Teenage girls don't need pressure to reproduce

September 04, 2005|By Susan Reimer

CERTAINLY, I HAVE HEARD every argument in favor of workplace flexibility for parents of young children, and I have made a few of them myself.

There is no more important task than the nurturing of the next generation (of workers? of voters?), and parents should be given every opportunity to do that job well without giving up entirely their ability to support those children.

But I have to say that Australian writer Paul Sheehan broke new ground in a recent column published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

He attempts to make the case that expanded child care will break the destructive tension between materialism and fertility and that it is up to government and industry to do their part.

If women trust that the child-care and family-leave system will support them, he argues, they will have more babies younger and end the cynical work-spend cycle.

That would be especially true of teenage girls, he writes, who are at the peak of their fertility and should be encouraged to reproduce.

I am not kidding. He actually says that. To wit:

"There is nothing wrong with pelvic display, push-up bras, Gosford miniskirts, spray-on jeans, low-cut tops, bare legs, bare arms, bare ankles, G-strings or even buttock cleavage, provided the displayer is young enough to get away with it.

"A woman's body is at its fertility peak between the ages of 17 and 23. So when young women advertise or flaunt their sexuality, they are being driven by a force far stronger than the Judeo-Christian ethic. They are driven by the power of peak fertility and a million years of evolutionary biology."

And who are moms and dads to get in the way of that?

He makes the case that sexually active teenage girls "carry the greatest social burden of judgments, punishments, restrictions and risks because we haven't got the child-care equation right."

Sheehan says that our society has moved so far toward full-blown materialism that women are required to postpone child-bearing in favor of accumulation. It doesn't help that they don't think there will be enough baby-sitters, either.

"When the pattern of peak reproduction at peak fertility is broken, as it is now, women are forced by economic circumstances or social pressure to postpone pregnancy," he writes.

I actually had to read his essay over several times to determine if Sheehan's tongue was planted in his cheek. Maybe there is something about the Australian sense of humor that does not translate, I thought.

But one line gives him away. Sheehan says that this "suppressed pregnancy" means that Australia must depend on "imported fertility. Immigrants."

He is suggesting, I think, that if scantily clad teenage girls were permitted to reproduce like mad -- and if there were government- and industry-sponsored nets to catch the offspring -- then there would be plenty of next-generation workers to do the jobs that have been scarfed up by the immigrant hordes.

"Children are the most important asset in our culture, so society should be structured around this central reality," he writes.

Well, I don't know how things are in Australia, but in this country, teenage girls are children.

For better or worse, Americans have delayed the maturation of their children and postponed their independence so that the ripe 17- to 23-year-olds that Sheehan writes about are still learning to take care of themselves.

I know. I just dropped one off at college.

It isn't clear which problem Sheehan thinks he is addressing in this essay: Stingy parental leave policies? Unwanted immigrants? Delayed fertility and therefore reduced fertility? The shockingly provocative attire of teenage girls? Their suppression of their natural sexual drives?

Let me suggest another solution to the rampant consumerism that he deplores.

My guess is that this generation of teenage girls do not necessarily see their own future as one of the work-spend treadmill and a frantic scramble for child care.

They have seen their mothers or their aunts or their friends' mothers live this hectic life, and they are unlikely to choose it for themselves if they can help it.

I am counting on our daughters to find a much saner way to combine work and family than we, who were the first through this turnstile, were able to arrange.

I am counting on them being too smart to have babies too young.

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