Again I turn the virtual pages of the “women” section of The Times in outrage, as, encouraged to “explore women” I find only articles about “love”, “relationships”, “families”, “beauty”, and “fashion” – all of which (however unsurprisingly) exhibit strong conservative bias. Incidentally, the selection for men is a little broader, spanning “science and technology” and “politics” whilst neglecting the inclusion of handy little tags by which one may easily locate the lifestyle advice required. The implicit assumption is that men may more easily navigate the expansive terrain of the broadsheet with inherent technological mastery extrapolated from the ease with which they used to “man-handle” the “man-sized” pages (even Kleenex have ceased to believe that men require larger tissues). It is not the categories in themselves to which I object, but rather to the gendered groupings and prevailing heterosexist bias.
One article which understandably drew my attention was by Zoe Lewis, a self-confessed former-feminist (I shall leave you to judge the truth of this statement) and aspiring playwright. After reading the article I remain unsure as to what this supposed “Madonna syndrome”, beyond a shameless conflation of the subject matter of her two plays, represents. I never thought that I would be framing a defence of Madonna on any terms, but I am similarly baffled as to how she is to be blamed for Ms. Lewis’s unhappiness. Apparently “Madonna sells [her lead character – and I’m not one to biographise but go figure] the ultimate dream” which is that “[she] can do anything – be anything – go girl”. For me, the inclusion of “girl” at the close of this mantra is fundamental to Lewis’s line of argument in that she firmly subscribes to raving essentialism and actually believes that she has been ultimately betrayed by her own biology (and her lack of success has nothing at all to do with the competitiveness of the industry). The endowment of the “bullish woman” (Madonna) with the ability to allow the women in question to be “strong and sexy” is itself rather curious, since it is suddenly Madonna and not the mother sprung from the Women’s Liberation Movement who “has encouraged [them] to chase a fantasy” and prompted the “huge disappointment” at its failure. Neither is it clear how the “feminism espoused by [Lewis’s] mother” is “flaunted by Madonna”, who despite her recent divorce has both a thriving career and children, but this may be owing either to Lewis’s own confusion as to what constitutes feminism or her jealousy at being unable to juggle.
She naively asserts that “being a free woman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”, but is it possible to consider somebody who invests so heavily in traditional gender roles and genetic predestination to be in any sense free? Lewis has apparently “sacrificed all [her] womanly duties” (emphasis mine) and set everything “at the altar of a career” which has then failed so she blames the sacrifice and not the action. She shows little indication beyond the statement of having been “imbued…with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation” and instead laments the unborn children and unfound “Mr. Right” (emphasis mine). Whilst acknowledging that she “may be an extreme case” she cites data from the General Household Survey in support of her being generally representative of womenkind in that “the number of unmarried women under 50 has more than doubled over the past 30 years. And by the age of 30, one in five of these “freemales”, who have chosen independence over husband and family, has gone through a broken cohabitation”. Her assumption that the surveyed women share her regrets is unfounded and unlikely to be the result of a stampede of Doc Martens. The “more balanced view of womanhood” was available to her, and Lewis just chose not to see it; as a subscriber to the masculine/feminine dichotomy the choice is simple: career/family.
She is quite right that life is “about understanding what is important in” and certainly in noting that “loving relationships” may deliver happiness, but her preconceptions as to the rigid forms these must take are misguided. Everything she did appears to have been in an attempt to please men: she “thought that men would love independent, strong women” only to discover that “they don’t appear to” and concludes that men “are programmed to like their women soft and feminine” and that while it may not be their fault “it’s in the genes”. This category of “the feminine” is, in fact, socially constructed and the idea of a genetic attraction to it is absurd (she says nothing of the existence of other sexual preferences or gender performances, for example). Lewis feels as though she is her own worst enemy, which is, in my opinion, correct (as she is ours), but whilst she insists that it is because she tried to ignore the “instinct that makes [her] a woman” I suggest that it is precisely because she believes in its existence. Certainly, women have the biological capability to have children, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they are driven to have them nor does it mean that they must find “Mr. Right” (emphasis mine). In short, her view is quite simple: woman seeks man with whom she is biologically programmed to live happily ever after with a selection of heterosexual children (all of whom get progressively fatter as a result of cookies baked with love) and feminism is equality of lifestyle/career choice between women (housewife is as valued as lawyer) and domestic equality with men.
The “finite time” of which she speaks is not only in which “to be mothers” but to live, and the “clock starts ticking” not when one tumbles over the hill and begins the avalanche of middle-age, but at birth. It is not a waste of time to show anybody that we are all equal although it may be if we continue to pursue such a narrow definition of equality as the one Zoe Lewis exhibits. Oh, and now one final question: does feminism have to be a substitute for love?