Faminist Theory

“As far as I can tell, women’s magazines have pretty much said October is breast-cancer-awareness month and there is no other advocacy beyond that,” said Ms. Paul. “It’s like, ‘Let’s hide behind the pink ribbon of the safest cause you could imagine.’” (That abortion essay that Ms. Paul’s friend had trouble selling ultimately ran in Brain, Child.)

Abortion and the pill have never exactly been ratings-friendly material in the movies or on network television—the last time a network TV character had an abortion was Bea Arthur’s Maude in 1972; the next time will be on the next season of Friday Night Lights, premiering this Friday—but never before has the promotion of family been so prominent in prime time. The shows of careless singles (Friends, Sex and the City) are out—because putting off children is out. In are this season’s network shows of quirky, dysfunctional families: Modern Family, The Middle, Parenthood, Life Unexpected. Drawing comparisons to Gilmore Girls, Life Unexpected, also on the CW, tells the story of 15-year-old Lux—the product of the night her mother, Cate, lost her virginity to the quarterback who never spoke to her again—who was given up for adoption. She returns to find her parents, and (a few hiccups aside) they all become pals.

“Obviously, I’m very pro-choice, and the show was never meant to be a message about what Cate did or didn’t do in high school,” said the show’s 34-year-old creator, Liz Tigelaar, by phone from Los Angeles. “I know it can be perceived as, ‘Hey, don’t get an abortion. If you don’t, you can be best friends with your kid!’ But that’s not where I’m coming from.”

Ms. Tigelaar agreed that there has been a kind of pro-family shift on network television. “I remember just talking about this pilot and being told audiences don’t like women who don’t want to get married and have babies,” she said. “It started with the typical family show; to the family you make, which was Friends; and now it’s back to family, but not in a conventional sense—two men adopting a child or two unmarried people with a kid between them.”

At the end of our conversation, Ms. Tigelaar, who was herself adopted, admitted that she would be “thrilled” to get a 15-year-old dropped on her doorstep. “It’s less that I want to have kids right this second and more that I am compelled by the fear of not being able to have them later on,” she said.

In the Faminist world, the right to have children—by any means necessary—seems ascendant over any other project.

“There might be this idea among young women that they’re not going to screw it up the way the Sex and the City women did,” Ms. Paul suggested.

Ms. Baumgardner’s mother, she said, encouraged her and her sister, who started having kids at 41, to have their careers first. “There is a recalibration from that because there were some problems,” said Ms. Baumgardner, who is 39, with a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old. “So now this generation thinks ‘Oh, O.K., we’re going to start earlier and then get back to the careers.’ And eventually there’ll be something else resolving that conflict even more. It’s not necessarily feminist to say, ‘Oh yeah, you can freeze your eggs! You can have a baby when you’re 80!’”

And so young Faminist Morgan is on to her second at the age of 26, performing a sort of ideological matricide. Ms. Horcasitas has two and said she plans to have a third and then maybe adopt another.

In Ms. Jong’s time, women were protesting compulsory motherhood; now, it seems, they are not protesting anything at all—they are too busy mopping up crumbs.
“You have to think through having a baby, and maybe we thought it through too long,” said Ms. Jong, whose daughter Molly had her first child at 25 and more recently gave birth to twins. “I think feminism is a cyclical movement. Mothers do one thing, daughters do the opposite.”

ialeksander@observer.com

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