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Archive for the ‘the ticking clock’ Category

And so I came across this post from the Daily Beast offering an apologia as to why the unfortunately named Mr. Weiner could not keep same off of the internet.   And it’s this:  Men feel invisible after a certain age.  To wit, once they hit that gray zone, they can no longer go into a cafe and get the twenty-something server to give them the eye.  And so they have to compensate.

Spare me.

Before this post ends in a sputter, let’s check what the writer, Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast, had to say:

I had lunch recently with a good friend who is a veteran of the CIA and one of those spies who is a study in grays—handsome enough, but always in the background; never the first person you’d notice in a crowded room, and very possibly the last. Given his profession, I thought he wanted to be that way. So I was surprised when, early in the conversation as a college student served us iced tea in the diner, he said to me that one of the worst things about getting older is that you become “invisible to women.” It’s not just that they aren’t interested in you, he said, “it’s that they don’t see you.”

Not many men admit this, I think, although I am sure that many men in their 50s and older, and not a few in their 40s, must feel it. And I suspect that it is this sensation of invisibility that makes some men—especially politicians and actors who have made careers trying to be loved in public–make ridiculous spectacles of themselves as they get older.

For Rep. Anthony Weiner , 46, the fear of invisibility would seem to be so profound that he took to tweeting pictures of his depilated chest and distended crotch to complete strangers on Twitter and Facebook. (The congressman may have worried all his life that nobody would see him, and he’s such a geek he’d be pitiful if he weren’t so arrogant. One wonders, is Rick Moranis too old to play him in “Weiner: The Movie”?)

Similar concerns about invisibility, articulated or not, probably lurked in the head of 62-year-old Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was director of the International Monetary Fund and the leading contender to be the next president of France until he allegedly forced himself on a 32-year-old African immigrant hotel maid in New York City. “Do you know who I am?” he kept asking her, according to several reports. “Do you know who I am?” And by every indication she did not. Strauss-Kahn, now awaiting trial on criminal sexual assault and related charges, has denied any wrongdoing, but he can’t very well deny looking like a fool.

And then there was California’s actor-politician governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was pushing 50 when he fathered a child with his not-so-hot-looking housekeeper in 1997. After news of this broke last month, the tabloids told us Schwarzenegger, now almost 64, preferred women who thought he was more beautiful than they, or that he thought might think so; women, that is, who saw him as he wanted to be seen.

Blah, blah and effing blah.

Yes, I get it that men might feel that twinge when they’re suddenly the wallflowers at the orgy (Wish that were my phrase.  It’s not.  Credit Nora Ephron)  But let’s face it.  Men of a certain age can still be powerful politicians.  They can be CEOs.  They can run states and they can run Wall Street.  They can be new fathers, for the love of God.  And when their hair goes gray — to refer to the metaphor Dickey used above — they are considered distinguished.  They have gravitas.

Women?  Right.  Not so much.  We’re not only invisible when the gray starts to sprout — but in many careers, we’re looked upon as redundant when it comes to our professions.   We come to be defined by our age in ways that have little to do with our sexual capital.

Case in point, a drop-dead gorgeous friend who let her short hair go natural after a bout of chemo.   Steely gray, and with her clear blue eyes, killer gorgeous.  And yet.  What she found was that she was treated differently.  And it had nothing to do with catching the eye of anyone serving her iced tea or the bagboy at Safeway.

Case in another point.  Some years back, when I used myself as a guinea pig to teach my j. students  interviewing techniques, I encouraged them to suck it up and ask my age.  One courageous soul always did.  And when I gave my answer, there was always an intake of breath.  As if to say:  how can you still be relevant?  (I’ve since chucked that part of the exercise.)

The truth is that women are defined by externals in all-pervasive ways that men are not, and age is one of the worst markers of all.  Frankly, I don’t know how it feels for former studs to feel that they’ve lost their mojo.  But what I do know is this: college-aged servers aside, what they haven’t lost is their ability to take charge.  To be taken seriously. To be considered relevant.  To continue their ascent into the world.  To be the boss.  Or, God forbid, to marry women half their age, without being met by a roomful of snickers.  (Well, okay.  I tend to think that nothing makes a man look more like a jackass than having a woman the age of his daughter who isn’t his daughter on his arm, but that’s just me.)  All you have to do is go to the movies, where more often than not, you’ll see the old guy paired happily with the smiling ingenue.  But what about the reverse?

