So here is an article by Allison Benedikt over at Slate’s XX Factor (“what women really think”). It’s currently being promoted on Slate’s main page with the headline “It’s a Terrible Mistake to Wait Until You’re 35 to Have Children”.
The piece claims to be about responsible childbearing decisions but is mostly about how the author, Allison Benedikt, has lots of money. But it’s okay! Because she admits that she is rich: “Let me just stop you mid-eye-roll to confirm that yes: We are, by the standards of most Americans, rich.” She even uses the word “rich,” which among rich people is like eyewwwwww, which automatically makes the article relevant to all women and families again because she was kind enough to lower herself to the vocabulary level of non-rich people who don’t understand how gauche it is to talk about money, which makes her basically the everywoman for the new millennium.
See, the issue for Allison Benedikt is that she thinks people in general should not have children after 35 because she is having her third child at 35 and only has one bathroom and an 1,100 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, and also people who have children after 35 are at increased risk of genetic disorders and maybe will be those “weird and creepy” old parents, which, just to be clear, is also not okay with Allison Benedikt.
These are all actually things that the article says.
Other tidbits: the family spends $5,000 per month on childcare. That’s $60,000 a year, or more than twice the entire annual pre-tax income of a family of five living below the poverty line.
Oh no, Allison Benedikt! I forgot to not complete my eye roll! And then I clawed my eyes out of my face and threw my eyeballs individually at the wall! Is that okay with you, Allison Benedikt? Having told me what I should and should not be doing with my uterus, would you also like to be given the opportunity to sign off on things I do with my other body parts?
I find it hard to express the depths of my disgust towards this article. Until more or less this year, my options if I got pregnant unintentionally and had an insufficient number of bathrooms (Joke! I mean dollars! I will never have more than one bathroom, which doubtless makes me a bad parenting candidate in the mind of Allison Benedikt) were 1) adoption, 2) abortion, or 3) real, pressing risk of actual, by-the-numbers poverty. Benedikt is unlike most women living in the U.S. today because she has another option: 4) complaining about money and making other women feel bad about themselves and getting paid to do it. How nice that she could wait to have children “just … ’cause” it wasn’t the fad for her friend-group. And how helpful that she feels it appropriate to pull a “you’re doing it wrong” on everyone who does not have the luxury of that choice.
While I’ve known that I wanted a child for years, the financials haven’t worked out, and even one child has been too expensive a decision to make responsibly. Now, like many, many other responsible but not rich people, I’m well into my 30s and still want to have a child, and I have to see things like this that essentially argue I’m irresponsible and/or destined to be miserable due to not having a trust fund and a time machine. For me, having a child earlier would have been the irresponsible thing, and I am perfectly confident that if I do become a parent, I will be able to take steps not to be miserable (step one: stop counting bathrooms). The main thing making me miserable now is pseudo-journalism written from the perspective of privilege and uninformed judgment.
As Feministe points out in commenting on the much-talked-about New Republic story dealing with the same topic (that is, older parenting, not the horrors of only having one bathroom), it’s absolutely relevant to mention the risks – such as genetic disorders and parents dying relatively early in their children’s lives – that go along with older childbearing. But it’s also important to talk about 1) the benefits of older parenting and 2) the factors contributing to the decision to have children later in life.
Regarding the former, these benefits include more stable finances, and more time spent actually raising one’s children (lower divorce rates are part of the picture too, but not because married parents are the best parents; rather miserable, fighting parents who can’t agree on anything have less time to spend with their children, and are, by definition, unhappier).
But the second item is the one that really sticks in my craw. Benedikt, who is not a doctor or a health specialist, feels quite qualified to say what should and shouldn’t happen because of medical risks, but she seems to feel no responsibility for exploring the socioeconomic factors that make early parenthood a matter not of whether (as was the case for her) it’s trendy within one’s friend group at a given time but of whether families have the resources to ensure that they have food, health care, safe housing, and other basic necessities of life.
There are many, many things that could be done about the problem of “creepy,” genetically-stale, older parents, assuming it even is a problem. Jill at Feministe says this quite well, so I’m just going to quote her on the matter: “First, improve social welfare systems that would help younger parents who don’t have the benefits of stability and accumulated wealth. Second, structure the workplace so that women who want to have kids earlier can do that and not risk total career derailment. Third, invest in research of fertility drugs and procedures, as well as care for children with a variety of disabilities and health issues.”
To this I would add: stop marginalizing both men and women who make the decision to – or must, due to circumstances outside their control – raise children without dependence on the traditional two-parent family structure, and instead provide resources that prevent these people from being treated as second-class citizens in the workplace, in political rhetoric, and by society at large.
But Benedikt isn’t interested in discussing the steps that are needed to make younger parenting an option for people who would like to be able to make that decision. She’s interested in lamenting her one-bathroom, three-kid, “I am rich” situation, and using it to make a false claim about how her experience is in any way applicable to the lives of women or families in general. In truth, the life she lives – stressful though it seems to be for her – represents a level of luxury, independence, and choice available to only minority of the U.S. population, and completely unfathomable to the large majority of the global population.
The thing about authentic feminism is that it’s inherently concerned with equity. That includes socioeconomic equity. And showcasing privilege in a way that makes people of normal means feel bad about not measuring up is the opposite of socioeconomic equity, and deeply destabilizing to the most basic of feminist values. Viewed through this lens, Benedikt’s article is little more than mean-spirited and ignorant socioeconomic trolling, and has no place on a site that claims to be an exploration of feminist perspectives.
How sad. And how very vulgar.