Right now there's widespread panic over the reproductive performance of
Australian women. It has crept in almost everywhere and its pitch is
A range of otherwise sensible newspaper columnists, public
intellectuals, TV newsreaders and feminists have joined the usual vocal
suspects - fundamentalist Catholic bishops and their spooky political
bedfellows, shock jocks, women-who-want-to-be-women (aren't they
already?), not to mention aspirational grandparents - in fingering the
worry-beads about how, when, and how many babies will be born to the
average woman in an average year, from here to eternity.
The stated subject of concern is Everywoman. But the hot needles of
critical scrutiny are really out for one particular kind of woman -
working women in our 30s who are not also mothers. Or not yet mothers, or
quite possibly or quite definitely never will be mothers. Or won't be
"mother enough", because even if we started screwing with intent
to conceive last Tuesday there is so little time left to pop a
prime number of children larger than one.
And our dwindling supply of eggs is getting more addled with every day
that ticks by. And soon, when we wake up to ourselves, usually around our
35th birthday or later if we're in lobotomy-level denial, we'll all be
"on the hunt", and doomed to failure anyway because there's
nothing more terrifying to men than that - except perhaps the
prospect of a growing cabal of barren spinsters.
And, we're told, it's really important to get people talking about this
issue before it's too late – for us, and for Australia.
Oh really? Might the fertility panic be fuelled, even driven, by other
One defining feature of this target group of women, apart from
childlessness, is that on the whole, we have better incomes, formal
qualifications, and, incidentally, wardrobes - yes Virginia, beyond
Collette Dinnigan there lies Prada – than women and men who have made,
or had available to them, different choices. We are also generally more
widely travelled, read and danced, and generally more sexually experienced
Most of us have experienced the loss of at least one great love, and
its accompanying visceral grief, without devastating the lives of small
children in the process. None of us has tricked or manipulated anyone into
fatherhood. Most of us place great value on children, parenting and family
but don't buy the white-picket fantasy. Crucially, on top of all of this,
a lot of us are bloke magnets as never before, and most of us are still
fertile. Some of us are even quietly hopeful of becoming mothers.
I can see why this package might fascinate, puzzle and intimidate a lot
of people whose own package looks rather different. I can see how aspects
of it might play terribly on their own insecurities and disappointments
– everyone thinking and feeling adult has some - surrounding their own
decisions about living life.
But what happens when these anxieties break out in an Australia whose
nerves have already been scraped raw by hyped-up fears about protecting
our body politic from a host of enemies, within and without? Tampa,
terrorism and other tricky fallouts from globalisation have combined to
hit some very basic panic buttons, which sit there in all of us. Pushing
these buttons all together makes possible book-burning, lynching and,
indeed, the hunting of witches.
So the fertility panic in Australia is more than unhelpful. It's
It's another plank in the fortress mentality that increasingly defines
Australia, and restricts the options available to its peoples - by
defining difference as essentially a threat.
An edited version of this article recently appeared in The