Friday, February 28, 2014

"Barren" vs. "Child-Free"

Several of my colleagues are dealing with the travails of parenting adolescent children, and whenever I overhear them complaining, I can't help but think, "There but for the Grace of God..."  For some of them, the workplace is a refuge from the incessant demands of the ungrateful, surly rebels in their care.  How fortunate I feel to go home and have only to tend to loving pets and a kind, supportive human companion.

Yet the New Misogynists darkly warn young women to avoid the fate of spinsters like me, who wind up alone and unloved.  Having failed to fulfill our biological destiny, we are almost worse than useless.  I have even recently been described, without irony, as "barren", one of those portentous biblical terms (like "fornicate") the manosphereans like to fling about in a futile attempt at gravitas.  It never fails to amuse me. 

Like most women of my generation, I vaguely assumed that some day I would have a biological family -- when I was good and ready, that is.  Unfortunately, by the time I was psychologically and financially prepared to take such a momentous leap of faith, I had developed a medical condition that prevented conception.  That was sad.  It took me several years to make peace with the loss of that dream.  Yet however wistfully I have viewed my childless state, I have never regretted not becoming a mother in my twenties: That would have been an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved!  Nor have I ever thought human evolution has suffered from my failure to reproduce, since it has always been evident to me that what the world needs is greater investment in fewer people.

Not having one's own biological children is just that: the loss of a dream.  Because it strikes me that the longing to become a parent is based on a kind of fantasy.  In my dream, of course, my children would be healthy, attractive, intelligent, and moral.  They would be perfected versions of myself.  In my dream, I would be an exemplary mother: nurturing, stimulating, endlessly patient.  Of course, with the hindsight of age, I can see that I would probably have been a well-meaning but highly imperfect parent.  There is no guarantee that any child I might have had would have turned out to be either happy or successful.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that we would even have liked each other.  Few of us are always grateful to our parents for conceiving us, the "gift of life" being the very mixed bag that it is.  In fact, parents are fortunate if their children finally come to understand and appreciate the efforts that they made on their behalf.*

One colleague worries that her teenager is a "narcissist" who is "full of rage". We hasten to assure her that these unpleasant traits are part and parcel of normal adolescent development, and that he is bound to "grow out of it".  Then, of course, I wonder, "But what if he doesn't?"

What if I had had a son who had turned out like Roosh, or Matt Forney, or any of the men who admire them?  I have no reason to believe that their parents were any worse or better than most.  While it is clear to me that these young men have been failed in some terrible ways, I do not assume the failure is their parents', or at least not exclusively their parents'.

Although these men are now adults, I imagine their families must be deeply disappointed and aggrieved to see their only sons, who started out in life so bright, shiny and full of promise, take such wrong turns.   

I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
--Lady Macbeth

*  Does the curious fact that the following poem by Philip Larkin was one of my mother's favorites hold some kind of key here?

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were sloppy stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have have any kids yourself. 


  1. Theres been this cultural shift thats h happening within the last 10 years or so especially within my generating which I'm ashamed to say also includes the new Mysoginists. Allot of the old rules of masculinity such as gaining respectful employment, finding a suitable wife and raising children have begun to diminish thanks in large part to the West's dwindling economy but also in part due to feminist and LGBT activists who struck blows against traditional patriarchal institutions. Which to me as a cis gendered white straight man albeit one who was never much for trad masculine gender roles was pretty neat it, yet I realised that just because I was no longer expected to be a bread winner did not preclude me from being a responsible grown up.

    Yet I believe guys like Roosh and Forney felt it meant that they got to behave like perpetual teenagers for the rest of there lives and well just no. Just because you don't follow the patriarchal script of wife, children house in the suburbs doesn't mean you get to go on living a perpetual adolescent life free of consequence. Other people matter and as mature adults iti s our responsibility not to go around making other peoples lives miserable.

    1. Yes. It's as though the lifting of the heavy hand of patriarchy, with its rigidly defined gender roles, has sent a lot of people (women as well as men) into a kind of tailspin. To me it spells "freedom" -- freedom to be our authentic, varied selves, but that kind of freedom is scary to people who need authority to feel safe.

    2. Yes, there is no longer quite the same stigma attached to being a bachelor. In my father's time a man who did not endeavor to marry and settle down would be considered odd, nowadays it's much more common. However, within popular culture there aren't really any strong alternative paths for men to follow, apart from this image of the perpetual adolescent playing the field and frittering their disposable income away on gadgets and leisure activities. I can see the appeal of that, and it's not like there aren't plenty of women being encouraged to do the same thing, but ultimately play time can't last forever.

  2. "failed to fulfill our biological destiny"
    hehehe my peers in the manosphere never think more deeply than they have to to create the world they want.

    It's easy to understand where it comes from though. Humans are, after all, one of the latest iterations in a grand progression of survival machines. Even if you take out the evolved mentality towards reproduction, you might argue you should at least try: for you are the conscious or subconscious raison d'etre of everyone who came before you. The sum of all their toils, troubles, hopes and dreams. Eventually, everything anyone does - no matter how great, is forgotten. So you, and your potential spawn are the only thing they really leave behind. It's as if you somehow owe them.

    However... to study evolution is to study death. To die without creating children has as much value to future evolution as leaving behind ten. In the grand scheme of things, reproducing or not is neither good nor bad, the future of the species (and the ones that follow) are neither better nor worse for the path you take, just different. Most importantly none of if it is in vain. No one dies in vain.


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