biological clock tick tock tick tock

Don’t worry, Dear Reader, I’m not feeling the urge to procreate. But I have been thinking about biological clocks lately, especially in regards to Beauvoir and these annoying pop-science culture pieces you read every now again about how the trend of delayed child-bearing is making women sad sacks. They only have so much time left… We’re taught to pity single, middle-aged women. Before meeting some happily childless 40-something women in the flesh, I was unaware of their existence.

Beauvoir points out in The Second Sex that, from a biological perspective, women are subordinated to the species in a way that men are not, what with childbearing and nursing. For men, furthering the species may take about five minutes and minimal energy, while for women it means bleeding every month, growing another little person inside you, and then producing food for it from your own body. (Now seems like a good moment for a shout out to all of the moms reading this.) Of course, humans aren’t just animals, because ‘furthering the species’ is not the be-all end-all for most people. We create meaning in our lives separate from our biological realities.

“[According to the dominant narrative,] woman is destined to maintain the species and care for the home, which is to say, to immanence. In truth, all human existence is transcendence and immanence at the same time; to go beyond itself, it must maintain itself; to thrust itself toward the future, it must integrate the past into itself; and while relating to others, it must confirm itself in itself.” (volume 2, part 2, chapter 5)

What better way to see this than to see how we treat childbearing itself– I bet few parents would say they wanted kids simply to further the species. We instill meaning in parenthood and family itself.

I’ve heard Beauvoir described as somewhat hostile to pregnancy, but I don’t really see that. I think she’s just hostile to proscribing women’s choices more than men’s, and who isn’t that? The point is that pregnancy is such a huge undertaking that it should be done freely. There’s a violence in forcing pregnancy on someone that I think is discounted even today, notably among people who want to roll back advances in birth control and reproductive rights. It’s more subtle but nonetheless present in the assumption that every woman deeply desires to be a mother. Some people do, some people don’t.

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