Think about it.  Okay, done.

But, because I play fair, I will include a bit more from  Mr. Dickey’s post, which redeems him somewhat:

In truth, invisibility is inevitable. And women have always known that, and felt it, and feared it and discussed. I have rarely spoken about this question with women friends over 40 who didn’t understand immediately what I was talking about. Yet the most beautiful and painful expression of invisibility’s tragedy that I know is actually a poem written in the 1960s by Randall Jarrell, a man who was then approaching his 50s and who was writing about a woman more or less the same age. Her only wish is that “the boy putting groceries in my car/See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.”

Welcome to the club, guys.  Times ten.


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This Saturday is my birthday. And while I’ve never been one to turn down a celebration–whether said celebration takes the form of wine, food (specifically the three-course tasting menu at Julienne), or a jump out of a perfectly good airplane–the past couple of years have seen me less and less inclined to announce my birthday. Or, more to the point, my age.

I’ve always looked young, and enjoyed the look of surprise when I’d cop to my age or present an overzealous bartender with my I.D. I never thought numbers would get me down: I’m too evolved for that kind of backwards nonsense! But last year, that number o’ mine hit me like a ton of bricks. It occurred to me that it sounded old. I sounded old.

Shouldn’t I be ashamed of my age? Shouldn’t I be trying to hide it? To defy it? To plump it, color it, tighten it, smooth it?

A lifetime steeped in this culture has me thinking that I should. And yet, those feelings don’t quite fit. I don’t feel irrelevant, invisible, or particularly in need of fixing… But, on a bad day, the crows feet around my eyes make me think not of all the smiles that made them, but that I should feel badly about my age (and maybe start a Retin-A regimen… or start sleeping upside-down to prevent the sag… oh dear gawd, what if things start to sag??), even while the other half of me calls out those thoughts as bullshit. (I’m a Gemini: the twins. I have lots of conversations with myselves.)

So. What gives?

Pondering the true culprits behind the knot that arose in my stomach whenever I considered The Number, a beautiful stroke of serendipity (aka Twitter) delivered to me “A Wrinkle in Time”–Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf’s recent take on the aging myth. Wolf kicks it off with an anecdote about a guy her age–late 40s–who showed up at a party with a 20-something woman on his arm and, in so doing, became an object of not envy nor admiration, but of…pity. Zut alors! What’s this? And Wolf doesn’t stop there:

I had thought that getting older would be harder. The common cultural script tells us that women lose value as they age and that men will trade in their counterparts for younger versions (because, of course, that would be trading up). Middle-aged women are supposed to face the loss of their youthful selves with grief and anguish.

I look around at the magnetic and dynamic women my own age, I look at my own life, and instead that script seems more like a convenient fiction–designed, as so many aspects of ‘the beauty myth’ are, to make women feel less powerful; in this case, just when their power, magnetism and sexuality are at their height.

So true. But the thing is, we can’t really recognize the script as bullshit until we’re actually old enough to know better. Which means that, even when we’re younger–at our alleged ‘prime’–we’re being made to feel less powerful, because somewhere in the back of our minds, we believe that our expiration date is approaching. And, to quote, well, myself, when it comes to our choices, everything becomes that much more stressful, that much more loaded, when played out against the backdrop of a ticking clock. As women, the message we’re fed is clear: Time is short, so you better choose wisely! You’re only going to be relevant for so long! And what’s most unfair about that message is that, by and large, we aren’t aware of the bullshit quotient until later. How could we be?

Here’s a bit more from Wolf:

The fear of aging was certainly bad when I was 26. When “The Beauty Myth” was published, girls were still learning that they would, like hothouse flowers, bloom briefly in their late teens to mid-20s. After that? Well, it was a steady decline, as the power we derived from our physical appearance dwindled. Our only hope to hang on to an increasingly precarious sexuality and sense of self-esteem lay in magical potions and powders, or perhaps in the surgeon’s hands. Older women were encouraged to see their younger counterparts as threats and usurpers, and young women were expected to see the women who should have been their mentors as faded has-beens, harbingers of their own future decay.

