Monday, May 18, 2009

Furor over pregnant 66 year old shows that sexism is still with us

Remember when Tony Randall became a father when he was in his seventies? Remember when Strom Thurmond became one when he was past ninety?

As I recall, there were congratulations all around. It was a great thing, or so everyone said, that such an old man could be a father.

So what about a sixty-six year old first time mother? Congrats all around like when these old guys became fathers? No, many people are claiming to be outraged by it. They are treating the story of British mom-to-be Elizabeth Adeney, a healthy sixty-six year old who became pregnant by in vitro fertilization, as some big scandal.

Do I detect a hint of sexism here? Yes, and it's none too subtle. When a ninety year old man can still make his organ work, he is lauded for his manhood. No one says a word about the fact that he probably won't be around to watch junior graduate from high school. Oh, granted there is some 'sweet young thang' involved, who it is assumed will look after the child after the old guy has departed.

But when a divorced woman, even a successful career woman who can certainly afford (and presumably will afford) to make sure that the child will be cared for in the event of her death, becomes pregnant all of a sudden she is called selfish and foolish.

Granted there are some health risks associated with a pregnancy later in life but as a doctor is quoted in the story I linked to, they are 'very treatable' health conditions.

As to raising the child, when he or she graduates from high school Ms. Adeney will be 84. It is certainly reasonable for a healthy sixty-six year old woman to expect to reach 84 (remember that women live seven years longer than men on the average to begin with.) And heck, look at how many kids now are being raised by grandparents or even great grandparents because their parents are either unable or unwilling to take care of them. Far from being called selfish, those grandparents are lauded for their selflessness. Now granted, Ms. Adeney recently became divorced. But there are many successful single parents out there so any argument that her lack of a partner will make child raising more difficult, while undoubtedly true, clearly does not count for much in the face of the factual evidence that single parents are raising children every day and the overwhelming majority of them are doing a good job of it.

I think it is great that technology has advanced to the point where a woman her age can become pregnant.

Now if we could just advance as a society at the same rate, we'd be telling her "you go, girl" instead of reserving those kinds of adulations for the Strom Thurmonds of the world.


Stephen said...

Tony Randall died when his children were 6 & 7 years old.

I don't think this is sexism. It sounds like the same criticism you hear against the octomom.

Eli Blake said...


The criticism against Octomom (which I don't buy into by the way) is that she didn't have the financial wherewithal to provide for them and ended up getting assistance from the state. Since California is in a major budgetary crisis she became a convenient target for people who are angry about public assistance.

And as far as Tony Randall, I'm still not sure that's a reason not to have kids. He could have lived to 100, and I could have a heart attack and die tomorrow. It's a game of odds in other words and I'm not sure there is a specific age at which you say the odds that you won't make it are too high. And like I said in the post, Ms. Adeney is a healthy sixty-six year old woman so her odds of making it to 84 are actually pretty good, and even if she does not she apparently is well enough off to guarantee that her child will be taken care of whether she is around to see to it personally or not.

My main point though is that there is a double standard here. If you want to argue that there is an age that is too old then you can so argue, but when Randall became a father nobody was anything but congratulatory. It's only the women that get second guessed.

Ben said...

There are compelling biological reasons why it's not advisable for women past middle age to have children. Ask any doctor. As for older fathers, well, they usually have much younger wives, don't they? And since it's the women who have the wombs and the breasts it's much more important that their bodies that need be young for child bearing. It's simple biology girls, get over it.

sandyh said...

OK, fellows. Here's the woman's perspective: Nothing is better than grandchildren.

It seems to me that most of these pregnancies by older women are because the parents want an heir. Security in older age? Wanting some kind of legacy? Just plain lonely or thinking they missed out on something?

Whatever. It's their business, imho.

But I sure wouldn't want to be a den mother at that age...well, actually she would be about 73 by the time the child reached that age.

Have you ever known a grandmother who babysits for more than two of her granchildren at a time? There is a good reason for that and even then she knows they will be going home soon.

But then a lot of young parents let caregivers raise their children, so that's not really a problem either, is it?