Blame (or thank) Lena Dunham for inciting what feels like a recent onslaught of feminist writing tackling the complexities of singleness, fertility and prolonged adolescence. The feminist–or post-feminist–communities seem to be torn on whether to embrace or shun Dunham’s depictions of young women today as entitled party girls who accidentally smoke crack, dabble in anal sex and believe their parents should financially support them because they’re not strung out on prescription meds.
According to a recent bit of rather condescending and misguided bit of writing by Deborah Schoeneman, author of “Woman-Child,” Dunham’s cast of characters are the perfect examples of typical “woman-children.” Schoeneman posted an excerpt of her book detailing her concept on Jezebel and managed to insult every non-married, childless adult woman living:
A “woman-child” is the type to prioritize her female friendships as if she were in a high school clique by posting pictures of her girls’ birthday dinners or boozy vacations on Facebook while her peers post wedding and baby pictures with similar zeal. She truly believes that women are in it together and is all about helping her friends start businesses, meet guys and pick out a cute outfit for a big event. Competiveness among females in the workplace is perceived as totally 80s. “Women-children” are increasingly looking back to create a new common ground and it’s a warm fuzzy ground.
The woman-child will likely get married later than the increasing national average. Advances in fertility treatments like egg freezing have also added to their confidence that they can reproduce older and potentially prolong their own girlhood.
Ah, where to start. Though I’m not the Facebook posting chick Schoeneman describes, I am, indeed, the woman-centric, career-minded lady who is both single and childless. I don’t consider myself a child–I live in a beautiful brownstone in New York City, I pay my own rent and bills, I have worked hard to build an upward career trajectory, I manage to enjoy myself in Manhattan without going dead broke, and sometimes I date men, fall in love them and even have a little sex. I’m not interested in reliving high school (which I hated), or even college (which I loved). With each birthday I find myself happier to be a year older and more secure in who I am. I was unaware, however, until reading Ms. Schoeneman’s piece that my own personal contentment with my life was shrouded in a fear “of becoming grown-ups in an increasingly scary world of layoffs, rich Republicans and insane weather patterns.” Read: all single, childless, adult women believe in the apocalypse of 2012 and have thus decided to embrace Hello Kitty and Katy Perry instead of embracing their true calling–marrying a guy who’s good enough and having his seeds. Most importantly, I had no idea that the only way to truly leave “girlhood” behind was to get pregnant, which of course makes me ponder how Schoeneman would classify those who face fertility challenges.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had enough of this condescending anti-single woman mentality. Sure, I watch daily as my friends on Facebook hyphenate their names, announce their engagements, and post pictures of their babies (most of which I find mildly annoying, not because I’m a hater; I just cannot understand adult over-sharing). This does not make me anti-marriage or anti-children. Is it what I want right now? Not so much. Am I happy for the other women in my life that have chosen this path? Absolutely. But respect for our respective adult decisions doesn’t seem to flow both ways. Those of us who are single and childless are constantly scoffed at–even by our psuedo-feminist counterparts.
Perhaps this reversion to girlhood, particularly by single women, has something to do with the rising average age of brides. In a December 2011 analysis, the Pew Research Center said only 51 percent of adults are married in the U.S., a record low. The average age for women to get married was 26, and for men, the average age was 29, both record highs.
Well I guess she told you, Single Lady. Your singleness means you have no idea how to mature as a woman, and thus, you must dress like Nicki Minaj and download Taylor Swift albums. I don’t want to give Schoeneman’s critique too much weight, because it is clear, she is an elitist who is yearning for an era of 1950s that birthed that defining American glamour (White America’s golden years), than the present. Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Bouvier, Sandra Dee, Frankie and Annette, a touch of the Supremes, humming along to the record player while anticipating your husband and child’s needs, segregation, great jobs as secretaries, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, nude or rose nail color…these are a few of what must be Schoeneman’s favorite things.
Her critique is so deeply stemmed in a resentment for today’s pop-culture landscape, with its diversity and opportunity for self-definition, it’s hard to sift her cultural insights from her scathing contempt for nail-polish and game nights. Her point and contempt, however, are not new. Both are merely indicative of a larger narrative married women inflict on their single counterparts. I’ve experienced it personally and it goes a little something like this:
Single Friend: Hey girl, I was calling to find out if you were going to make it to the fundraiser and if you had an opinion on what kind of gifts we should donate?
Married Friend: I have a life–I have a husband and two children!! I can’t believe anyone cares about the freakin’ gift.
Sound familiar? I’m pretty sure you’ve had a similar encounter. Married women and their weary patience for the values of single life. Because of course, what do single women know anyway? Wasn’t it all busy work until he came along? I may not be sleep deprived from raising children, but I do know what it’s like to work 20-hour production shifts, throw your best friend’s bridal shower, babysit your neighbor’s child or dog, and try to look cute while doing so. Trivial to some; important to me—my priorities. Does that make me less of a woman?
Apparently Schoeneman believes so–she adds:
“Women-children” certainly seem to be enjoying themselves more than their peers who struggle with the motherhood/career conundrum. The trend has crept into my peer group, too. It’s as if some of the women around me still want to be girls because girls just want to have fun. Girls certainly don’t obsess over a feminist article in The Atlantic or the dearth of female directors in Hollywood.
Well isn’t that funny. My career aspiration to become a successful Hollywood film director is exactly why I don’t have children, and why I spent a Friday night reading a 20 page feminist article in The Atlantic about shifting relationship norms (after which, I went to investigate putting my eggs on ice–I kid, I kid). Perhaps if Schoeneman had more thoroughly read Kate Bolick’s article “All The Single Ladies,” from last November chronicling the shifting marriage norms in global culture, she would have gathered the rather obvious insight that marriage is no more a definitive indicator of adulthood than a hostile stance on nail art. It is a choice, not an obligation; it is no longer a necessity, and thus, women have the right to choose and embrace their single, childless, womanly lives. Bolick writes,
“For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church, and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift, and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes.”
She goes on:
“…We no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don’t want to. For those who want their own biological child, and haven’t found the right man, now is a good time to be alive. Biological parenthood in a nuclear family need not be the be-all and end-all of womanhood—and in fact it increasingly is not.
Every once in a while I’ll share a story with my mother about a conflict I’m having with girlfriends, to which, she will almost always respond, “It’s time for you girls to get married and have some babies.” Thanks, mom. At my age, my mom was married with two children; her perspective on late 20′s single life is rather moot.
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Sure, if I were married, I’d have less time to spend with my friends, and as a result we probably wouldn’t have time to get in to arguments about our different perspectives on entrepreneurship, class issues and beliefs in metaphysics. We also wouldn’t have as much time to discuss the profound insights of Joseline Hernandez, Mi-Mi and Stevie J.—oh, but wait, married women do that as well, don’t they?
I didn’t move to New York City for love, I moved here to build an awesome career. The thought of nannies, pregnant subway rides and private school tuition sounds dreadful to me. But if, and when I do decide I would like to get married and have children, I will make different decisions to ensure that I can. That’s the great thing about being an adult—the ability to assess what is important to you and take deliberate steps to make it happen. Well, at least that’s what great about being an adult to me, but after all, I am just a woman-child, so what do I know?
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