I personally expected that when I entered the middle of my life, I would start to mourn my youthful physical self and that, even though I had thought long and hard about the dangers of the beauty myth, I would feel a sense of existential loss of self when my appearance began to change.

But I am coming out with this and hope that many midlife women will join me: Those pangs of loss have largely not happened. Not for me and not for the women I know and admire.

No? I wondered. NO, she said again.

At midlife, the social ‘script’ insists that we’re supposed to adopt a rueful tone–Oh, that first crow’s foot, that first strand of gray. It’s simply more acceptable for women to be self-deprecating about the signs of aging. But when was the last time you heard an older woman say, in public–‘Actually, getting older is more than tolerable–it’s great!’ Let alone: ‘I really like it.’

So, at the risk of sounding socially incorrect, I am going to deviate from that script, and I invite all women of a certain age to join me. A great many of us don’t feel particularly wistful or rueful about our earlier physical selves. A great many of us really like where we are.

I like where I am.

…To anxious young women, I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax, enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. There are no wicked witches. It is all good. Really, really good.

And it only gets better.

And that may be the antidote: to tell our younger sisters early and often that we’re doing just fine. As for me, come Saturday, the only magical potion I’ll be partaking of will be of the Syrah family, to toast my 36 years.


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First off, how can you not love a book called Bossypants?   That’s the title of Tina Fey’s newly released comic not-a-memoir.  It’s hilarious, honest – and self-deprecating just short of a fault.  (The New York Times calls it “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation )  In her book, Fey acknowledges the good, the bad and the awkward about everything from raising hell to raising kids.

Which is to say, she is Everywoman.  The tragic adolescent.  Pretty, but not, you know, pretty.  Struggling to be taken seriously in the boys’ room.  Juggling work and family.  Anxious.  Unapologetically ambitious.  But then again, not.

We love her.

She comes clean with many of the dilemmas we all face, and what you realize is that the biggest difference between her life and ours may be that she’s funny.   (Well, that and her current job.  Or her paycheck.  But I digress. ) One of my favorite lines in her book is this:  “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”

The quote is attributed to Amy Poehler, in the days when Poehler was new to SNL, and when the writing room was a flat out boys club.  (Classic line:  “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”)  The anecdote goes like this:  Amy had made a joke that, Fey writes, was “dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’”.  Jimmy Fallon, who was the star of the show at the time, told her to stop it:

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second and wheeled around on him.  “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  Jimmy was visibly startled.  Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place.  Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.  She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes.  She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.

At which point, Tina Fey knew she had a friend in the writer’s room.  She writes that after that, she felt less alone. (Moral of the story: look what happened to Amy Poehler:  You’d have to say that speaking out ended well for her.   And clearly, for Fey as well, who was the first female head writer at SNL)

Surely, we can identify with that.  That feeling that we are often stuck in alien territory, looking for allies, applauding anyone brave enough to speak her our mind.  And wondering why we are the ones who have to care whether the big boys like it — rather than the other way around.  As Nicole Arthur writes in the Washington Post:

To Fey, this constitutes a universal rallying cry for women in the workplace. Indeed, the book’s title alludes to the fact that she is often asked a question that would sound idiotic addressed to a man: “What’s it like being the boss?” The book’s tips for women in the male-dominated workplace range from facetious (“No pigtails, no tube tops”) to resonant (“You’re not in competition with other women, you’re in competition with everyone”).

In a word.  Yes.

What else many of us can relate to is her public struggle to decide whether to have a second child (FYI: she’s now five months pregnant, reports salon.com’s Mary Elizabeth Williams).  She wrote about it in the New Yorker, and we wrote about it here. But think of second kid simply as metaphor, and you have another issue we ladies can all identify with, whether or not kids are in the picture, or ever will be:  to wit, the never-ending shitstorm most women go through trying to combine career with the life the workplace – and to a certain extent, society itself – has cut out for us.   The message is this:  either we have to do it all perfectly (read: not possible) or we have to choose.  One or the other, baby.  Not both.  And Tina Fey rocks that one, too,  by coming clean with the struggle, and acknowledging she ain’t perfect.  As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, Fey has, perhaps more than any other star, “defiantly set herself outside the realm of the Queens of Having It All”:

