70s Feminist: "The Most Liberated Woman Is The Singleton"

Back in the 70s, Valerie Grove wrote a book called Compleat Woman, about 20 women who supposedly "had it all" — more than three children, blossoming careers, stable marriages. (Grove said she chose women with that number of kids because "the real test begins once the children outnumber their parents." ) Anyway, in today's Times of London Grove answers the question posed by the subtitle of her book: "Marriage, Motherhood, Career Can She Have It All?" The answer might surprise you.

The answer is no, she can't have it all. Not in the least, according to Grove. "Having it all (as a life-plan) is a chimera," Grove says, usually because real life interferes. Of the 20 women who appeared in the original book, some of their marriages have ended up failing; some feel guilty for not having spent more time with their children as wee ones; some think not that much has changed in the intervening thirty years.

"As for having it all - perish the phrase," Grove now writes. "I would never write that book today, knowing that women who appear to have everything sewn-up still have moments - or years - of guilt and self-reproach, of feeling stretched and torn in too many directions. Hence the high-powered women who give up on the career. My interest in this subject has dwindled to the point where I go along with Margaret Drabble (mother of three): 'If I get into a railway carriage with a child in it, I get straight out.'"

How over child-rearing is Grove? She ends the essay with a sober note about how women end up alone anyway, so in the long run singletons may be better off. "The most liberated woman is the singleton: independent and free of anxieties about menfolk and offspring," Grove reasons. "Children are hostages to fortune: the larger the family, the more hostages for fortune to play with."

Jesus Christ, fatalistic much? Children are "hostages for fortune to play with?" I mean, I understand arguing for fewer than three children — for a working couple, attention resources can be stretched mighty thin when you have a passel of rugrats — but she's basically arguing that life is wretched and bringing children into this cold, hard world is pointless. I can get behind her notion that "having it all" is an illusion, but damn, woman, our prospects are not so bleak.

How Did Seventies Feminists Fare? [Times of London]