by Nidra Poller (February 2013)
Un enfant quand je veux si je veux… The battle cry of the feminists marching for freedom from fertility—“a baby when I want one if I want one”—was ringing out in the streets of Paris when I came to live here in 1972. After lagging behind the United States, where the diaphragm + spermicide had been available to married women since the 1940s and oral contraception since 1957, France caught up with The Pill in 1967 and legalized abortion in 1975, championed by Auschwitz survivor and then Health Minister Simone Veil. The process has gone forward on all fronts, with generalized use of fail-proof methods, unfettered access to abortion when fail-proof fails, reimbursement across the board including, just recently, 100% free contraceptive pills for women 15 to 18.
Contraception and abortion alone could not bring about the desired transformation of the female condition. They were the technology. The metaphysics was what has become known as “gender studies.” In the early days of Women’s Liberation it was makeshift ideology peddled in volumes of look-alike fiction and non-fiction best sellers shouting that maternity was a drag, femininity a hype, sexual differences induced by cynical manipulation, love and marriage an extension of the military industrial complex, and men were chauvinist pigs. No more pink for girls and blue for boys. Sexually marked toys were not abandoned but switched: cars and trucks for girls, dolls and tea sets for boys. Women wanted, or were told they wanted, something called equality.
The harbingers of this “sexual revolution” were, more often than not, closet lesbians. Later we not only discovered that they were lesbians telling heterosexual women to kick their men in the balls and out of their lives, they were also playing stereotypical sexual roles in private, some as simpering mistresses to others more macho than any man could be.
In the space of one generation we went from the prohibition of pre-marital sex to promiscuity for all. The stakes were high for a young woman in the 50s. Sleeping around or, oh horrors, getting pregnant killed her chances of a good marriage… only way to climb the social ladder. Unmarried women could not be fitted for a diaphragm. There was no place to make love decently. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1952, female students under 21 were not allowed to live off campus. We were quartered in dorms, with 10 PM curfews. The lower classes and a dissolute bohemian minority did what they wanted and dealt with the consequences as best they could. Decent women waited to discover the pleasures or disappointments of conjugal life. Twenty years later, a young man with nothing to offer and nothing to lose, would mumble his momentary itch; if the chick dared to decline, he’d toss off a whiny “what’s the matter, you got hangups?” before shuffling off to another.
Teenage girls rushed to lose their virginity before getting their first bra. The boys they slept with had a pressing need for freedom. Don’t cramp my style, don’t try to hold on to me, I’m not into commitment. A girl who, for whatever reason, didn’t solve the fertility problem by taking The Pill was too much of a bother. Women were supposed to be liberated… meaning, available 24/24 with no strings attached. Somehow Women’s Liberation turned out to be an emergency exit for men, inclined to run out on their responsibilities and give in to their more shiftless instincts.
Well- educated, professionally accomplished, financially independent women made babies with a male friend or part time lover, with the clear understanding that the woman would assume 100% of the responsibility for raising and providing for the child. Looking back, it’s almost laughable to see how feminine they were! Liberated from drudgery they voluntarily opted for impossible burdens. A woman’s work is never done. Marriage was spurned or diluted by up-front adultery. Lovers and mistresses joined the family for dinner, children’s birthday parties, and family vacations. Wives and husbands moved in and out, and it was no more dramatic than changing seasons.
None of this nullifies the undeniable improvements in the lives of women, our chances for fulfillment in love, marriage, maternity, and a wide range of professions. No longer on the outside looking in, we can see for ourselves how the working world is organized, how power is won and exercised, how many seemingly fascinating jobs are less interesting than, for instance, taking care of babies. Today, young women deserve our help in re-examining the past to reconceive the equilibrium between biology and choice. They have heard enough about what was acquired. What about the losses?
Fertility is formidable. Connecting unbridled fertility to irresistible sexual pleasure is a work of genius. Is it true that primitive people did not make the connection between making love and making babies? Everything has been arranged to make young fertile men and women forget it… until it’s too late. The consequences are enormous. Mouths to feed, and a lifetime of responsibility. Women, until just recently, could be left holding the bag… unless the man voluntarily took his share of the burden and attendant joys. At the same time, women took the blame for sterility. In the understandable wish to get beyond all of that primitive stuff we have, of course, created new problems.
While reassuring women that the advantages of oral contraception outweigh the dangers, the French Health Ministry has issued warnings about 3rd and 4th generation contraceptives after a young woman suffered a debilitating stroke. But these dramatic risks are the visible peak of a throbbing ache that has never been addressed. Women who cannot bear the changes induced by oral contraceptives may be a minority but those who are uncomfortable with the effects associated with artificial hormonal activity are probably a silent majority. How does the body regain the intelligence of reproduction when it has been silenced for years by oral contraception or IUDs?