In a passage from her new book, “Bossypants,” excerpted this past winter in the New Yorker, Fey admitted being “stricken with guilt and panic” when her daughter expressed a longing for a little sister, and how, “tired of carrying this anxiety around,” she “burst into tears” at the gynecologist’s office. That’s a real, anguished road a hell of a lot of women have been down — the fear of losing career traction as fast as you’re losing eggs, and not knowing what to do about either…

… Maybe that’s why for Fey, whose work ethic could make James Franco look like a sleepy donkey, a little break sometime in the foreseeable future sounds like a hot idea. She’s written, “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup … Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labeled crazy in five years anyway” — a statement that would be more witty if it didn’t have such a stinging ring of truth to it. And though she may crack jokes about the rigors of balance — and “30 Rock” recently confronted the dilemma via the ambitious Devon Banks and his trio of “gaybies” — it’s clear from her dazzling success that Fey is not a woman who values her work any less because she loves her child so much. But the demands of being a powerhouse on all fronts can wear a lady down.

You bet.  Which goes straight to the heart of what we’ve been writing about:  We’re raised with the message that we can do anything. Which translates to we can do everything.  We can have it all, we can do it all, and it’s all going to be perfect.

Which is why we love our Tina Fey.  Whether her well-constructed presentation of self is for real or, as jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes suggests in Newsweek, all alter ego, who cares?  Because what we love is the way she flips the message.  We can’t do it all.  And perfection?  Nothing but pipe dream.  And that, sister, is exactly what the Everywoman inside us needs to hear.

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Clicking through my Facebook friends, one could be forgiven for assuming I do a lot of socializing at preschools. One would be wrong, of course: the truth is that countless of my pals have replaced their profile pics with snaps of their wee ones; their status updates with diaper-status updates. Continuing along, one might also assume that, somewhere in my travels, I infiltrated a tribe of Carrie Bradshaw clones: beautiful, successful folks living the life, traveling to important places to do important things, wearing fabulous clothes while hanging out with fabulous people.

On the surface (and what is Facebook if not surface?), everyone’s having a dandy time living the lives they chose. Which is dandy. But how real is it?

We’ll come back to that. First, though, let’s take a look at an interesting piece on Salon.com entitled “How Facebook can affirm a woman’s singlehood.” In it, Tracy Clark-Flory makes the point that, for many women, spying on their married-and-mommied friends via the ‘book makes them feel validated to have put career first. Here’s a bit:

My friend Katherine is successful, dynamic, and fiercely intelligent–but, unmarried and childless at 32, she feels pressure from some to hurry up and achieve something that really matters: settling down and having kids. There is nothing new about a woman wondering if she’s sacrificed her love life for her career–but what is new is how Facebook is allowing these women to compare how their life choices have panned out with those of their peers, and sometimes it’s actually validating.

Katherine recently told me, ‘I go on there and I see these beautiful, intelligent women that I grew up with and they’re all married to these accountant types who wear polos and golf on the weekends. Yes, they have kids, a home and a husband — but it just looks so painfully, unbearably boring.’ Granted the whole truth is that she also sometimes feels jealousy — for instance, when a friend who is married with a baby posts about ‘drinking a glass of wine and eating oysters with her husband at their cute house with the bathroom they just remodeled themselves.’

…Despite all the choices available to women today, many still fret that in putting their career first and worrying about marriage and kids later they will ultimately miss out on the latter. There is a biological reality behind those concerns, but there are also plenty of cultural myths and trumped-up anxiety — the lonely cat lady who dies without anyone noticing and ends up being eaten by her hungry companion, for example — that serve as cautionary tales. The warning, of course, is that we will be punished for being too ambitious and going against our basic nature. Given the high stakes, it’s no surprise that this often leads to comparison and competition — and Facebook serves as a virtual looking glass through which to explore the path not taken.

So interesting isn’t it, how even here, life is presented as either-or for women. One path or the other. Career or love. Driven or domesticated. And if that’s the case, no wonder we have such a hard time making the choices that will take us down one road or another: they mean too much. And they’re too narrow. What if we want some of one, but more of the other? Where’s the profile for that?

