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Big Fertility profits from women’s pain Our bodies don't always do what we want them to

Female fertility is shrouded in shame. (Credit: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty)

Female fertility is shrouded in shame. (Credit: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty)


July 4, 2023   6 mins

The female reproductive experience is an endless morality tale. To try for a baby is to watch yourself constantly, knowing each stage of the process involves a judgement, if not on the performance of your body, then the legitimacy of your desires. In this context — one in which there is a right time to conceive, a right way to be pregnant, a right way to give birth — infertility means more than personal loss. It has a moral dimension. You are encouraged to feel that you must have done something wrong. Perhaps it is something precise: you got too old, you should have settled down sooner, you shouldn’t have had that termination all those years ago. Or maybe it’s vaguer than that. You were arrogant to trust in your female body. Of course you’d be punished for that.

The new Serial podcast, The Retrievals, tells the story of patients attending a Yale fertility clinic. All of them experience extreme pain during an egg retrieval procedure, and all of them see their pain trivialised and dismissed. It later transpires that a nurse at the clinic has been replacing the Fentanyl that should have been used for the procedure with saline. What comes through most powerfully in the first episode, which tells the patients’ stories, is these women’s impulse to blame themselves. Having been told they received the maximum dose of pain relief, they reach for stories to explain their responses: “I’m immune to Fentanyl. It’s my fault. It’s supposed to be painful”. “There’s nothing like feeling shame,” says one patient, describing her distress at hearing women who’d experienced egg retrieval at other clinics refer to their experiences as relatively painless. “I started shutting down after hearing those stories, like this was on me. Something wasn’t right with my tolerance and my ability to handle this.”

There has been a flurry of recent books, including Elinor Cleghorn’s Unwell Women and Pragya Agarwal’s Hysterical, which explore the way in which female experiences of pain are minimised and dismissed. This is true in general terms; as podcast presenter Sarah Burton comments, “there’s a balance you have to strike as a woman patient. You have to complain just the right amount to be taken seriously, but not so much that you seem shrill. Still, your pain is more likely to be underestimated than men’s.” In this instance, however, there’s an additional level of judgement. The women attending the Yale clinic compare themselves, but not to men, and not just, as in the example above, to other women undergoing fertility treatment. They compare themselves to women who do not need to access the treatment at all.

One patient, Leah, is described as having “internalised the narrative that her body was to blame. Her body was inadequate, deficient. Her body had had miscarriages. Her body didn’t make enough eggs. Her body couldn’t cooperate long enough to get through a critical procedure”: “Oh God, my body was like, here it goes again. Not only can I not have a baby, I also can’t even just lay still with the right amount of Fentanyl.” This is not just about gendered perceptions of pain tolerance. It’s about the censure that surrounds the whole issue of female fertility: which women can get pregnant, which can’t, which women can stay pregnant, which can’t.

Much of the time, infertility and recurrent miscarriage are unexplained, but like the women who cannot understand why their maximum dose of opiates is not working, we invent reasons for then, and whatever reasons we invent tend to make women themselves the culprit. A toxic combination of ignorance and misplaced guilt then makes it easier for the fertility industry to mistreat women. Patients arrive in an already weakened state, weighed down by the fear that they have “let down” both themselves and those around them: their partners, potential grandparents, any future babies, maybe even feminism itself.

Like cosmetics, fertility is a multi-billion pound industry that capitalises on female shame. It can be an intense, multi-levelled shame — particularly for the kind of liberated, professional woman who visit clinics such as that at Yale. On the one hand, you have failed to do what is, according to the traditionalist, a woman’s main purpose; on the other, you have failed to prove the traditionalist wrong by having a baby on your own terms, in your own time. In an era that prizes freedom and choice, you are subject to the restriction and unpredictability of your own body. Your “failure” is shameful, but so, too, is your desire, a desire that is so strong that you will throw yourself at the mercy of an industry whose success rates are shockingly low.

According to the NHS website, the percentage of IVF treatments that result in a live birth is 32% for women under 35. However, this goes down to 11% for women over 40, and 5% for those over 43. Statistics for egg freezing — now increasingly promoted as a workplace perk — are even more depressing. Data from 2016 puts the pregnancy rate from thawed eggs at a mere 1.8%. Women suffer a great deal of physical and emotional pain for outcomes that are in no way assured. In the Yale case, the patients do this repeatedly, even before the Fentanyl issue has been exposed, enduring the agony of retrieval multiple times. “The women gear up for second, third retrievals,” we are told. “They change their diets. They cut chemicals out of their home… Despite these efforts, some of the women miscarry
 It’s the cycle of hope and loss. It just clobbers you, and the longer you stay in it, the more that drugs mess with your head.”

