The plight of the thirtysomething female who hasn't met 'Mr Right'

Suzanne Moore on choice and babies

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AS I AM still, for a few months at least, a thirtysomething woman, I feel compelled to make a contribution to the "crisis" that is supposedly in our midst. Luckily, I still belong to this media-created category. Swamped by articles, books and TV programmes about attractive but lonely thirtysomethings, Bridget Joneses without the humour or the publishing contract, I feel occasional sympathy for them, but mostly intense irritation.

What is occurring here is nothing less than a backlash against feminism and, as always, it is women themselves who are colluding in this backlash. The problem of the thirtysomething female who hasn't met "Mr Right" - ie Mr Big-Salary, Mr Devastatingly-Good-Looking, Mr Let-Me-Inseminate- You-Immediately, Mr I-will-Give-You-A-Home-That-Looks-Like-Something-Out- Of-Elle-Decor - is simple. Her problems are caused by being able to have a choice.

Freely available contraception and abortion, you know the right to control our own fertility, those little things that generations of women have fought so hard for, have even died for, has enabled the modern woman to choose not to have babies. It has meant that the average woman is not pregnant or breast feeding for 14 years of her life. It has meant that sex can be for pleasure as well as procreation. And this, surely, most of us would agree, is a jolly good thing. I point this out only because choice for the thirtysomething, have-it-all whingers is somehow deemed to be a bad thing.

Unfortunately, if you happen to be a female with an average reproductive system, it is assumed that despite having chosen not to have a baby for a good 20 years, unconsciously, subconsciously, or better still, on television, you'd better reveal all about the ticking of your biological clock. You see babies in parks and you want one. Your friends have got them and you haven't. I understand. I feel much the same way about a Conran sofa. Perhaps my soft-furnishings clock is ticking and I will simply go doolally if I don't get one soon.

The message here is simple: despite what you might think about women's increasing economic independence and freedom, they can, as always, be reduced to one thing, biology. All those successful young women out there might look good to you, they may appear to be having a fabulous time with their mates, but don't be fooled for one second. When it comes down to it, they are little more than waiting wombs. The hole in their lives can only be plugged by one thing, an infant that emerges blinking into the light fully dressed in Baby Gap.

In order to get that baby, what all these women need is not love, equality, or even friendship, but, to put it crudely, ejaculation. Well, I'm sure this might make certain men feel useful, even purposeful, but it makes me feel bloody depressed. In the midst of the Nineties "gender quake", what we have before our eyes is yet another tired rerun of the old biology- is-destiny myth, and it is about time some of these women were as honest with themselves as they are prepared to be in front of any old television crew.

If you get to your late 30s and you could have had, but haven't had, a baby, perhaps you didn't really want one. Perhaps you chose other things instead and maybe that's not so bad. Of course, only a heretic or a man would say such a thing. Or perhaps I will, because I am sick of the self deception currently masquerading as social crisis.

If women really want to have babies, are overtaken with an obsessive desire to reproduce but have not yet met the right man (please, girls are we still living in a Barbara Cartland novel), why don't they just have one? I say this not as a smug married woman, but as a woman who has brought up two children on her own. I know how difficult it is and I perfectly understand why anyone would refuse to make the choices that I have made.

But I see it as a choice and I see that choice as a luxury that should not now be described as a terrible problem. There is no power without responsibility. That must stand whether you are male or female. The power to control our biology means that women must accept responsibility for the choices they make.

What is so galling about the supposed Bridget Jones - which I mistakenly took to be a satire rather than an accurate social survey - is that these women are on one level success stories. They have careers, nice homes, good looks, but the men to meet their desires are either engaged, in a way that public lavatories are engaged, or second rate. Women then either have to dumb down their demands and accept the dross or be cast as impeccably dressed spinsters.

In the Cutting Edge TV documentary this week, this is effectively what we saw happening. There is a vast amount of money to be made out of all this. If you can't write a novel about it, then you can always open a dating agency. Whatever happened to the idea that it might be possible for a woman to exist in a world without a man continually glued to her side? How is it that, as we achieve greater financial independence, our emotional dependence is presented as something out of a badly written Mills and Boon paperback?

So, why are contemporary women happy to portray themselves as failures? Does a generation of thirtysomethings with biological clocks ringing away every time you turn on the TV serve a useful purpose? I suppose it does if you are a desperate filmmaker, a fundamentalist Christian, a women's magazine editor or Melanie Phillips, or perhaps a man. It must soften the blow that men are no longer officially breadwinners to know that at the end of a hard working, or non-working day, that it is only you who can give women what it is they really need.

The conversion of dippy new-age thinking, right-wing fundamentalism and the susceptibility of women to old-fashioned myths of romance is frightening to behold. Having just spent a week in the States watching a miraculous combination of Jerry Springer (My Sister Slept With All My Three Husbands), Christian evangelists and a new-age channel in San Francisco called Quest, it became clear they were all pumping out the same message: that there is a special person out there just waiting for you.

Don't sell yourself short by sleeping with anyone else until you meet them as this denotes low self-esteem. When you do meet them, sex will be ecstatic because the only true sexual happiness is to be found within a monogamous relationship. Well, this is all just great but whatever happened to women's sexual as well as financial freedom? Whatever happened to the idea that maybe one person cannot fulfil all of your needs for all of your life? Or am I just being old fashioned?

There is a link between sex and work. Just as we're encouraged to believe that there are no longer jobs for life, but skills for life, so, too, serial monogamy is the new marriage. Portfolio people surely will have several lovers over a lifetime, not just the one. We all know this is true. That is why I say that what is happening is part of the backlash - the reinstatement of an old emotional order when the economic one is so clearly changing - and should not surprise us.

Modern women should do whatever it is they want to do. In the meantime, I would like to suggest that no-one is allowed to use the phrases Mr Right, biological clock or thirtysomething. In other words, to be brutal, get pregnant or don't, just stop whinging about it. Do what Jodie Foster did, and give artificial insemination a go, if you need to. If you want to act emotionally as though you were living in the 18th century, that's up to you. Just don't demand contraception, abortion, a career or even, God forbid, a Conran sofa.

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