Buyers like choice. Optional colors, for instance, make an item more appealing, offering not just a product, but a choice. The same pet bed in red, blue, or in a print or even a custom option. Because choice. We have more choices than ever before. Yet women are reporting less happiness than in the past, and this is referred to as the “Happy Gap.” The question is why. Those reporting on the study are nonplussed, since opportunities for women have increased over the years. Women have more choices than ever before for academic and career fulfillment.
Sixties Happiness Shift
We tend to look back on the sixties as all about fashion and the Beatles, yet the ground shifted. In his study of scientific revolutions, Thomas Kuhn famously wrote about the impact of a paradigm shift, such as happened in the watch-making business. Swiss watchmakers failed to switch over to the digital model – they were “stuck” in the past, in the old ways of doing things. Likewise, it seems our cultural clock is stuck in the sixties. Although we do not see people advocating “getting naked” in quite the same way they did during the sixties, we are still living the hangover of that free love era. Not just a passing trend in bell-bottoms and peasant blouses, the sixties left a huge ideological mark that perpetuated a paradigm shift every bit as vital as that when the wristwatch went digital.
Sixties attitudes are now commonplace, and “reproductive freedom” is the watchword. Women selected and then seized on abortion as the means to freedom over their own biology as the pivotal right, and gradually the medical establishment shifted to align with the dominant feminist-political ideology. And it was all about abortion advocacy, sold as choice. Options are lovely – who wouldn’t want them? Let “sister” become a doctor, lawyer, astronaut – whatever she wants to be.
The Shelf Life for Choice
Yet when it comes to family matters, it’s not really just a cost/benefit analysis, as women are led to think. Should I have a child now or later? Should I settle with this man or wait and see if a better one comes along? Life does not fit neatly into optional “choices.” Like consumers demanding extra features, women delay childbearing, even avoiding motherhood through contraception and, when that fails, abortion. Choosing reproductive freedom was the great escape from history. Yet for a woman to forfeit the opportunity of childbearing is not automatically to secure happiness. She can choose to abort her child, but she cannot so readily evade experiencing the consequences of that choice any more than she can choose to fly.
Choice itself is not making women happy – because women are offered a false choice. It’s a choice often set up as between her emotions and her body, her boyfriend or her baby, education and career versus motherhood – giving birth or aborting the baby.
In a TED talk called “The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz notes that freedom stands in for and is equated with choice. So choice begins to substitute for real freedom. Even when a choice is made, moreover, there are nagging doubts: given other options, was abortion really the best choice? Happiness is undermined, in other words, by a women’s “liberation” that amounted to expanded choice. Should I start my family now or pursue my ambitions?
Kate Spicer tells her story of adhering to the feminist abortion advocacy. She is not alone in expressing regret for a decision to abort a child only to recognize later that she missed out on giving life.
Stacking the Question toward Choice
Should I have a child or fail to prosper by placing a big wrench in my own career path and potential? The way questions are formulated, in other words, pretty much guarantees a particular response. Would you like this brand-new car? Or would you prefer to walk everywhere? Feminism continues to offer women a false choice, an either-or: give birth or abort. Rarely is any other option mentioned, let alone examined in full.
As evidenced by the 26 abortion stories featured recently in New York Magazine, abortion has not empowered women. In fact, the best that can be said is that some women may have found consolation, for instance, in exercising control over their lives. One woman remarks that after her abortion, she immediately began planning a European vacation. But do such lifestyle gains ever really make up for the missed years of motherhood?
Surprised by Parenthood
A video that has gone viral in the last week speaks powerfully of the mystery of birth and the beauty of life, too amazingly complicated, unexpected, and too wonderful to summarize in any ready label, such as “Planned Parenthood.”
And no matter how enjoyable the trip to Spain, it is women who may carry the most regret and grief over abortions; they are not fooled into thinking abortion was the best life had to offer. Here’s how one viewer of the video summed up the astonishing show:
This gave me a new appreciation for twins and how crazy birth is in general. When those elevator doors open everybody gets spit out on whatever floor and you wake up and start experiencing the universe as this conscious self aware thing taking the bad and the good and whatever else time throws at you only to go back to sleep at some yet to be determined time down the road. But twins start out together. Did you see them? They looked like miners being rescued or refugees clinging to one another, squinting. They have no idea what’s in store. We all start like that and we all end generally the same way, maybe not in the same clothes and a little worse for wear.
You’d think those two things we all share in common would be enough to put an end to all the vitriol, loneliness, and apathy and whatever other terrible pains we inflict on each other, but I suppose it’s easy to forget. We’re always somewhere between the void closer to birth or closer to death and the in between is pretty distracting. We’re strange creatures. Strange beautiful creatures. Strange beautiful terrible creatures.
The fact that we share this existence with others is something splendid. This video went viral because it gave us a glimpse of baby memory – what the baby experiences in that sheltered inner space during that sublime time in the womb prior to birth. In fact, this video reveals the baby’s consciousness of him- or herself in relation to other. Who are we to declare that personhood forms later or to pronounce our inability to recall a memory from a time of pre-verbal consciousness some kind of proof? In reality, it only attests to an adult’s ability to consider a dulled consciousness a superior form of life. This is life before we came upon it, before we could attach scientific calculations or economic valuations, and it is fantastic, fragile-resilient, and ultimately ineffable. We are privileged to witness life; parents are allowed in on the magnificent project that is life. Having witnessed what it entails, who could choose to miss it?
Note: A version of this article originally appeared as a blog post here.