What happened at Yale was a scandal because of the specifics: a drug-addicted staff member, victims gaslighted and disbelieved. But it also describes, in heightened form, the patriarchal attitudes that underpin the medicalisation of the female reproductive system. “A man’s life proceeds in smooth continuity,” wrote the gynaecologist Robert Wilson in the Sixties pro-HRT manual Feminine Forever. “How different is the fate of woman. Though modern diets, cosmetics, and fashions make her outwardly look even younger than her husband, her body ultimately betrays her. It destroys her womanhood during her prime.” The alleviation of specifically female pain becomes indistinguishable from the drive to “correct” women who are not fulfilling their designated role. “For centuries”, writes Cleghorn, “many medical ‘cures’ for women’s apparent deviancy and defiance had been punishments masquerading as therapies.” Fertility treatment is not a punishment, but it sometimes mis-sells hope. It sometimes downplays costs.

In criticising any aspect of the process, I feel unpleasantly unsisterly and finger-wagging. After all, it’s easy for me to say: I already have children. My experience of the pain of being denied is very limited. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, which prompted panic that any subsequent pregnancies would end this way, plus a kind of bewilderment. I’d “followed the rules” — I was under 35! My career wasn’t high-powered! I’d even given up coffee! — yet still lost out. I pored over miscarriage statistics and compared myself constantly to women who’d “managed” to stay pregnant. At times, I experienced the fact that every single person who has ever lived is the result of a successful pregnancy as a personal insult. Beneath my anger, though, was guilt. I must have done something, otherwise it made no sense. Like the Yale patients, I knew this was irrational. It didn’t alter my need for a story.

Since then, I have had three healthy babies, my last being born when I was 40. There is no moral, just a randomness to it. It’s one of two things those of us who obsess over making the world fairer for women — the feminists, the progressives — do not like: limitation and chance. It feels politically uncomfortable, and also regressive.

This is particularly the case at a time when a feminist politics rooted in the realities of the female body is being pitted against claims that sex is as socially constructed as gender. The latter position, which insists we interpret our own bodies regardless of the sex they have been “assigned”, implies endless possibility – you are whoever you say you are! – while also insinuating that those who continue to politicise the female body create the very limits it imposes. As Catherine McKinnon recently wrote, “women are not, in fact, subordinated or oppressed by our bodies”: “It is core male-dominant ideology that attributes the source of women’s inequality to our nature, our biological sex, which for male dominance makes it inevitable, immutable, unchangeable, on us.”

This is true in regard to socially constructed inequality — what men choose to do to women — but not in regard to what our bodies are in relation to us. They do not always do what we want them to do. It is cruel to make us feel we can think ourselves beyond our own flesh. Some things are unchangeable. Yet a feminist politics that points this out — that explores both the possibilities and the boundaries, to the point of admitting that not everyone can get pregnant — will inevitably sound mean. By contrast, the false promises of the fertility industry, like those of the cosmetic surgery industry, will sound kind.

Patriarchal narratives which situate fertility in relation to virtue and women’s “natural” role are set in opposition to social justice narratives which prize the right to be and do whatever you want, with neither side accommodating the reality of women’s bodies. Sex difference has so often been presented as the justification for restrictions that are cruel and arbitrary — and the threat of infertility so often used as a stick with which to beat women who might otherwise become too liberated — that it has become very difficult to speak the truth.

We forget that the morality tales we impose on our reproductive lives are just that. Overwriting supposedly conservative narratives with apparently progressive ones is meaningless when the supposedly guilty party is at all times the female body. The betrayal of the Yale patients is symptomatic of a culture that profits from women’s self-blame at the expense of allowing them the space to grieve. A compassionate, honest fertility industry would tell the truth, and spare women further pain.


Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

The only person I knew well that committed suicide was a man who felt shame and disappointment because he could not have children.

He and his wife had an expectation of having children, first naturally and then by the false hope of medical intervention. But medicine was never going to be able to assist him to be the father to the children of his wife. He did not invent the shame and disappointment he felt, nor did someone else force him to feel shame and disappointment. He felt shame because having children is our innate raw biological purpose: the perpetuation of our genes. He felt disappointment because we all had a childhood and can envisage the nature and nurture of a childhood we might create: the re-generation of our selves and the good things that might come of that.

