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Shame and Fecundity

Most college graduates in their twenties will gladly tell you more than you ever wanted to know about their sex lives. They may even blog about them. Oddly though, theres still a tremendous amount of shame about getting pregnant and having children, even in ones mid to late twenties. I have lots of college educated friends who would be mortified to find out that they or someone they knew were unexpectedly expecting. You hear stories all the time, whether the mother is married or engaged or has a good partner is not the issue, it seems to her friends that she is throwing her life away. Having a child before owning a home seems to be the last refuge of shame and socially acceptable ridicule among a certain class. Even with all the liberation thats happened in the last several decades women are still made to feel ashamed and afraid of the one thing that sets them most apart from men, their potential to bear children. When will our society be more hospitable to women and children?

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I know this disconnection between sex and procreation is out there. But it's my sense that actual aversion and shame about children is more common among women in their late 30s and 40s. I know professional women who think I was an idiot to have had my son at age 41 when it put such a crimp in our finances and free time. It's a completely rational point of view, especially when they get a load of my kid, who should have come with a label "not for all tastes." Fortunately, he's just like his mother, so we get along great.While I see a disconnect between sex and procreation among my students. (Just for the record, I don't encourage personal discussions with my students about sex. But we parse ad message in my journalism class, and advertising often leads to discussions about the role of sex in our culture. One semester a young man brought a condom ad featuring a trophy, God help me.)But I don't sense hostility among young women about children or procreation; they seem less tied to the whole "get your butt out in the workforce and act like a man" form of feminism than people in my age group.Instead, many young women seem to view children as too much responsibility. Since many of them are running home frequently to provide assistance to a divorced mom, I'm guessing this might be the source of this anxiety.I'd be interested to hear more from Anna about this, because she's closer to college-age women than I am.

The approach to this complex issue seems annecdotal and largely blames the drop in birth rate here on selfishness and inconvenience.It's similar to the post on marriage and de-church earlier this month that focused on folks rejection of Humane Vitae as THE cause of decline in Catholic marriages.The multiple problems affecting families today thatwer eabsent 50 years ago, including how folks perceive maariage itself and the role of partners, requires both greater depth and research.

The extant research seems to indicate that, statistically, children do much better when they develop and mature in intact , monogamous, two parent homes. It is not entirely clear from Anna Nussbaum's post whether she's addressing single women or married women, so possibly the first paragraph of my response is irrelevant. If she is talking about unmarried women, I suggest she read the research; maybe she'll rethink her position. Shame at being unmarried and pregnant is a useful societal tool in deterring this. We ought to make the well-being of children our primary focus in all this.

So, fellas, you aren't going to trust what women say or observe unless it's borne out by "the research"?Research does a good job tracking things like numbers of marriages, ages at marriage, numbers of divorces, numbers of children per marriage, numbers of children in mental health care after divorce, number of children living in poverty after divorce, and la la la.But people often don't give straight answers to attitudinal questions about kids and sex? People tend to want to please the researcher rather than answer truthfully.Anna is noticing something among her peers that I have long noticed among mine--a decreased interest in children and increased contempt for women who have unexpected pregnancies.Wait around for a bunch of guys to research it all for you if you want.But by the time you get your answers, "mother" will be a dirty word, Orgy Porgy will be a fun Friday night activity, and we'll all be taking Soma to stave off the anxiety.Brave New World is around the corner, boys, and women are worried about it.

Ms. Raber:I must confess that it is becoming increasingly unclear to me (being a somewhat dense individual) what exactly this discussion is about. Is it possible that I have completely misinterpreted the whole thing? (From my own experiences, my answer to that is, Bob, you dumb ass: yes, you have).I therefore am removing myself from this discussion before I make a complete fool of myself (if I haven't already), mentioning in passing that my two daughters have blessed me with a grandson Ian (21/2) and a granddaughter Sasha (6 weeks), both of whom are a couple of sweethearts. Both of my daughters are college graduates (my oldest is a high school english teacher and my youngest an attorney). I don't recall them mentioning anything like what Anna Nussbaum was talking about; their friends all seemed down with the idea of children.

