A jubilant Montreal Gazette headline announced on Monday: "We've got babies on the brain."
July births in Quebec—7,400—are the highest monthly total this decade, and 2007 the busiest year for maternity wards since 1996. Many women are even having third babies. Great news for demographers, but to certain ideologues cause for outrage.
In a heated column in Chatelaine magazine's October issue, Katrina Onstad expresses disgust that a young woman on a U.S. book tour ("she hasn't cast her gaze northward, praise be") is promoting the joys of a committed relationship and motherhood.
Onstad's fury is directed at Rebecca Walker, author of Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. This isn't just any young woman. Thirty-something Ms. Walker is the daughter of world-famous novelist Alice Walker (The Colour Purple, et al.). Moreover, Rebecca's repudiation of her mother's radically feminist views (Alice was so appalled by Rebecca's pregnancy she cut her out of her will!) was an informed choice: In her '20s, Rebecca dutifully indulged in the "empowering" experiments of lesbianism, bisexualism and aimless globetrotting. Apparently none of it compared to a committed heterosexual relationship and a baby: "For me, having a baby has been the most transformational experience of my life." She warns peers not to wait too long: "You need to plan having a baby like you plan your career if it's something that you want."
Rebecca's experience echoes that of another celebrity feminist's daughter. Molly Jong-Fast also chose fidelity and motherhood after long intimate exposure to her novelist mother Erica Jong's libertine philosophy and four marriages. Given the encouraging birth statistics, these young women could be the leading end of a widening wedge. An intellectually mature observer would wonder if these women were cultural bellwethers in the winding down of the gender wars. But instead, Onstad petulantly lashes out at Rebecca and her cohort's ideological apostasy.
"I'm sick of it," she cries, referring to Walker's book as well as the whole "cottage industry" of blogs, magazines and "momoirs" that now litter the formerly pristine feminist landscape, because "this motherhooduber-alles enterprise is a threat to birth-control availability and abortion rights."
To recap: Katrina Onstad writes for a magazine that supposedly represents a cross section of Canadian women. She is furious that young women are rejecting promiscuity and endless navel-gazing adventures of self-discovery, and all because the examples they set endanger what she considers the greater value and even a social norm worth championing: childlessness. Apart from the absurdity of the statement—birth control and abortion rights have never been tied to the birth rate—Onstad's condescending message insults most women.
Onstad's rigid mindset, which seeks not to understand but to excommunicate, actually throws into bold relief how far real young women have come from the robotic I-am-woman-hear-me-roar template of the '80s and '90s. Still, Onstad's willingness to bend the truth in the service of ideology is puzzling and sad. She says, "I cannot imagine one day having a heart-to-heart with my daughter in which I urge her to breed. Yes, I might mention the fact that women's eggs begin to deplete at 35 ?"
Begin? I'll kindly call this wishful thinking rather than indefensible ignorance. Fertility for women peaks between 15 and 25. By 35, first-time motherhood is already statistically jeopardized. By 40, the chances of conception and a healthy baby are substantially diminished. "I'm more concerned about ensuring she meets her own happiness long before becoming a mother," Onstad insists. The arrogance of her assumption that the two goals are incompatible is rather breathtaking. (Poetic justice would ensure her daughter marries at 18 and finds her bliss in homemaking.)
Chatelaine has two regular columnists—Onstad and Heather Mal-lick—both of whom radiate intolerance of women who deviate from the feminist playbook. They offer a very skewed portrait of Canadian womanhood. This middle-aged writer would urge its editors to honour the principle of intellectual diversity: Give a third tribunal to an articulate younger woman (I can suggest a few) who will challenge Mallick's and Onstad's smug, superannuated dogmas. There's nothing worse for a magazine than being behind the times. And for those with eyes to see, the times for young Canadian women are clearly a'changing.
Barbara Kay "From Chatelaine, a condescending rant by yesterday's feminist." National Post, (Canada) 10 October, 2007.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.
Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.Copyright © 2007 National Post
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