Playwright Zoe Lewis heads to the (you guessed it) Daily Mail to cast the new face of unhappy, self-absorbed, childless-and-missing-it feminism, because nothing says "feminist" like a woman who blames it for all her unhappiness.
She starts, as far too many people start, with blaming her mom.
My mother - a film-maker - was a hippy who kept a pile of dusty books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bedside. (Like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning.) She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation.
As a result, I fought with my older brother and won, and at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.
But, at nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. Now, I want love and children, but they are nowhere to be seen.
So, first she suggests her mom never even read her feminist tomes but imbued her with "choice, equality and sexual liberation," which caused her to get into fights (presumably physical?) and outdrink the boys in college. While I'm all for getting into fights and outdrinking boys (I like to call that "Friday nights"), I wouldn't call those the epitome of "feminist" values, either. In fact, I don't do them at all because I'm a feminist — I just make choices, assume my equality with others and behave sexually as I see fit.
When I was growing up, I was led to believe by my mother and other women of her generation that women could 'have it all', and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end, I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dream of being a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.
Ten years ago, I wrote a play called Paradise Syndrome. It was based on my girlfriends in the music business. All we did was party, work and drink. The play sold out and I thought: 'This is it! I'm going to have it all - success, power - and men are going to adore me for it.'
What? I mean, first off, it depends on how one defines "all," but having a career doesn't mean forgoing having a family, and having a family doesn't mean not having a successful career. It's all in how one defines those things. I'm not single because I was career-focused in my twenties: in fact, as a card-carrying participant in the rat-race for the entirety of it, I went from one very-serious-long-term-relationship to another (2 years, 3 years and 4 years, respectively) and it's only now in my 30s that I sit around in my pajamas writing random things on the internet all day that I have been happily single.
I didn't lay anything on the altar of my career — not my friendships, nor my family nor my relationships with 3 men that I loved very deeply — and nothing about feminism or being career-oriented required me to. I also didn't expect (and don't expect) that money, power or success would ever make me adored by men. I mean, who but the most shallow, immature person expects that those things will net him or her healthy, loving relationships? Let alone the statement that all she did was "party, work and drink." What happened to getting to know people? Building friendships? Self-introspection? Growing as a person? I mean, great, if you want a boy-toy to run around with and spend your money on, good on you, but you can't look around at 37 and say, "Wait, why is is that my shallow relationships make me so unfulfilled? Must be feminism!" Feminism and shallow narcissism are not the same thing, thanks.
Lewis then blames Madonna — and her divorce — for fooling women into thinking that they can have it all when, in the end, Madonna can't. I mean, what the fuck? Maybe Madonna is happier divorced? Maybe she has a full life with people who love her unconditionally and isn't lonely and bitter. Or maybe she doesn't and maybe she isn't — but was she supposed to stay in Detroit, marry a guy who worked at the auto factory, pump out a couple of kids to be happy? Bitch, please.
What Lewis apparently believes now is the good life that her feminist mother deprived her of — settling down early, not pursuing a career, not trying to be the equal of the men around you and having kids — is a guarantee of happiness. Does she not know any divorcées? Any people who ought to be divorced? Any stagnant, unhappy housewives?
But at least she sort of recognizes that it might just be her:
Perhaps I am just a spoilt middle-class girl who had a career and who has now changed her mind about what she wants from life. But I don't think so.
I would argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront of women's lives and, as a result, the traditional role of women was trampled underneath their crusading Doc Martens.
I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother hadn't been such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of those formative decades.
Increasing numbers of my strongly feminist contemporaries are giving up their careers and opting for love and children and baking instead. Now, I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side. But the essence of the problem, I can see in retrospect, is not so much time as mentality.
It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel deep down, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.
And here's the problem: feminism never told women to forgo loving relationships or kids. Feminism didn't say that careerism was the only choice for every woman. Maybe some of the women around Lewis did — although, since Lewis acknowledges that her mom took time off from her career and chose a less career-heavy track to take care of her kids, it doesn't exactly sound like it. Lewis is, however, right that being a self-absorbed twit obsessed with power and being loved for her fame and fortune might have led her to be less fulfilled in her personal life at 37 than she was at 25. But that's not feminism's fault.
Naturally, however, that little epiphany lasts about as long as it took to write it, and then it's back to stereotypes.
Because, as my generation have discovered to their cost, men don't appear to like strong women very much.
They are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes.
Holly Kendrick, 34, who holds a high-status job in theatre, agrees: 'Men tend to be freaked out if you work as hard as them,' she says. 'It's like being the smart kid in the class: no one likes them.'
This is why many of my girlfriends are still alone. Perhaps men haven't accepted women's modernity. (By modernity, I mean being the strong alpha woman who never questions her entitlement to the same jobs, fun and sexual gratification as men.)
Right, men don't like strong women. That's why we're all single, because all men like exactly one type of woman, so us smart ones ought to just toss our hair and fake being stupid to catch a damn man already in order to have more fulfilling relationships. Because, really, the core of every fulfilling relationship is deception.
I mean, and "it's in the genes"? If there is any remote evolutionary science to this — and there's not — women that were "soft and feminine" probably would've been ripped to shreds or died in childbirth, resulting in a race of strong, hardy womenfolk that didn't need to be carried around and catered to like housepets. Nature's ugly, folks, and it's mean. It doesn't tolerate wallflowers well.