Fertility is a daunting challenge, a stunning competitor that interferes with our short and long term plans. It should not be treated as an enemy. Granted, we need some control over this magnificent life force that doesn’t exactly go with our current lifestyle. But if we smash it, suppress it, rough it up, and fail to honor it we wake up one day with a problem that few futurists imagined: drastic population decline. Just as a family can wither away and disappear in a few generations, a nation can lose its bid for posterity. We find ourselves with advanced societies collapsing on an upended age pyramid while the under-25 majority of retrograde populations are out in the streets throwing rocks and firebombs or drugging themselves on heroin and despair.
And then there is AIDS. Super safe birth control that theoretically allows for super carefree pleasure notwithstanding, the clumsy old condom was brought back into service.
Once and for all defined as progress, women’s liberation is stubbornly entrenched. Thinking women, happy to be involved in board meetings, business travel, financial transactions, and research projects, have pocketed the progress and ignored the twisted paths that take us away from our destination. The fine arts and literature, seemingly locked into the hysterical phase, do little to help women conserve or recover the delicate skills that help us nurture the masculinity of men. Women have used more clout to get the right to drive buses, work on automobile assembly lines and now, in the US, go into combat than to improve the balance between work, maternity, and child care.
We keep getting hit with the downside of our miracle solutions. For example, the two-for-one baby boom. I am not qualified to say whether the proliferation of twins is due to post-contraception sterility, pre-menopausal maternity or new techniques of assisted procreation, but it is troubling when every third stroller you pass on the street is a double. First, contraception has to be 99.9% reliable for women at the peak of fertility, then medical genius has to compensate for damaged fertility… there is a time for everything but who knows what time it is?
Un enfant quand je veux comme je veux. The motor of Progress must not idle. Having established the religion of free love, liberated women from the disgusting femininity-maternity couplet, placed abortion on the same level of noblesse as procreation, demanded parity everywhere from floor sweepers to CEOs, purified language of the despicable undifferentiated masculine collective, the battalions of Progress are back on the front lines and their battle cry is “A child when I want how I want.” Are homosexuals the latter day saints of love marriage and procreation? The issue of same-sex marriage is currently debated in the French legislature. Debate is a euphemism for the arrogant steamroller of the left wing majority, reveling in a no holds barred shouting match against the opposition. Deaf to the outcry of a huge segment of the population, indifferent to reasoned argument, secure in the certainty that President Hollande will not put the question to a popular referendum, the majority is having a ball.
The bill, in an inimitable French lace formulation, is called “mariage pour tous [marriage for everyone]. It actually means “marriage for no one,” in that the institution will be gutted and the shell decorated with garlands of flowers. Lurking behind this mariage nouveau is a devious plan for “procreation without biological borders.” With imperial disdain, a government, elected with a modest majority is dismantling the basic building block of society. Long stretches of the proceedings at the National Assembly are broadcast live on our equivalent of C-Span. Dozens of mini-Robespierres grab the microphone as if it were a whip and lash out at the Opposition, accused of homophobia, retrogradia, and obstruction of the wheels of History. Following the lead of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, whose corn rows are meant to be an argument in themselves, deputies alternate revolutionary thunder with cooing over kitschy homosexual weddings with all the trimmings and heartfelt pleas for the children (hundreds? thousands? who knows?) who will finally bathe in the crowning glory of marriage for their homoparents.
Indulgent media visit the happy homes of happy homosexuals with their happy broods. No complaints from these child soldiers. Daddy plus Daddy makes a house a home. And aren’t two mothers better than one? Who are the dastardly reactionaries that would deprive innocent children of the dignity of married homoparenthood? How dare they insinuate that same sex parents are not as good if not better than heterosexuals? Who are they to say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman intending to make a family? Homosexuals deserve the same rights to marry and found a family as heterosexuals!
The opposition claims “mariage pour tous” is a Trojan horse: procreation-booster rights will inevitably follow the same-sex marriage & adoption bill. In fact, MAP (medically assisted procreation) for lesbian partners, included in an earlier draft of the bill, was withdrawn due to opposition within the majority party and the French electorate. It will eventually be tacked on to a family affairs bill initially promised for March, now postponed to October, pending—but not depending on—the recommendations of the Bioethical commission. Opposition deputies predict that males will demand and obtain, on the grounds of equality, legalization of surrogate motherhood. The majority cries Foul! You don’t want same-sex marriage so you drag in unrelated issues. False, shouts the opposition, and the memorandum shows what’s up your sleeve. For some reason the Justice Minister issued a memorandum last week notifying consular officials that recourse to surrogate motherhood-- a criminal offense under French law-- is not in and of itself grounds for refusal to naturalize the child.
Once these fait accompli children are brought to France, the father(s) will demand official filiation. Does the wish to have children--against the implacable laws of nature--justify cheating? Other subterfuges are detailed in a chuckling article in Le Monde.1 One member of a lesbian union hides all evidence of her partner during the adoption procedure. Then the two women raise the adopted child together… until they separate. The once-hidden partner now fears her ties to the child might be broken. Karim was the odd man out when his partner Yann fertilized a Ukrainian woman, but today they live happily with their five year-old twins in a remote village where friendly neighbors are satisfied to learn that that both men are "papas d’intention" [daddies by intention] of the children born via a "maman de naissance" [birth mommy]. Yann doesn’t like the term “maman porteuse” [carrying mommy]; it sounds too industrial. He says there’s nothing inspiring about the biological bond. "The act itself is shabby-- masturbating into a test tube--and the consequences are a monstrosity.” I assume he means the pregnancy.
