In the August issue of InStyle, Zooey Deschanel shares her “fiery feminist” side in the cover story. When asked whether she wants kids, she replied defiantly:
“Like every woman is dying to give birth! I don’t think so. Nobody asks guys that… And you go into a supermarket and every tabloid is like, ‘Pregnant and Alone!’ Stuck in the 1950s ideal of how a woman should live her life. This brings out the fiery feminist in me.”
I had to laugh—it seems very likely that people ask women, and not men, about giving birth because fiery feminism in America has made the birth issue 100 percent up to women. I can’t imagine Deschanel would want a man to be able to answer such a question, that is, to be the decider of when a woman gives birth.
That aside, I do think Deschanel has a point. Yes, it’s annoying that the world seems to worry about women’s private lives and men’s not so much. I get that. And further, just asking about the desire for future kids is a highly personal question—the kind of question that’s loaded with sensitive sub-questions like “What’s going on with your relationships?” and “Why aren’t you settled down?” and dozens of other hard-to-answer questions for anyone. And yes, no one seems to care as much when famous men aren’t settling down. There is an inequality here.
I suspect, though, that this stems in part from a biological difference. If we’re asking about kids and family, the question means something different for men than for women. Men can have kids pretty much forever; I doubt anyone asked David Letterman if he was planning to have kids, and then he has a child in his fifties. Women, on the other hand, have a limited time frame of when they can have kids naturally (and frankly, even with assisted reproductive technology, it is often not a walk in the park).
That doesn’t, however, make it appropriate to ask. If anything, it makes it completely inappropriate, regardless of whether she wants to have kids. Even if she does, she probably doesn’t need to be reminded of her biological clock.
Still, I bristled a little at Deschanel’s phrasing, “like every woman is dying to give birth.” Something about it rings critical of women who choose to give birth. You have kids under 35? You must be trapped in the 1950s ideal of womanhood—that is lame and anti-modern and not cool like Zooey Deschanel. To me, it’s one of those ugly self-proclaimed feminist comments that in standing up for some women simultaneously takes a swipe at others.
As it happens, I just gave birth to my second child a few weeks ago. Would it be fair to say I was dying to give birth? Heck no. But I have two beautiful children because I value family, and my husband and I are open to welcoming additional kids should they come along. In no way was this something I did to meet some 1950s ideal of a woman’s place or to fulfill some personal desire I had for children as possessions. In reality, it’s much bigger than me.
In fact, all this makes me wonder: Who, really, is dying to give birth? When women surveyed say they want kids some day I don’t think they mean they’re dying to fulfill patriarchal expectations of being a complete woman; I think they mean they’d like to have a family—to partake in the age-old circle of life, if you will. Just as Deschanel chooses not to have kids, many women choose to do so.
And it just so happens that it’s easiest on a woman’s body to have kids before 35. Does that mean Mother Nature is anti-feminist and stuck in 1950s?
Okay, okay, I probably shouldn’t be taking all this out on Deschanel. All she did was make a quick comment that she doesn’t want kids. And, hey, that’s fine! But just don’t criticize those women who do.