More than a decade ago I floated a book proposal with the title "Women Without Men," an ironic reference to Ernest Hemingway's "Men Without Women." The Hemingway stories were about a tough world of masculine men who lived without women by choice. They were bullfighters and bruisers, hired hands and hard drinkers, even killers.
The women I wanted to write about were single by choice, too, who adhered to Gloria Steinem's mantra: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." These were women for whom career always comes first. I applauded their ambition but thought they would later regret postponing marriage because they were risking the rewards of families of their own. The senior editor at a prestigious publisher liked my proposal, but said, with a sigh of regret, that "the feminists in my shop won't let us have anything to do with it." Protecting their revolution was crucial, and nobody would be allowed to argue with "herstory."
That was then and this is now. Today tons of books describe the dilemma of women who waited too long, didn't reckon with fertility problems, thought there would always be time to get pregnant, and now will never know the pleasures of watching their children grow up. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, authors of "The State of Our Unions" in the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, observe that in 1976, one of 10 women in their early 40s was childless; by 2004 it was one of five. Childlessness coincides with expanding numbers of singles.
The New York Times asks, somewhat plaintively, "Why are there so many single Americans?" Only two years ago in the age group between 35-44, important ones for raising children, 66.2 percent of the men were married, down from 88 percent in 1960. Of women, 67.2 percent were married, down from 88 percent in 1960. The statistics, though similar, affect the lives of men and women in different ways. Younger women say they want first to focus on their careers and then have children. Many of these women will find all too soon that they have been exiled to a creative limbo. One of the most suppressed facts of the feminist revolution as it accelerated in the 1970s was that the older a woman gets, the more difficult it is for her to become pregnant.
Men who want children can afford to wait, literally and figuratively. Young bachelors concede their commitment phobias and say they want to keep their freedom for as long as they can. They have bought the Hugh Hefner philosophy of an earlier era: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?