Betty. . . tottered on a thin line just this side of insanity.” He also claimed that her violent temper was made worse by the use of amphetamines.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1348841/Feminist-writer-Betty-Friedan-brought-terror-to-marriage.html
The conundrum exacerbates itself when we realize that as women, unlike the women in the movies or shows on television have a reasonable “time table” that we have to work within when we make these “choices”. And, while it might not be popular, the decision to be childless or to remain single might not be selfish at all, when you consider the alternative.