The sins of our feminist mothers & the crisis is fertility - 7/23/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Wed Jul 24 13:43:32 EDT 2002
subject: The sins of our feminist mothers & crisis is fertility - 7/23/02
from: Smart Marriages
Here are two interesting articles from Australia's The Age newspaper. The
first is by an avowed feminist (that gives a whole new meaning to the term
"empty nesters") was written in response to the second written by the
federal treasurer of the Australian Liberal Party. - diane
> I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word
> of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe
> female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase.
> It was wrong. It was crap. And Malcolm Turnbull has a point. God forbid!
The Age July 23 2002
The sins of our feminist mothers [If success means a career and no children,
women have been duped.]
by Virginia Haussegger
A few years ago, in my mid-30s, had I heard Malcolm Turnbull pontificate
about the need to encourage Australians to marry younger and have more
children ("The crisis is fertility, not ageing", on this page last Tuesday),
I would have thumped him, kneed him in the groin, and bawled him out.
How dare he - a rich father of two, with perfect wife and perfect life -
presume for a moment to tell women, thriving at the peak of our careers,
that we should stop, marry, and procreate. The sheer audacity of it.
Yet another male conspiracy, a conservative attempt to dump women out of the
workplace and back into the home. A neat male arrangement: a good woman to
run the household, and a workplace less cluttered with female competition.
A win-win for patriarchy. And precisely the kind of society I was schooled
As we worked our way through high school and university in the '70s and
early '80s, girls like me listened to our mothers, our trailblazing feminist
teachers, and the outspoken women who demanded a better deal for all women.
They paved the way for us to have rich careers.
They anointed us and encouraged us to take it all. We had the right to be
editors, paediatricians, engineers, premiers, executive producers, High
Court judges, CEOs etc. We were brought up to believe that the world was
ours. We could be and do whatever we pleased.
Feminism's hard-fought battles had borne fruit. And it was ours for the
Or so we thought - until the lie of super "you-can-have-it-all" feminism
hits home, in a very personal and emotional way.
We are the ones, now in our late 30s and early 40s, who are suddenly sitting
before a sheepish doctor listening to the words: "Well, I'm sorry, but you
may have left your run too late. Women at your age find it very difficult to
get pregnant naturally, and unfortunately the success rate of IVF for a
39-year-old is around one in five - and dropping. In another 12 months
you'll only have a 6 per cent chance of having a baby. So given all the
effort and expense, do you really want to go through with this? Why don't
you go home and think it through? But don't leave it too long - your clock
is ticking." Then he adds for comic value, "And don't forget, the battery is
For those of us who listened to our feminist foremothers' encouragement;
waved the purple scarves at their rallies; read about and applauded the
likes of Anne Summers, Kate Jennings, Wendy McCarthy, Jocelyn Scutt, Morag
Fraser, Joan Kirner, Elizabeth Proust etc (all strong examples of successful
working women); for those of us who took all that on board and forged ahead,
crashed through barriers and carved out good, successful and even some
brilliant careers; we're now left - many of us at least - as premature
We're alone, childless, many of us partnerless, or drifting along in
"permanent temporariness", as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman so aptly put it in
a recent Age article by Anne Manne to describe the somewhat ambiguous,
uncommitted type of relationship that seems to dominate among childless,
professional couples in their 30s and 40s.
The point is that while encouraging women in the '70s and '80s to reach for
the sky, none of our purple-clad, feminist mothers thought to tell us the
truth about the biological clock. Our biological clock. The one that would
eventually reach exploding point inside us.
Maybe they didn't think to tell us, because they never heard the clock's
screaming chime. They were all married and knocked-up by their mid-20s. They
so desperately didn't want the same for us.
And none of our mothers thought to warn us that we would need to stop, take
time out and learn to nurture our partnerships and relationships. Or if they
did, we were running too fast to hear it.
For those of us that did marry, marriage was perhaps akin to an accessory.
And in our high-disposable-income lives, accessories pass their use-by date,
and are thoughtlessly tossed aside. Frankly, the dominant message was to not
let our man, or any man for that matter, get in the way of career and our
own personal progress.
The end result: here we are, supposedly "having it all" as we edge 40;
excellent education; good qualifications; great jobs; fast-moving careers;
good incomes; and many of us own the trendy little inner-city pad we live
in. It's a nice caffe-latte kind of life, really.
But the truth is - for me at least - the career is no longer a challenge,
the lifestyle trappings are joyless (the latest Collette Dinnigan frock
looks pretty silly on a near-40-year-old), and the point of it all seems,
I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word
of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe
female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase.
It was wrong. It was crap. And Malcolm Turnbull has a point. God forbid!
-- Virginia Haussegger is ABC TV news presenter in the ACT. She has been a
television journalist for 15 years, hosting the 7.30 Report in various
states and reporting for the Channel Seven's Witness and Channel Nine's A
Copyright © 2002 The Age Company Ltd. TheAge Home:
The Age July 16 2002
> As John Howard said in his recent address to the United States Congress:
> "United, caring families are the best social welfare system mankind has ever
> The fact is that we would be a healthier, safer and stronger society if:
> Australians married earlier than they are doing today; we had more children
> and had them earlier; we stuck together more often, rather than getting
> divorced; fewer children were brought up by single parents (mostly mothers);
> and children (especially boys) saw more of their fathers.
> Is that social conservatism? Social survival, more likely.
> We have neglected the family over the past 30 years.
