July 8th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: No quick fix for suffering Aboriginal communities

EDITORIAL: Quarantine subverted by free trade agenda

QUARANTINE: Senate blasts AQIS over citrus canker outbreak

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: WA's Liberal Opposition shoots itself in the foot

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Where did all the culture go? / Don't cry for me, Nigeria / Water on the brain

THE WORLD: Has the United Nations any future?

BIOETHICS: Should lesbians be allowed artificial insemination?

THINKERS: Thoroughly modern Mill - John Stuart Mill

IRAN: Can the West tame Iran's nuclear ambitions?

MEDIA: Propaganda masquerading as news

Something rotten in academia (letter)

Muslims who reject extremism (letter)

Under the influence? (letter)

WONDER WOMAN: The myth of 'having it all', by Virginia Haussegger

Books promotion page

The myth of 'having it all', by Virginia Haussegger

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, July 8, 2006
The choices Virginia made

The myth of 'having it all'

by Virginia Haussegger
(Allan & Unwin)
Paperback: 320 pages
Rec. price: AUD$26.95

While another Mothers' Day has come and gone, spare a thought for the 24 per cent of Australian women who, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, will never be mothers.

When ABC TV journalist Virginia Haussegger wrote a poignant article in which she mourned her inability to have children ("The sins of our feminist mothers", Melbourne Age, July 23, 2002) and blamed feminists for not warning women of the ticking of the biological clock, I assumed her mother was a feminist who had encouraged Virginia to put career ahead of having babies. Virginia's recent book, Wonder Woman: the myth of 'having it all' dispels that assumption.

Childless mentors

Virginia's mother is a practising Catholic who has six children, is involved in Catholic women's organisations and community groups, and has, with her husband, created a happy home in which friends, relatives, locals and newcomers are made welcome. The "feminist mothers" Virginia refers to are activists like Anne Summers, Germaine Greer, Jocelyn Scutt et al. Although these mentors are childless, Virginia cannot blame them: her present plight was caused by decisions she herself made.

Virginia describes a loving marriage with her first husband - but they lived in different cities because of career choices and eventually the marriage ended. No doubt her mother, to whom Virginia is close, warned of the pitfalls of living apart and encouraged her to get together with her husband and have children.

Between her marriage and her current happy relationship with a man who has a son from a previous marriage, Virginia describes a time when she embarked on a series of casual encounters with little thought of the future. And that's where her problem of childlessness originated because when - at age 37 and longing for a baby - she was told by her gynaeocologist she had "left it a bit late", he was probably not referring primarily to her age but to her damaged fallopian tubes.

Many women in their late thirties and early forties conceive naturally, or with the help of IVF. Virginia's problem was that her fallopian tubes were so damaged by chlamydia infection that one tube had to be removed, and the other was in a parlous stage. Chlamydia is a "silent" infection - those infected may not even know they have it - and the risk of contracting chlamydia is substantially increased with multiple partners.

An ironic paragraph in her book is when Virginia refers to the comments, after her original article lamenting her childlessness, by "various right-wing pockets of ardent anti-feminists, anti-abortionists, religious zealots and misogynistic nutters". Alas, if Virginia had listened to these "nutters", she might have celebrated "Mothers' Day" 2006. These "nutters" promote abstinence before marriage - not only as a moral choice but as the best health option.

Virginia's book has many stories of charming women in their late thirties, with successful careers and attractive homes, who are desperate to have children. A few succeed; but many don't, like "Carrie" who "knew her body was capable of a pregnancy having had an abortion seven years earlier". Nutters, where were you when "Carrie" needed you?

One of the nice features of Virginia's personality, which comes through in her book, is that she has only pleasant comments to make about all those in her life: her relatives, friends, colleagues and the women whose moving stories she relates in the book.

Virginia obviously has a warm and affectionate relationship with her parents and siblings, a friendly relationship with her ex-husband, and loves her present partner dearly. She pays tribute to them all in the "acknowledgements" at the end of her book. Virginia would have made a terrific mum.

Sadly, Virginia still relies on the interpretations of mentors like Julia Gillard, who launched her book, and Anne Summers, who blame the structure of the "patriarchal" work environment for the conflict women face between career and family.

However, it is not patriarchy that imposes menopause on women at 45 while men remain fertile for decades longer; it is biology.


Armed with this knowledge, women can plan to have babies in their twenties and early thirties and put careers on hold for a few years.

Yes, they will drop a few rungs down the corporate ladder; but hey, women are living to 85 years of age, so they have heaps of time to climb back up again.

And if it is any consolation to the anti-patriarchal brigade, men have six years less of life expectancy in which to compete.

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