And speaking of profiles, perhaps all of this angst–and uncertainty–over whether or not we’re making the right choices is why we’re so compelled to present ourselves so charmingly. We all have doubts. Do you think Katherine’s oyster-eating DIY couple posted the fact that they nearly killed each other while drywalling their new commode? Or the flipside:

‘Here I am, sitting in traffic, getting home to my tiny one-bedroom apartment, and eating macaroni and cheese after an 11-hour work day,’ [Katherine] says. ‘But I don’t post things about traffic, or sitting in my pajamas watching ‘Top Chef’ on Facebook! I write status updates about attending premiere parties and meticulously select profile pictures. I have to believe it’s all relative.’

Of course it is. Women today have every choice–and every one of us is, at some point or another, terrified we’ve made the wrong ones. Is it any wonder, then, that we treat our public personas like we might a disssertation: something we must present and defend? Here is my choice, and look how great it is! I have achieved the American Dream–witness husband and spawn! Or: I’m single and successful and fancy-free–witness the world travels and amazing fun! When in reality, of course, both are bullshit. Because life is life and it’s fabulous at times and at other times there are diapers to change or douchebags to date, and either way there’s bills to pay… But just because we’ve come up against yet another dirty diaper–or douchebag–does not mean we chose wrong.


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Oh, Tina Fey. How do I love thee?

In the current New Yorker, Tina Fey lays it all out there, as only she can. Work. Parenthood. Guilt. Aging. Enjoy:

The writer’s daughter recently checked out a book from the preschool library called “My Working Mom,” which depicted a witch mother who was very busy and had to fly away to a lot of meetings. The two men who wrote this book probably had the best intentions, but the topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?”

No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?” The second-worst question is: “Are you going to have more kids?”

Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. The baby-versus-work life questions keep the writer up at night. She has observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. The writer has the suspicion that the definition of “crazy” n show business is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to fuck her anymore. The fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why the writer feels obligated to stay in the business, and that is why she can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless she does, in which case that is nobody’s business. Does the writer want to have another baby? Or does she just want to turn back time and have her daughter be a baby again? That night, as she was putting the witch book in her daughter’s backpack to be returned to school, the writer asked her, “Did you pick this book because your mommy works? Did it make you feel better about it?” Her daughter looked at her matter-of-factly and said, “Mommy, I can’t read. I thought it was a Halloween book.”

Funny, in an idiot-shivers kind of a way. First: A kids book called “My Working Mom” in which the working mom is a witch was actually published? Just… wow.

Then, of course, there’s Fey’s disturbingly pithy definition of the word crazy. (I read another interesting piece about aging while female in Hollywood this weekend here.) Sure, Hollywood–especially writers, especially comedy writers–is kind of the worst of the worst when it comes to sexist work environs, and it’s a relatively small sample. But. It’s disturbing when you consider what Hollywood writers do. They, quite literally, create the cultural myths that haunt and inspire us. And “they” are over 80% male in movie writing, 75% male in TV. Never wonder again why fat old men are consistently paired with beautiful twentysomethings.

And then, there’s the motherhood question. What will a baby mean for my career? What will another baby mean for my career? We’re often nearing a critical patch, professionally, at the very same time that our fertility takes a dive. Which leaves us with a choice–Ramp down the career?–and, often, a compromise. Questions and choices that are damn near universal for women. But for men… well, not so much. It’s like they wrote the script for corporate culture, too. Oh, wait, they did: they built it.

But, like the rest of it, the question of what’s at stake if we leave is universal. Don’t get me wrong: I realize Tina Fey is Tina Fey, and you and I are, well, not. But, whether we want to see Hollywood’s definition of “crazy” get a makeover, or our employer’s (not to mention our government’s) policies made over to accommodate the reality of working women’s lives, we have to stick around.

Just one more thing to juggle.


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Today’s post is one of those ones that I’ve thought about writing often, but been happy to shy away from. It’s tricky territory. But over the past week, fate intervened: first, in the form of the New York Magazine in my mailbox, which screamed from the cover: Fifty years ago, the pill ushered in a new era of sexual freedom. It might have created a fertility crisis as well. And then, in the form of a headline on one of my Google Alerts, a personal essay by Elaine Gale, called Breaking up with feminism: A heartbreaking loss led to a new and deeper relationship–with the Feminine.

