Monday, May 12, 2008

Late Fertility and the New "Choice" Narrative

The brilliant Alissa Quart (of last month's NYTimes mag spread on transgender youth fame) has a short piece up at Mother Jones about the new fertility-movie genre that's definitely worth a read.

In "When Chick Flicks Get Knocked Up," Alissa questions the happy ending substitute of baby love and emphasizes their conservative bent. She also notes that these "embryo pics" invert film themes of yore:
The prenatal pics don’t mean to irk their viewers, of course: they are simply are a corny replacement for the serrated romantic comedies of the 1940s, in which sparkling, independent female protagonists, sporting sharply tailored suits and sharper repartee, wound up getting their comeuppance in the form of a rake who could finally domesticate them. In fertility movies, the rake taming all female powerhouses is an infant. Worse, embryo pics have inverted another film theme. Women who once chose an unusual life path picked child-free independence—liberated Klutes or unmarried women. Now, conceiving of an infant without marriage or even love is the filmic symbol of independence. In this way, these films recast the "pro-choice" narrative of feminists' personal and political past as a different, less politically dangerous sort of pro-choice story—a woman's right to choose from a smorgasbord of late fertility options. Once, in the recent age of “Murphy Brown” having a baby as a single woman was the most rebellious and politically radical thing our heroine could ever do. Now becoming a single mom onscreen makes a film heroine more conventional.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a late to the table woman (married at 35, baby at 38), I see these films as partly a backlash at the idea that one can put motherhood off until the degrees are hanging on the wall and the career is established. For a long time the mantra was that we could have it all. Well, that wasn't quite true. And then it was that we could put off getting pregnant because there was time. There wasn't.

So what's a woman supposed to do? Maternal desires don't fit with the male model imposed on career and success and we haven't had much luck (or have we just not tried) with changing it, and many women just can't deny that having a child is as important to them as being good at their job (also let's not forget that what passes for "career" with a large portion of the world is mind numbing work).

I find the idea of "choice" to still be a shell game for women. We aren't easily able to have children once we hit our thirties. At forty? It's criminal to tell young women they can wait that long and still be mothers because unless they have a lot of money or great health insurance, for most it will be too late. It's not about fair either. Men lose viable sperm as they age, have just as much a chance of being unable to father children at all and are more likely to father children with genetic defectives than young men. We just don't hear about that as much.

We need a system that values the idea that mothering is important to society and doesn't penalize women (Social Security for example) for stepping on and off the career track to have and care for children. We also need a societal commitment to good daycare and preschool. Can we get these things without parity representation in Congress and at the state govt. level? I don't think so.

Whew, I better stop here. This is too big of a topic for a mere comment. It needs a blog piece of it's own. Thought provoking though, thank you.