To suggest that the shame and disappointment felt when one cannot have children is due to a patriarchal conspiracy to oppress women, and this is cynically promoted and exploited by fertility medics is absurd. It is offensive to the countless millions of both men and women who are trying to have children and have not been able. And it is a slap in the face of the thousands of scientists, engineers and medics who are finding practical ways to help rather than writing 500 words of trendy social sciences pap.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The conclusions I draw from this article are that, whatever oppression, blame, guilt and shame is being thrown around is almost entirely women either doing it to themselves or to other women.
In this feminist blame game men are either not involved or involved in so minor a way as to be insignificant. The author has to stretch to involve men at all and in the end does so by invoking the patriarchy. Quite a stretch.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

“In this feminist blame game men are either not involved”
Men are involved though.

In practically every medical invention or surgical development that has made fertility and childbirth far safer now, it’s invariably a man involved.

Who do you think invented Fentanyl, IVF treatment, Pethidine, Epidural, perfected the techniques of C section, etc etc….Not women, they were too busy wallowing in self pity and writing long essays blaming evil men for biological issues related to fertility.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

You might was to add antibiotics to that list.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw
Jenny Caneen
Jenny Caneen
11 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

There could also be that pesky bit about women not being allowed in the medical professions until recently.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  Jenny Caneen

Women were in the medical profession for a fairly long period. Especially considering that the medical “profession” has existed for barely a century.

And bottomline is, being male dominated didn’t stop immense progress in this field.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  Jenny Caneen

Women were in the medical profession for a fairly long period. Especially considering that the medical “profession” has existed for barely a century.

And bottomline is, being male dominated didn’t stop immense progress in this field.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

You might was to add antibiotics to that list.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw
Jenny Caneen
Jenny Caneen
11 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

There could also be that pesky bit about women not being allowed in the medical professions until recently.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

“In this feminist blame game men are either not involved”
Men are involved though.

In practically every medical invention or surgical development that has made fertility and childbirth far safer now, it’s invariably a man involved.

Who do you think invented Fentanyl, IVF treatment, Pethidine, Epidural, perfected the techniques of C section, etc etc….Not women, they were too busy wallowing in self pity and writing long essays blaming evil men for biological issues related to fertility.

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Condolences for your lost friend. By the title I would have thought this article addressed the iniquities of the global fertility industry. Missed opportunity

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan B
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“is offensive to the countless millions of both men and women who are trying to have children ”
I know a couple of parents who went through hell in medical terms because they so desperately wanted kids.

I can understand if certain women prefer not to have kids or focus on career. Their life, their choice. Some people can be indifferent about children. I was one of them, until I held my daughter in my arms.

But these people are crazy.

Last edited 11 months ago by Samir Iker
William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The conclusions I draw from this article are that, whatever oppression, blame, guilt and shame is being thrown around is almost entirely women either doing it to themselves or to other women.
In this feminist blame game men are either not involved or involved in so minor a way as to be insignificant. The author has to stretch to involve men at all and in the end does so by invoking the patriarchy. Quite a stretch.

Alan B
Alan B
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Condolences for your lost friend. By the title I would have thought this article addressed the iniquities of the global fertility industry. Missed opportunity

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan B
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“is offensive to the countless millions of both men and women who are trying to have children ”
I know a couple of parents who went through hell in medical terms because they so desperately wanted kids.

I can understand if certain women prefer not to have kids or focus on career. Their life, their choice. Some people can be indifferent about children. I was one of them, until I held my daughter in my arms.

But these people are crazy.

Last edited 11 months ago by Samir Iker
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

The only person I knew well that committed suicide was a man who felt shame and disappointment because he could not have children.

He and his wife had an expectation of having children, first naturally and then by the false hope of medical intervention. But medicine was never going to be able to assist him to be the father to the children of his wife. He did not invent the shame and disappointment he felt, nor did someone else force him to feel shame and disappointment. He felt shame because having children is our innate raw biological purpose: the perpetuation of our genes. He felt disappointment because we all had a childhood and can envisage the nature and nurture of a childhood we might create: the re-generation of our selves and the good things that might come of that.

