John Doe v. the Feminists: Do NYC women only want to be "wined and dined" and not have kids?
Updated: Jan 13
My friend John says an under-discussed issue with NYC dating is women want to be “wined and dined” but don’t want to have kids. My view on his view and why I regret leaving NYC to have kids.
I met “John” at college over twenty years ago. He was a senior, caught up in forging ahead in the investment world. I was a freshman, idyllic and completely enamored with my first love, who would soon be my husband. Our paths diverged, him pursuing the bachelor life in NYC, me marrying at twenty-one, finishing law school, buying a house in the suburbs. But in our late twenties, our paths merged again, this time in NYC, my husband and I and our two dogs living the “DINK” lifestyle - double income, no kids. John was our guide to wild nights at Soho night clubs. But after several years of working and playing hard, my husband and I decided to start a family. After working sixty hours a week and losing my first pregnancy, we relocated to Florida to live a lifestyle more conducive to parenthood. John, however, stayed in the city, enjoying the nightlife carefree. He had plenty of time to cultivate relationships and begin a family—years even, he had said.
Now at forty-five, he’s still single. Objectively, he’s an amazing catch, high income earner, decent human being, stands on the subway if he sees a pregnant woman, takes his parents on vacations to Europe. But he can’t find a woman willing to begin a family in the maze of middle-aged “feminists” inhabiting NYC. He says an under-discussed issue with NYC dating is women want to be “wined and dined” but don’t want to have kids. He believes that feminism has fooled thirty-year-old women into thinking they should focus on their careers and that they have time to wait for marriage and a family but biologically they can’t wait. He worries a whole generation of childless women will realize in their seventies that “feminism” robbed them of their chance at motherhood, and that their foregoing parenthood will ultimately hurt us as a society.
I digest John’s statements, while refereeing a spitball fight between two of my children, but otherwise remain stoic. He believes, as a woman who left her corporate litigation job in her thirties to pursue a family, I will see his point. However, I don’t. Feminism isn’t robbing women of motherhood and society of the benefits of youthful reproduction. The patriarchy, defined as the male ruling class predominately responsible for passing our laws and establishing corporate culture, does nothing to encourage women to choose motherhood. Women who leave the workforce to have children do so without any protection for their long-term financial security, and the working mother is the embodiment of the Myth of Sisyphus, destined to push a boulder up a mountain and have it roll back on them time and time again. This is why women are hesitant to take the motherhood path.
As a woman who left her high paying job to be a stay-at-home mom, I am keenly aware how little society values my decision to choose motherhood over a career. After working a sixty-hour week doing deposition prep, I woke to find my hopes and dreams red and murky in the toilet, my first baby gone before fourteen weeks. Reluctant to tell my supervising partners I was newly pregnant, I powered on. That was my job. That is what they paid me to do. I wasn’t paid to grow new life, although according to John my pregnancy was for the good of humanity. Riddled with guilt and only thirty, I resigned my position and headed south with my husband. He took on a new job that required extensive travel, and I focused on beginning our family. Thirteen years in, I am the mother of three children, but I am in an extremely vulnerable position financially and professionally.
Through my job as a legal aid attorney helping other women, I learned the law does not protect stay-at-home moms in divorce. In Florida, little to no alimony is provided to spouses in short-term marriages. Child custody is often split, minimizing the support payments the primary caretaker, generally a woman, receives. When reviewing case law, judges often do not define child rearing as “work” with any actual value, and act like the parent who stayed home can resume working to provide for themselves while ignoring the effect a long gap between employment can have on their earning capacity. My husband’s salary soared with me at home cultivating his family while he traveled for work. Mine fell stagnant. Even if I resume working now, I will not be able to pick up where I left off, making a robust salary. Ultimately, my husband could leave me tomorrow for any reason, and he’ll get the benefit of having beautifully raised children and retain most of his income, and I’ll be cast back into the working world at meager wages. Not getting enough years of lawyering in under my belt before having children has made it difficult for me to resume my career.
According to John, society needs women to have children, but the reality is the workforce doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by us actually having said children. Our government and most corporations are dominated by men, and without a level of descriptive representation, our laws and corporate structure still do not adequately represent and protect women in the workplace. We are one of the only countries in the developed world without paid maternal leave, something continually voted down by the men who control Congress. Women left the work force in droves during Covid, forced to be the primary caretaker of their children during the shutdown. Just like I did not tell my partners about my pregnancy out of fear of judgment or reprisal, women know in the corporate world, and in the working world generally, pregnancy and motherhood are considered undesirable. Even women who never plan on having children will be overlooked for promotions out of fear that one day they will procreate—and require time off to take their offspring to sick appointments and school plays. (See Andie Kramer, Bias Holds Women Back, Forbes 2/24/2022, noting that “women’s ability to advance in their careers is systemically (if unconsciously) obstructed because they are women.”)
Furthermore, corporate culture, especially in law with billable hours, make it difficult for women to work and mother effectively. One end of the stick will eventually give, it’s just a matter of which end. The perception is that the woman should make the sacrifice, in terms of working fewer hours, meaning smaller pay checks, and ultimately smaller retirement savings. In 2019, Bloomberg noted that the median income of a single mother is $7,000, while the median income of a single father is $57,000, yet the median income of a woman without children is $65,000. My sister took unpaid leave when her twins were born prematurely and in the NICU, and her husband did not. That will ultimately come out of her retirement. My friend Jill told me that though she and her husband work the same exact job, her friends criticized her because she took a promotion requiring her to commute instead of a taking a lesser paying remote position. She said they didn’t bat an eye when her husband took a similar promotion, why should she be the one to forgo a promotion instead of her husband? Jill’s 100% right. She’s thinking of the long game—of her financial future and career prospects long after her children are in high school.
I could accept John’s premise if he felt overall men and women in their thirties shouldn’t be so career driven, if he proposed that the model of the corporate structure and its emphasis on working unlimited hours made it undesirable for either sex to have children. I believe gender bias pinning males as “providers” and females as “caretakers” hurt both genders. The pressure my husband was under to be the sole provider for our family wasn’t fair to him either. We are functioning better as a team, with him working less and helping more, and me trying to rebuild my career. But John seems to take no issue with men waiting until their forties to think of starting a family. Well into his thirties, John wanted to pursue women who wanted only to be “wined and dined,” who would be impressed by his money, but who wanted little else, while he focused on climbing the corporate ladder. And yet, he believes a woman in her thirties who behaves the same way he did acts recklessly because her biological ability to have children could be gone by their late thirties. Many of my friends and family had children in their late thirties and early forties without issue, but who’s to say that biology won’t begin correcting itself—pushing fertility later and later in women as we chose to hold off having children. Women can also have children in other ways, through surrogacy and adoption.
But John blaming “feminism” for declining birth rates ignores the fact that men still largely control the law and corporate infrastructure and are not doing enough to help women choose motherhood. I’m thankful for all the women in my life who forged ahead in their careers, and who continue to light a path for my daughter and all the other little girls in our country. Some of these women have chosen motherhood, and some of have not. And for those who did not choose motherhood, their professional contributions to our society should not be undermined. Women should not feel pressured to sacrifice their uteruses for the greater good. I love being a mother, but I recognize that not every woman needs motherhood to feel fulfilled. In conclusion, no John, feminism isn’t robbing women of anything. Women are clawing and fighting to adapt to our new societal expectations of being both provider and mother with little to no framework to support them. With states limiting alimony and child support, it’s no longer safe for women to choose domesticity over their careers, and their career options are limited once they have children, so John don't just “wine and dine” these women--fight for them to have paid time off, affordable childcare, and equal opportunities in the boardroom.