At issue: the not-so pleasant side effect of the power to impose a little control over our reproductive lives: that while we indeed have incredible control to suppress our fertility (while still expressing our sexuality) while we establish ourselves professionally, or financially, or just allow ourselves to get the sowing-of-the-wild-oats out of our systems, well, we don’t have control over when our reproductive systems time out.

Just typing that out loud feels like I’m a traitor to the cause. Because, you know, the Pill is a good thing, as I’ve mentioned before. As Vanessa Grigoriadis writes in the NY Mag piece,

…the Pill, after all, is so much more than just a pill. It’s magic, a trick of science that managed in one fell swoop to wipe away centuries of female oppression, overly exhausting baby-making, and just marrying the wrong guy way too early.

True, dat. Quoting Kelli Conlin, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Grigoriadis goes on:

“Today, we operate on a simple premise–that every little girl should be able to grow up to be anything she wants, and she can only do so if she has the ability to chart her own reproductive destiny.”

…These days, women’s twenties are as free and fabulous as they can be, a time of boundless freedom and experimentation, of easily trying on and discarding identities, careers, partners.

And, you know, why shouldn’t we take equal part in that experimentation–a time that’s become so fundamental to the American experience, science types are trying to get it distinguished as an entirely new life stage? The Pill gave women power and freedom and equality — and what could possibly be more empowering than that? These very things were the great promises of feminism.

Which brings us to Gale’s story:

I loved all the things Feminism whispered to me at night when I couldn’t sleep:

“You deserve the world on your own terms.”

“I will take care of you and make sure that things are fair.”

“You can have it all!”

…Meanwhile, my life had a repeating narrative: professional success, romantic mess. There was Mr. Right Now, Mr. Adorable Slacker, Mr. Too Bland, Mr. Has Potential, Mr. Too Old For Me, and then Mr. Artistic But Unstable.

I always thought that I had plenty of time to get married and crank out some children. Women can do anything they want when they want, right? That’s what feminism was always whispering in my ear.

Then, at age 36, she married her husband. She writes:

We decided that we wanted to have a child, although at the time, I partly saw it as another box to check off. After the miscarriage, feminism and I had our falling out.

What’s feminism got to do with it? Here’s Gale’s take:

Feminism was always going on and on about the importance of having choices. But I found that my biological choice to have a child was snatched away from me while I was being liberated.

I had been told that I could have my career first and have children second. That it wasn’t either/or. I thought that it was going to be better for us than it was for our mothers. But my mom ended up with a wonderful career as a university professor and had three children.

Confused, I rued the day I fell under feminism’s sway. How could I have been so naive? How could I have put off having children so late that I have possibly missed the opportunity to have children at all?

Tough stuff. And props to Gale for that kind of blunt honesty. Back to Grigoriadis:

The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late… Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

And ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing–the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.

And that, I tend to think, is the real trouble here. Not the cost itself–but the reluctance to admit to it. It seems to me that we’re shying away from what may be the biggest challenge for women today: admitting that freedom might–no, does–come with a cost. In the reproductive realm, yes, clearly — but in the larger sense too: We’re missing the rather nasty message that every choice entails a trade-off. That we can’t have it all.

You read that right, sister. You can’t. I can’t. No one can. It’s an ugly message, so is it any surprise so few of us want to go there?

It’s funny, the other night, I was out to dinner with some friends, and one was asking me about the book. And I said something that left him stunned: that when we talk about “choice,” we focus on all the options, and the things that we choose. But, by its very definition, making a choice entails not choosing something else. We just like to leave that part out.

And he looked at me with his mouth open for a minute or two, and said, Holy Crap! That’s so true, but you’re right, no one ever talks about that.

I think we should talk about that. Not least because there’s something about talking about stuff that makes even the suckiest of stuff suck a little bit less. Seems like Grigoriadis might agree:

Sexual freedom is a fantastic thing, worth paying a lot for. But it’s not anti-feminist to want to be clearer about exactly what is being paid. Anger, regret, repeated miscarriages, the financial strain of assisted reproductive technologies, and the inevitable damage to careers and relationships in one’s thirties and forties that all this involve deserve to be weighed and discussed. The next stage in feminism, in fact, may be to come to terms, without guilt trips or defensiveness, with issues like this.

