Back in 2002, Australian journalist Virginia Haussegger famously wrote in The Age that her generation had been fooled by the women that came before them that “female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase”, and had missed out on marriage and children in the process.
Just eight years later, the world feels like a very different place. Educated women may still be holding off on marriage and babies until our late 20s or beyond (if at all), but no young woman could possibly claim she hadn’t been told. To the contrary: the message is drummed into our heads relentlessly.
It’s there in articles warning us that fertility declines after 25. That the power dynamic between the sexes flips at 30. That we’re in the midst of a ‘man drought’, and that we should have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country. And if you’re anything like me, you probably find it incredibly annoying.
I’ll be speaking with Haussegger for a feature I’m writing on the subject later this week, and based on our preliminary email discussions, she’s noticed the same shift in the media/political narrative. On the other hand, so many of the women who responded to a call out I put online a couple of weeks ago emailed me enthusiastically about their “Sex & The City lifestyles” and how much they were enjoying the freedoms they had.
So, what’s going on here? I know I’m not imagining the negative coverage; the message that I’d better get out there and land myself a man before I get OLD and NOBODY WANTS ME (sexism and ageism double fail). But at the same time, the glamourisation of the young, single life – freedom, partying, ‘Single Ladies’, etc etc – is definitely a factor too.
It strikes me that perhaps this apparent contradiction isn’t so contradictory: that it’s “hot” and desirable to be single when you’re young, but you’d better couple up before you get to the point where it’s not so “hot” anymore… and your “hotness” could run out at any moment, you know!
Or perhaps women are pretty adept at ignoring these messages and just do whatever they want to do anyway?
I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of this stuff – both for the feature and for personal interest. Please share in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: Felipe Beiza
Elsewhere: The sins of our feminist mothers (The Age)