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man repairing girl bike smallMay 20, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

It's one of those moments when the anti-male press descends to the depths of self-caricature. If you're feeling brave, read the article here (The Guardian, 5/18/13). Barbara Ellen's piece is so downright nutty in so many ways, it's hard to keep count. The strange feminist ritual in which every woman who participates comes out cleansed of agency, an eternal victim of men has never been exhibited more clearly for all to see. That men might have an existence outside of their utility to women seems to never occur to Ellen.

You see, the much remarked on trend of women putting off childbearing until later in life turns out to be not their doing at all, but that of - you guessed it - their male partners. And of course, this occurs, not for any legitimate reason on men's part (are there any?), but due to the inherent immaturity and dishonesty of the unfair sex. Do I have to add that Ellen bases her allegations on nothing whatever? No studies, no data, not even any anecdotes from friends - nothing. Ellen wants it to be the way she says it is, therefore it must be that way. Period.

But I'm already ahead of myself. That's because the very first problem Ellen has, and completely ignores, is the notion that there's a problem. It's true that, on average, women are putting off first childbearing until later in life than, say, 40 years ago. In the United States, the average age of first birth was about 21 in 1970; today it's about 27. So there's been a significant change. The question is "Is that a problem?" Well, it can be in one way. A smaller younger generation will have difficulty keeping up the social safety net for a larger older one. Now of course some would argue that's an issue for the political system to sort out, adjusting the obligations of the younger generation and the benefits of the older one.

But strangely, Ellen never mentions that real but manageable issue. Indeed, she never makes the slightest effort to explain to her readers why we should care that women are putting off childbearing. It's as if she holds that truth to be self-evident. It's not. In case Ellen hasn't noticed, there are over seven billion people living in the world this very minute, and that number increases every single second of every single day. Apparently the human population is going to top out at around 16 billion by a little past mid-century.

And of course the planet's resources are being strained to the limit as it is. Natural food sources like the oceans are already over fished and the per capita consumption rates of the two most populous countries are nowhere near those of the U.S. and Western Europe. If they ever get close to that, look out.

So it's easy to conclude that what the world needs now is not more people, but fewer and of course later childbearing means fewer children. But Barbara Ellen has decided that later childbearing is something women don't want. They're doing it against their will, and, since they want more children earlier, they should have them, the planet be damned. Ellen betrays not the slightest awareness of, or concern about, the declining ability of the beautiful blue planet to fulfill the demands of its human population.

And the same can be said about something in England called "Get Britain Fertile." (What would Don Draper say about that moniker?) GBF, as the name implies, is out to increase the country's birthrate. It does so in part by trying to educate women about the realities of their own biology. GBF seems to think that significant numbers of women don't know that, after age 40, conceiving a child becomes a fairly dicey proposition. I can't guess at the state of British women's knowledge on that subject, but it's no surprise that GBF has a survey in which it asks women about why they're putting off childbearing. And it's no surprise that Barbara Ellen isn't interested in their answers.

Indeed, GBF is accompanied by a survey, stating that many women aged 18-46 are concerned about practicalities: ranging from loss of earnings and workplace inflexibility, to childcare costs and housing.

That's right. There as elsewhere women are making their own decisions about whether and when to have children. And of course many practical considerations enter into that, career and earnings being among the most important. Sounds reasonable to me, but Ellen wants to focus elsewhere.

[F]or the purpose of this article, let's look at the third of women who say they want children but haven't yet found the right partner.

Yes, let's. That could be an interesting exercise, so readers are left to wonder why Ellen doesn't look at those women. Instead, she takes it as her cue to start making stuff up.

In my opinion that one-third is an underestimate.

Ah, so it's time to substitute opinions for empirically-established data. Ellen wants the "problem" to be worse than it is, so she simply ignores the facts.

Even not finding the right man often turns out to be a euphemism for: "I met him, I spent years with him, but ultimately, he wouldn't have children." Put bluntly, many of these women at their fertile peak didn't refuse anything, their men did.

Oh, and how does Ms. Ellen know this? She doesn't let on. For her, to state something as fact is for it to be fact. Simple as that, no need for science, no need for data. For that matter, no need to ask inconvenient questions like when did you (the woman) decide you wanted kids?," "When did you tell him you wanted kids?," "What was his response?," "Were you married at the time?," "Did you previously have an agreement about whether or not to have children?'" "If so, what was it?" The list could go on and on and the answers would tell us a lot about just who in these relationships did what and when.

But of course Ellen would have no interest in that. Answers to those questions and many others could possibly reveal that men aren't solely responsible for women's choices about childbearing, and that's something Ellen doesn't want to hear. On the contrary, her interest is in male-bashing, and she's not to be denied.

Like it or not, this is how men influence female fertility and, ultimately, female infertility. The mere thought is enough to inspire feminist panic: women, not men, should control their fertility. Who could disagree?

Of course women control their fertility. They have vastly more ways in which to do that than men have, a fact known to everyone who's thought about the subject, maybe even Ellen. What's remarkable is the unspoken assumption that men must be the tools of women's desires. If she wants to stay childless, let no man suggest having a baby together. But when she decides it's time to have a family, his job is to say "yes, ma'am." The statement that "women, not men should control their own fertility" says nothing less than that. If you're not going the sperm donor route, it takes two people to produce a child. If only women are to have a say in whether to do that or not, then men's only part in the decision is to agree to the woman's desires. That's a fair definition of narcissism.

Now, Ellen does give a passing nod to the notion that a man's unwillingness to become a father might have a legitimate basis, although she demonstrates no grasp of the many things that might make up that basis. But she doesn't spend long on that topic, hastening on to her real thesis - irresponsible men.

Such men may feel that the relationship isn't right, or don't want their freedom curtailed, or other reasons, all as valid as a woman making similar decisions. It only becomes unfair, verging on selfish, when men keep such insights to themselves for too long. These are the time-wasters, what I'd term the fertility-drifters, who think nothing of keeping women dangling for years on end.

The obvious question becomes "how many of these men are there who secretly don't want to have children, but don't tell their partners until it's too late for the women to chart a different course?" Ellen has no idea. There's not a whit of data on that, but, as usual, she needs none. Those men exist in their multitudes, she's sure, and don't they make the world a rotten place for women!

But far more important is Ellen's concept that, when the woman says "jump," the man needs to hop to. For her, it's perfectly acceptable for women to dither, for years and years if necessary, about whether or not to have children, but when she decides the answer is "yes," the man needs to be ready to go. In her understanding of him, he's known all along that he doesn't want children, but just kept the fact secret. According to her, men have no right to the very ambivalence, uncertainty, worry, fear that haunt many women about the subject of children. When she says "children," his only legitimate response can be "how many."

Barbara Ellen has a problem; she just can't grasp the concept of men as human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses that flesh is heir to. Solipsism is pretty much all there is to her argument. As far as she can see, the important decision about whether or not to have children is really all about women. A man's job is to be the mechanism that achieves the woman's desired end, whatever it may be. What irritates her so is that men have a way of seeing their own wants and needs as important, valuable and in need of respect. That's the last thing they'll get from Barbara Ellen.

But there's a lot more that's wrong with her article, so I'll deal with that in a future post.

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