The reluctance to discuss the very real consequences of putting off getting pregnant because we’re afraid doing so would somehow discount the very important freedom that comes with being able to put off getting pregnant does us a disservice. Is that freedom of any less value because it comes with trade-offs? When we talk of choices only in terms of what we choose–and never with a nod to our feelings over what we consequently choose to leave behind… well, how empowering is that, really? And when we talk of “having it all” as though all “all” entails is a big bowl of cherries, how are we to feel when we realize that, in aiming to have it all, what we’ve really wound up with is all of the work?

They’re tough questions, and they require tough honesty. Isn’t there some kind of pill for that?


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So I was roaming around The Daily Beast yesterday — ahem, looking for intellectual commentary — when I was sidetracked by a Popeater link entitled thus: Betty White: You’re Never Too Old for Sex.

And so of course I clicked.

What I found was a little riff on a cover story from AARP magazine in which, among other things, Ms. White — who at 88 is onto yet another stage of her career as a star of the new movie, “You Again” — talks with her costars Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell about sex:

I don’t have a fella, but if [her late husband] Allen [Ludden] — or Robert Redford — were around, we’d have a very active sex life.

Gotta love it, right?  All of which made me think of my late Auntie Margie, who was deep into her 80s when she once regaled a tableful of my girlfriends with tales of her love life.  “I don’t really need the sex anymore,” she said somewhat pensively.  “But I do need a man to take me out to dinner, now and again.”

Auntie Margie was always something of a mystery to me when I was growing up.  And in all honesty, sometimes an embarrassment.  In an era when most mothers wore dresses and aprons, she wore wool suits.   She was a single mother — often “between husbands”, as she put it — who worked as a bookkeeper to support herself and her daughter at a time when most women her age proudly listed their occupation as “housewife.”  She drank Manhattans, and she told fortunes with a deck of cards, always predicting that you would meet a M-A-N within three days, three weeks or three months.

The last time I saw her, at a family party, she was sitting on a sofa when she asked me to fetch her purse.  I lugged it over to her — you know the size of those handbags — she fished out her lipstick, and without bothering with her compact, applied those red lips perfectly.  At which point I said I was amazed she could put on lipstick without a mirror.  She waved her hand at me dismissively.  “Honey, if you’d been doing this as long as I have, you wouldn’t need a mirror either.”

Even on her deathbed, well into her 90s, she was still the coquette.  She had been hospitalized for several days, the story goes, when a handsome young resident stopped by her bedside for a quick exam.  “How are you doing today?” he asked.  My aunt, who hadn’t spoken a word to her family in days, looked up at  this dashing young doc, and fluttered her lashes like a teenager.  She looked into his eyes, broke out a smile, and said, “I’m just fine. And how are you?”

She was probably my first encounter with an independent woman, though Auntie Margie never would have recognized the word “feminist,” much less ever used the term.  But looking back, I realize she was something more.  Like Betty White —  Hollywood’s newest “It” girl who hosted SNL back in May and is now costarring in a TV sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland” — Marge was a woman who thumbed her nose at convention.  Who didn’t cave when it came to societal expectations or, more importantly, age.

And bravo for that.

Because here comes the point: How much of our angst and worry over  life decisions relates to the ticking clock?  The idea that there is some iron-clad time line, etched completely in stone, that dictates when we are supposed to reach certain milestones?  That once we hit a certain age, we should not only have checked X number of items off the to-do list — but must eliminate those for which society says we are just too old?  The lesson we should learn from these cool old broads is this:  it’s never too late.

Which brings us back to the words of wisdom Betty White shared with her costars:

“”Does desire melt away with age? I’m waiting for that day to come? Sexual desire is like aging, a lot of it is up here [points to her head.]“

True words, never spoken.  Especially what she says about aging.  Our favorite Golden Girl, like Auntie Margie, is a lesson for us all.  We are who we are:  stereotypes, society and above all, age, be damned.

After all, no matter how old we are, something new and unexpected could be waiting for us.  In three days, three weeks, or three months.

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