It was starting to look as if many women might put off motherhood indefinitely. (The idea that a woman might not want to become a mother at any point rarely came up.) In February 1982, the actress Jaclyn Smith, one of the stars of the TV series Charlie’s Angels, appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Any relationship that does not “work out” – which is to say, does not get a woman pregnant by a man committed to helping her raise their offspring – brings her closer to her expiration date.At the stroke of midnight, our eggs turn into dust. Cohen insisted that virtually all of the women he knew wanted to have babies, regardless of the kinds of romantic relationships they found themselves in.In 1957, the average American woman had 3.5 children; by 1976, that number had fallen to 1.5.In the wake of the feminist movement, the development of effective oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices, and the legalisation of abortion, more and more women were delaying marriage and motherhood in order to pursue education and careers.“For many women, the biological clock of fertility is running near its end,” Reed wrote.
“The ancient Pleistocene call of the moon, of salt in the blood, and genetic encoding buried deep in the chromosomes back there beneath the layers of culture – and counterculture – are making successful businesswomen, professionals and even the mothers of grown children stop and reconsider.” The metaphor of the biological clock sounded less florid than the metaphors that followed, but it evinced the same determinism.
“There she is, entering the restaurant,” Cohen began. What there is always, though, is a feeling that the clock is ticking …
You hear it wherever you go.” Within months, the clock was stalking career women everywhere.
First, conversations about the “biological clock” pushed women towards motherhood, suggesting that even if some of the gendered double standards about sex were eroding, there would always be this difference: women had to plan their love lives with an eye to having children before it was “too late”.
Second, the metaphor suggested that it was only natural that women who tried to compete with men professionally, and to become mothers as well, would do so at a disadvantage.
We are raised to believe that female bodies are time bombs.