The crisis is fertility, not ageing
by Malcolm Turnbull
Within the lifetime of most Australians living today, the proportion of our
population aged over 65 is going to rise from 12 per cent to nearly 25 per
cent in 2040. Our working-age population will decline from around 67 to
about 60 per cent.
This phenomenon is often described as an "ageing population". It is driven
in part because we are living longer. But the main driver is not that our
old folks are living longer, but rather that our young folks are not having
If we have an ageing crisis, it is a symptom of a fertility crisis.
To replace itself, we need every woman to have, on average, 2.1 children.
Our Total Fertility Rate was 3.6 in 1961 and had declined to 2.1 in 1976.
Since then it has declined to 1.7. This trend of declining fertility, in the
absence of a massive increase in immigration, will result in our population
declining in absolute terms and over time, we will simply die out.
Immigration can offset this decline to some extent, because immigrants tend
to be younger on average than the host population, but unless the immigrant
communities maintain a higher total fertility rate than the host population,
the impact of immigration on the demographic mix is relatively modest.
As our population mix changes for the worse we will have more retired, aged
people relying on the support of fewer, working-age taxpayers.
These trends, over the long term, mean that we can expect that it will be
difficult to maintain social welfare levels in the future without
significant increases in taxation. In all likelihood we could reasonably
expect lower levels of welfare and higher taxes.
So, what is to be done? The answer lies right at the all-too-neglected heart
of our society - the family.
Many of our social problems today stem from the breakdown of families. For
example, the single biggest cause of child poverty is sole parenthood and
divorce. In other words, children have much better prospects, in every
respect, by having two parents, formally married. A major influence on women
not having children is lack of confidence in the durability of their
marriage. The prevalence of divorce reinforces the decline in fertility.
In the past, marriage, fidelity and other family virtues were promoted in
the name of morality and religion. We don't have to employ those arguments
today; not if we don't want to, that is.
The fact is that we would be a healthier, safer and stronger society if:
Australians married earlier than they are doing today; we had more children
and had them earlier; we stuck together more often, rather than getting
divorced; fewer children were brought up by single parents (mostly mothers);
and children (especially boys) saw more of their fathers.
Is that social conservatism? Social survival, more likely.
We have neglected the family over the past 30 years.
While our present Liberal Government has moved some way to rectify matters,
it is still the case that there is no longer a strong pro-family bias in our
taxation system. In 1960, for example, a family income was likely to be
about 170 per cent of an equivalent single worker. Today the differential is
not much more than 10 per cent.
The federal Treasury's recent Intergenerational Report identified several
important policy priorities, most of which were targeted at providing
support for the aged. These did not include policies designed to provide
incentives for marriage and procreation within marriage, nor policies
designed to provide disincentives for divorce and procreation outside
As John Howard said in his recent address to the United States Congress:
"United, caring families are the best social welfare system mankind has ever
It seems to me that in the light of the threat to our society from the
decline in fertility and the increase in family breakdown, we should be
identifying policies that actively promote "united caring families" and the
social values they represent.
That task of policy formation is extremely challenging and complex. The
answers are far from self-evident.
Governments, of course, are not responsible for all, or even most, of the
changes to our society. (Nor should they be!)
On important factor at the core of the "fertility crisis" is the difficulty
women have balancing career and family. Most women, fortunately, want to
have a family. But most also want to enjoy a satisfying career.
There is compelling evidence that while women are increasingly accepted into
responsible and well-paid roles, their acceptance is often, albeit tacitly,
on the condition that they don't have any children.
In 1996, 20 per cent of Australian women aged 45-49 with a bachelor's degree
or higher were childless. The overall percentage was 11 per cent. Does that
mean the more women are educated, the less likely they are to have children?
I am afraid that today, at least, it does mean just that.
Recent research in the US demonstrates that the more successful a woman is
in the corporate world, the less likely she is to have children or even to
be married. That is not the case with men.
Feminism may have broken the glass ceiling for many women, but the price
they are all too often being obliged to pay is to give up the opportunity of
Liberals pride themselves on basing their politics on common sense, rather
than ideology. It is common sense therefore that we need to achieve two
goals. We should ensure that the institution of marriage is strengthened and
that Australian women are encouraged to have children; equally importantly,
we should ensure that women are able to participate to their fullest extent
in the workforce.
This means we should work to make it easier for women with children to
participate in the workforce and do so in roles as challenging and
responsible as would be open to men, or women without children, of the same
Instead of defining "work" as that which suits a man whose family
responsibilities are taken care of by a stay-at-home wife, we need to
redefine work so that the template is a parent with responsibility for
bringing up a family.
We have gone too far in our efforts to define the basic unit of society as
the individual, rather than the family. Creating career structures that are
accessible to women, without taking into account that many of them are also
mothers, is simply discriminatory.
But this is not an argument about "mothers' rights". We have to accept that
strong families and well-adjusted, healthy children are a positive social
good; something that is in the best interests of all Australians, not simply
the family concerned.
Every Australian, regardless of whether they are single or married, parents
or childless, has a vested interest in the next generation because it is
that generation that will be paying the taxes that fund our society when we
are too old to do so ourselves.
In large measure Australia's prosperity - in the long term, perhaps its
survival - will depend on whether we are able to revive the institution of
marriage, the importance of child-bearing and the united caring families
that are the bedrock of our society.
-- Malcolm Turnbull is federal treasurer of the Liberal Party and chairman
of the Menzies Research Centre. A longer version of this article will appear
in the forthcoming edition of Options, a policy journal published by federal
Liberal MP Christopher Pyne.
Copyright © 2002 The Age Company Ltd. TheAge Home:
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