Members of the left wing parliamentary majority, infuriated by the Trojan horse argument of the opposition, cannot in fact justify the same-sex marriage juggernaut without the hidden procreative project. Back in 1999, their predecessors promised that the PACS [contract of civil solidarity], tailored to the needs of homosexuals, was the last and final stage. No marriage, no adoption, no procreation, no filiation. Of 142,738 contracts signed in 2012, 3,680 were male-male, 3,064 female-female, and 135,994 male-female. Did homosexuals shun the PACS because it was beneath them or because they weren’t really interested in forming more perfect unions? And what if a tiny minority of a tiny minority will actually take advantage of same-sex marriage? How can that justify the slapdash, sloppy, ill-considered, unjustified dismantling of marriage and filiation?
Can the impossibility of making children without a male and a female participant be solved by same-sex marriage, MAP, and surrogate motherhood? Isn’t it a way of forcing the children born under these circumstances to perpetuate the myth of homoparenthood? Neither our respect for homosexual friends and family nor individual examples of wonderful children raised by same-sex partners can resolve this dilemma. The question is what shall society encourage, allow, condone, facilitate, tolerate, forbid or punish.
The idea that a child needs a mother and a father is suddenly labeled reactionary! One might as well burn all the world’s literature and retool humanity into heartless robots. Who can deny the suffering of a child who loses a mother or a father by illness, accident, abandonment or divorce? Proponents of mariage pour tous claim the opposition is motivated by base prejudice against equality in marriage, while they stubbornly deny the inequality imposed on the children brought into the world via this misconception. An infant doesn’t need to be cradled against a mother’s breast and held in strong male arms? The orchestration of contrasting male-female sensations--muscles, odor, voice, rhythm, mentality-- is a vital need for children. It has nothing to do with socially-imposed stereotypes; it is a corollary of the ineluctable reality that reproduction is only possible when a female ovule is fertilized by male sperm.
Advocates of same-sex marriage portray homosexuals as innocent victims of discrimination; there is nothing intrinsically distressing about their biologically sterile sexuality. Evil lies in the eyes of the beholder. End the social disapproval, costume homosexuals in bridal attire, and let them get on with their normal lives. The reality is far more complex. Honest acceptance of homosexuals does not exclude a guts rejection of their sexuality. In your face lurid gay pride, smoldering hostility to heterosexuals, coteries and rainbow flag nationalism can’t be ignored. The slogan on a banner carried in a Mariage pour Tous demonstration -- “Une paire de meres est mieux qu’un père de merde” [a pair of mothers is better than a shitty father]—reminds us of the 70s: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” When homosexuality was a disgrace, many hid their shame in heterosexual marriage; when coming out was in style, homosexuality was worn as a badge of honor. Many of the children raised in same-sex households today were born of heterosexual marriages that ended when one of the partners discovered his or her homosexuality. Children should not be dragged like rag dolls into these complications.
At a time when half the children born in France are technically out of wedlock, why would homosexuals be dying to get married? Why not create an institution that is truly adapted to their difference? No. If we don’t give them our marriage and turn ourselves into fish farms to provide them with progeny, we’re selfish reactionaries. Same-sex marriage, we are promised, will subtract nothing from marriage; it is the simple addition of one unjustly excluded category of citizens to the existing cohort. Though the opposition doesn’t have the votes to defeat the mariage pour tous bill, the National Assembly debate has the merit of casting light on its hidden consequences. The “simple” addition of same-sex unions nullifies marriage, makes spaghetti of filiation, axes the patronym, betrays the biological facts of procreation by deleting their representation in law and language, and dumps centuries of continuity into muddy confusion. The nation is sterilized. Justice Minister Taubira pours an acid smile on opposition deputies who object to some 200 radiations of the words (and the concept) “father and mother” from the Code Civil. Voyons, messieurs, it’s replaced by “parents.”(“Parents” means parents or relatives.) And what’s wrong with replacing “mari” and “femme” by the unisex “époux.”
The government and its majority are now spelling opposition “o-b-s-t-r-u-c-t-i-o-n.” No one must stand in the way of the forward march of History. Or should it be called Itstory?
We have reached the endpoint of a package of social changes that began in the sixties. Instead of reexamining the premises and consequences, today’s activists want to take us over the cliff. Before we can help our homosexual citizens, we have to ask ourselves why the femininity decried in women is acceptable when parodied by men. Why men were male chauvinist pigs but macho women can simultaneously be husbands to their female partners and mothers to “their” children. Why is everything organized so that young women at the most propitious time for childbearing use overwhelming contraception while women in their forties and same sex partners resort to every possible stratagem to have children?
And how can we maintain the prohibition against incest when Johnny Appleseed donors are spreading their sperm to the winds with no return address?
Nidra Poller's most recent book is Karimi Hotel.
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