This worries veteran feminists like Gloria Steinem. “We’re certainly not in an O.K. place,” said Ms. Steinem, who herself chose not to have children and said she never regretted it. “Whether women can decide for themselves whether to have children or not is the single biggest component of our health, our economic status, our education, our ability to control our own lives.”
One might ask: When will we get our own backlash? In our brave new world, in which everyone from Nicole Richie to Curtis Sliwa’s quintagenarian sister is getting knocked up, no one is exempt from the baby squeeze. Fifty-five-year-old women who’ve never had kids now get told, “It’s not too late!”, while some gay men and women, suddenly surrounded by baby-happy friends, have now begun complaining about the pressure to reproduce.
“When did I wake up and become Bridget Jones?” asked Stephanie, a 37-year-old editor and member of No Kidding!, a social group for adults who, yep, don’t want kids. “I’ve had the experience of having two women not even want to date me because I don’t want to have kids.”
Molly Peacock, the poet and feminist, can relate. At 60, she has never had a child—in fact, she wrote a memoir called Paradise, Piece by Piece about her decision not to have a child—but she can still imagine the day when someone will nudge her in the ribs and wink, “There’s still another chance for you!”
“You can’t get out from under it,” she said. “I really can understand how a younger woman can just feel like this blanket’s been thrown over her head.”
“Even my sluttiest friends are having kids now,” said Alison, the pre-parent, “which is alarming.”
In her new book, The Terror Dream, the feminist Susan Faludi (also without child) argues that the procreation push is part of a creepy post-9/11 gender narrative, an extension of the ongoing, nationalist effort to promote hearth, home, and female fragility: “a concerted effort to promote this … idea that women would and should reproduce as a way of consoling the nation,” as she put it to The Observer.
Or maybe it’s just capitalism at work.
“I think that it’s just such a clear extension of affluence, that people can afford to have children become an extension of themselves,” said Janice Min, editor in chief of Us Weekly and the mother of two young children.
Ms. Min knows a thing or two about today’s fetus frenzy. Hollywood, after all, is one of its chief purveyors, a land in which everyone from 17-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, who appeared heartbreaking and prepubescent in Whale Rider, to 45-year-old Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives seems to be sporting a belly.
Forget Katherine Hepburn, who famously chose not to have children in order to focus on her career. These days, it’s pregnancy that earns an actress ink.
“It’s almost un-American at this point to say you don’t want children, especially from an image perspective,” said Ms. Min, who spoke to The Observer the day her magazine broke the news of Jennifer Lopez’s pregnancy. “It’s almost like saying you’re a communist.”
Asked about her magazine’s own role in this phenomenon, the editor cited audience appetite. “There just seems to be this endless, bottomless desire to see celebrity offspring,” she said. The postfeminists of today, she said, no longer sees kids as “some sort of personal setback.”
Certainly it’s not a bad thing that motherhood is no longer stigmatized. But it all smacks a bit of the 1950’s—albeit spiffed up with Gucci baby carrier, Juicy maternity jeans and wooden toys from Germany. “I think there are ways in which these Bush years feel like the Eisenhower years,” mused Ms. Peacock, the poet. Then she offered a ray of hope.
“Of course, that’s the generation of women who produced Betty Friedan,” she said, “the generation who produced The Feminine Mystique.”