Salon's review of Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinst Pigs" might provide some context for Anna's point that promiscuity is cool but pregnancy is not.: http://dir.salon.com/story/books/review/2005/10/05/levy/index.htmlLevy may have coined the term "raunch feminism," but Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss's novel "Citizen Girl" is a perceptive take on the same phenomenon. I apologize for being testy, and I'm glad Bob's daughters and their friends are not the people Anna's talking about. I'm just puzzled about why this issue seems to be under the radar with Commonweal blog readers.

Bob, Anna does say that the views are the same whether the person is married or not. Anna, you say that the "friends" are critical. Since you were not gender specific I presume that half of them are women. Further, the "friends" are not against marriage. They are for greater financial preparation. Yet you complain that society is unfair to women and children.I can understand how poor Bob Schwartz is confused.It is also interesting that Anna places childbirth in the feminist camp. Clearly the feminists always screamed for recognition for more than childbirth. So there are probably nuances here. If Jean is rightly interpreting Anna that there are "a decreased interest in children and increased contempt for women who have unexpected pregnancies", then I would like to know more. I hate to agree with Bob (smile) but I do not notice with my daughter and other friends any reluctance to have children. Rather the opposite. At any rate, Jean, I hope you can expand on your encounters with young women so we can learn more.

I'm intrigued by Anna's comments, not least because I am a 2005 graduate of Notre Dame--and might therefore be expected to belong to similar social groups, yet my experience has been quite the opposite. Many of the women I know from college are quite eager to have children, and I am often surprised at the number of my peers--peers who are now in law or medical school--who expect to leave their careers to dedicate themselves to child-rearing.But I'm most interested in the economic implications. Is it really a matter of those "among a certain class"? Nearly all the Notre Dame women I know who are eager to leave work and raise children were themselves raised by upper-middle class working mothers. My friends from high school, on the other hand, would be far more troubled by pregnancy at this point in our lives--and tend to come from neighborhoods where they have seen one girl after another forced to abandon educational plans due to unplanned pregnancies.

I have a feeling none of these women are praying to St Jude. Catholic women have undergone a sea of change since those immigrants of the early 20th century. Obviously, they are not that easy to label.More than men they are getting masters and doctorates in theology. One thing is true, priests, devotions and Catholic magazines are no longer setting the agenda for them.The decades ahead doubtless belong to them.

Bill, I don't have many insights about what it's like to be 20-something these days except what I read, and the inklings I get from my female college students, many of whom seem to yearn for stable family life, but are wary of it given their own parents' lack thereof.What Anna described made me think of the "raunch feminism" phenomenon, in which there is no place for pregnancy because it interferes with being sexy.I've encountered more support as a parent from younger women. Some women my own age asked me outright how I managed to "mess up" my birth control. In the same tone they might use had I gotten real drunk and run over a bunch of people.I suspect that these women aren't very happy with the way their own family lives turned out. Rather than take responsibility for their own hand in how things turned out, they turn "feminist." Their voices are the most strident in the movement, if it can be said there's any movement left anymore.I see hostility toward children far less among Catholic women my age, and perhaps that's true for younger women as well. Anna and Bridget will have to tell us that.I find it sad, however, that so many Catholic women protest that they're not feminists. Because many of them are feminists in the best sense of the word.

I'd like to add my voice to this conversation, as a college-age woman, to verify Ms. Nussbaum's post as a widespread phenomenon in my own experience as well. While many of the young women I encounter are enthusiastic about the prospect of a romantic relationship and marriage, they are hesitant about the idea of having children, especially the idea of having children in their 20s or during the early years of marriage. At that stage in life, these young women view children as burdens, not blessings. I believe that it is this cynicism that Ms. Nussbaum is worried about. I think that it's evidence of the prevailing cultural attitude that the goodness and value of human life, whether new or old, varies with personal opinion, experience, mood, life circumstance, financial status, and the time of day. While all twentysomethings obviously do not think this way (the idea of having a child absolutely thrills me,) it is a prevalent attitude that needs to be addressed.P.S. I also read "Female Chauvinist Pigs," (see book review up top on another post) and think Ms. Nussbaum's post fits in with the author's argument quite nicely.