I happened to be browsing through Forbes online tonight, after reading some links my dad sent me, when I came across J. Maureen Henderson’s article “Why Adele Would be Right to Bow Out of the Music Biz.” Intrigued and expecting a harsh critique of the artist, I was surprised when Henderson instead discusses the wisdom in Adele’s desire to take a few years off to focus on her relationship with her boyfriend, and possibly start a family or plant a garden.
As Henderson gives reasons why Adele’s choice may be a wise, she also makes a case for choosing a ‘sooner rather than later’ approach to beginning a family. Don’t get me wrong. She doesn’t argue that we should all get married in our late teens early twenties. She simply cites statistics that show that regrets about love tend to be more intense than regrets related to work and talks about the reality of fertility. She states, “while no one possessed of ovaries and a desire to (at some point) answer to “Mommy” likes to talk about it, the fact that fertility declines with age – 27 is commonly cited as the age at which the drop off begins – is a medical reality.”
Reading this article was a good compliment to the article my dad had forwarded me by the same author: “Beyond ‘Slut’ and Shopaholic What Being A Gen Y Woman Is Really All About”. Her portrait of the Gen Y Woman is pretty accurate: She’s stressed, single, confused about reproductive reality, educated and proud of it, out earning her male counterparts, worried about her appearance and has lots of debt. In short, she’s successful and a little lonely with an ever narrowing chance to become a mother.
Both of these articles made me think of the movie “Mona Lisa Smile.” If you’ve seen it you know that there are really two heroines in the film: Katherine Watson and Joan. Watson is a professor who chooses a single life and a successful career. Joan is a bright young student who gives up beginning a potentially promising career to be a wife and mother. Though it’s been years since I last saw it, I still remember the director/producer’s comment in the special features that one of their intentions for the film was to validate both choices.
I love that the movie presented an either/or for the heroines. We live in a culture that tells us that we can have everything that we want, that we don’t have to choose one over another. This is very rarely true. I love that Henderson brought up both the consequences of late family planning and of choosing a career over love. We live in a culture afraid to face the fact that choices have consequences, both good and bad. Feminism cannot change these realities. No amount of dogma can alter the fact that many women will have to choose which one matters most to them. Men face a similar choice.
What I value most about both “Mona Lisa Smile” and Henderson’s article about Adele, beyond their honesty, is that they validate women’s choice to follow their hearts. Whether their hearts are leading them into marriage or into a successful career. The feminist movement has done a big disservice to women by making them feel like motherhood is not an admirable option, that their career is most important. Motherhood should only come long after.
My goal in writing this isn’t to say we should all be getting married young or starting families early. (Remember, I write this as a single twenty-four year old woman in no hurry to be married myself. If I do become a mother, like it or not, I will probably be in my late twenties or early thirties). My hope is simply to validate the choice for those who wish to.
Also, let me clarify what I mean when I said that many women will have to choose. Working and having a family is not impossible. My mother worked while my sisters and I were growing up, she even had her own business when we lived in Indiana. Most women need to work. But it is hard to juggle a demanding, successful career with a family. This is as true for men as it is for women. You can have the demanding, successful career and children, but there are only so many hours in a day and in a week and in a year. You will most likely have to choose whether one of you has to stay home with the kids or whether your kids will be raised by a nanny.
It’s also important to recognize just because you choose not to focus on pursuing your career at one point, that doesn’t mean you cannot pursue it at another time. When my sisters and I were younger our mom didn’t work for a while. Once we were older, one of us was in middle school, she started her own business. Had she been working all those years she might never have had the idea or freedom to start that business.