Anyway, it's great how Lewis stereotypes men as air-headed, genetically-driven assholes who all want the same thing from their lives and their relationships — someone weaker and more girlie. Shocking that with such a dim view of penis-holders, she might not have a really deep, fulfilling relationship with one. Guess what? Some of us don't want to be in relationships with men that require that we pretend to be stupid in order to maintain them, and thus find men that like strong, capable women and date those guys instead. And sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, like every other romantic relationship in the world.
I am extremely capable, I really don't need a man. Seriously - it scares me how much I don't need a man. But that doesn't mean I don't want one. I am lonely, and terrified of being alone.
I have tried everything to stop the clocks, to stall time and find my ideal partner. I've considered the whole 'Let's adopt a baby from an African orphanage' thing. I have even had my eggs frozen (yes, really!) in the hope that if I do meet the right man, I will be in a position to have the children I now long for.
The problem is this: now I have decided I am ready for a new relationship, I am well prepared and I am totally efficient at running my life. But efficiency is not a very endearing quality; men find me daunting, and I can see that.
It's not as if I'm famous or anything. It's just - like other women of my age - I seem to know it all. I do. And that's a massive turn-off for a bloke.
Oh, honey, it's not just "blokes" that are turned off by your pretense that you know it all! Also, I'd suggest that your deep loneliness, terror of ending up alone and desperation to have children aren't doing you any favors with finding a HUSBAND TO GIVE YOU BABIES RIGHT NOW AND NEVER EVER LEAVE YOU. That might be part of the problem. What happened to loving yourself (without being a pretentious narcissist) and finding ways to make yourself content? I find that's generally more attractive to the people I'd generally like to spend time with, anyway, male or female.
This is why I say: do it early, girls - do it before you get cynical and jaded. Do the whole 'falling in love thing' when you honestly can embrace that joie de vivre. And, for goodness' sake, have children when you are young enough to enjoy them and to have more if you want them.
Right, because all women who are single and childless in their thirties are cynical and jaded and incapable of enjoying falling for someone, and all older mothers (like my grandmother, say, who was 48 when she had my father) are incapable of enjoying time with their offspring.
Oh, and there's this, of course:
I feel a great pressure from other women of my generation who have husbands and children to join their club. In their eyes, I am not the trailblazer but the failure.
Ooh, peer pressure! Great reason to get married and breed! Did she ever hear of the phrase "misery loves company"? Or, God forbid, think of getting herself a new class of friends that don't get all Judgey McJudgerson over her life choices in regards to marriage and children? She is, of course, surrounding herself with people that are reinforcing her vision of a failed life.
Apparently, I am a failure in my own eyes. Somewhere deep inside lurks a women I cannot control, and she is in the kitchen with a baby on her hip and a ball of dough in her hand, staring me down.
She is saying to me: 'This is happiness. You can't deny it, this is what it's all about.' It's an instinct that makes me a woman; an instinct that I can't ignore, even if I've tried to for 15 years.
Had I had this understanding of my inner psyche in my 20s, I would have mentally demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour.
There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer from someone with whom I would have happily settled down. But no, I wasn't prepared to give up my dreams, the life I had been told was the right and proper one for a modern woman.
I mean, first off, this is why therapy was invented — to help people understand themselves better. I don't think the 37-year-old version of Lewis understands herself any better than the 25-year-old version. She's just grasping at extremes, painting mental pictures of this alternative reality that exists outside of her own life. She's got a ball of dough and a baby, but no particular husband, just any old bloke she could have slotted into that role of Husband like her life is another one of her plays. But life is messier than that, and people are messier than that. Would she be happier with the dough and the baby and the divorce papers on the entryway table and her husband's mistress in the car pulling out of the garage? Or with him dead of a heart attack? Fighting all the time over every little thing because they "settled down" or, in her case, "settled"?
I wish I had been given the advice that I am now giving to my sister, who is 22. If you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't go back and do later - apart from having kids.
Actually, you can't ever go back and do anything. You can only live your life in one direction.There's a lot of things I wouldn't have done if I took this shitty advice. If I'd married one of my college boyfriends, I wouldn't be the person I am now, and I wouldn't be able to become her, either. I might be an military wife and mother, or a schoolteacher on sabbatical with the kids someone really wanted me to stay home with, but I don't expect that either of those things would make me happy with my life. I could have swallowed a lot of pride and pain and stayed with the boyfriend that cheated on me, or the one who didn't love me enough to change a single thing about his daily life to spend any time with me, but as much as it hurt to walk away from those relationships — and, yes, accept that I might very well end up without a life partner — I don't think I'd be magically happier just because there would be a dude in my life. In fact, I walked away because I knew and, in one case, learned through a lot of much-needed therapy, that I would, in fact, be unhappier. And if I had stayed in those relationships, I probably wouldn't be blogging, or freaking out about my next paycheck. I wouldn't have made the friendships I have made in the last 18 months (including one of those exes) that actually make me really happy. I wouldn't have traveled to Europe or to Asia the way that I did, I might not have gotten my Master's degree, I wouldn't have learned that I could stand on my own two feet no matter what happens to me — and maybe, frankly, I wouldn't have even learned how if I did need to.
I wanted to be mad at Zoe Lewis for this piece as it feeds into the false pretense that giving women choices in and control over their lives just makes them unhappy, with the lovely subtext that women shouldn't have those choices, you know, for their own sakes. But, frankly, it was hard to read it all the way through because she sounds desperately unhappy, and desperately insecure and desperate to find someone or something else to blame for all of that besides herself — so she chose feminism and her mother. The terrible thing about choices, though, is sometimes you make bad ones, and you have to live with them. The great thing about choices is that you can then continue to make them, until you find the ones that make you happy.