To suggest that the shame and disappointment felt when one cannot have children is due to a patriarchal conspiracy to oppress women, and this is cynically promoted and exploited by fertility medics is absurd. It is offensive to the countless millions of both men and women who are trying to have children and have not been able. And it is a slap in the face of the thousands of scientists, engineers and medics who are finding practical ways to help rather than writing 500 words of trendy social sciences pap.

Heidi M
Heidi M
11 months ago

Perhaps it has just been a long day for me, but it seems this commentary is a bit all over without quite hitting the mark. There are indeed many ways that fertility clinics prey on women (and men). Self-blame is only a contributing factor for how that can occur. It is so not so much that these treatments make women feel they have failed by not being able to carry the child, it is that they obfuscate what technology can do and make the false promises (rooted in feminism, not patriarchy) that everything about our fertility can be simulated and controlled and can be put off endlessly until the time is just right for us. The statistics of successful pregnancy begin to hint at this. The reality is two fold: there is so much about pregnancy and fertility we still do not understand (heck we still only have theories for what actually triggers the cascade of labour!) and the fertility process bypasses key steps which the body has in place which probably have repercussions for viability. For example in each cycle a number of eggs are recruited before the body chooses the one for ovulation. It is unclear what makes that egg the best egg, but it certainly seems unlikely to be random. Egg retrieval harvests all of those eggs at once and hopes to get the viable one working in a petri dish. Even which ovary produces the egg is variable, and seems to have some relationship with fertility (I.e. as a women ages they tend to ovulate more from the left side which also for whatever reason tends to result in less pregnancies). In addition there are significant barriers which the female body (and egg) have in place to ensure only the very best sperm make it which I am pretty sure is not being simulated in the lab.

Moral of the story is, why are clinics telling people that they can somehow equal the incredibly intricate process of the body? Indeed it is unfair to tell women your body is so dysfunctional even a Petri dish can do better. Why are we telling women one of their most significant bodily functions can bend to their will and easily be outsourced as needed? Why isn’t more money and time being spent to treat fertility issues at the source rather than removing it entirely from the body? I am sick and tired of being lied to by feminists, by institutions who are more concerned with money then the good of people, and most of all when mistakes occur (like this oversight of the nurse addicted to drugs) blaming it on an individual or group (must be the patriarchy!) rather than the the actionable failings of organisational/system level procedures, policies, feedback systems, checks, culture, etc

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

What a fabulous response! Thanks for so much for that, and it’s obviously a subject you’ve given a great deal of thought/study towards. The key message would suggest that natural forces developed through evolution simply can’t be gainsaid, and it’s only through thinking we can do so that creates the psychological issues when it turns out otherwise.
For women, or men, who can’t reproduce without some form of assistance, having that assistance available as an option is a major development in human ingenuity, but without any guarantees (as with natural reproduction, e.g. children born with physical/mental impediments). Our ancestors have survived and thrived to this point, and we do the countless generations that’ve gone before us a huge disservice by giving in to the “pain” rhetoric. I’m not being critical of the author, more the whole industry of psychological distress that she writes about.

Teresa M
Teresa M
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

Excellent response. The fertility industry is particularly cruel because of the false promises the doctors and all involved make, without regard to the spiritual, emotional, and psychological well-being of the individual women they treat. A few years ago I had a running buddy who had been so seriously sexually abused by her father that her reproductive system was permanently damaged and even before she was married doctors had told her she would not be able to have children. She found a darling of a man who treats her with love and kindness, they married, and they wanted children. He was willing to adopt. She wanted a biological child of her own. They found a fertility doctor who said – and these were her words – “I can get you pregnant.” They refinanced their home to get the $40k they needed for the treatment and what followed was months and months of pain, anguish, disappointment, and even hospitalization (complications after one of the implantations). My running buddy also had to give up running during the treatments, and running was an integral part of her mental self-help. In the end she ended up having spent $40k for physical and emotional suffering added to the physical and emotional suffering she experienced growing up, and still no baby. And after her IVF experience she didn’t feel stable enough to adopt a child. I think the author of this article isn’t considering all of the evil that comes about as a result of the hubris of fertility doctors who think they can play god and produce a human life at will.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

Excellent assessment.
It’s also the case that sperm can be examined for shape and motility prior to IVF. Of course, genetic (DNA) issues may still be present but basic screening is possible.
The condition of the egg however is not as simple to assess so poor quality eggs collected during harvesting cannot be weeded out so easily.
The greatest chance of success is when the couple try for children in their 20’s. Not fashionable I know but it’s the truth.
Advanced maternal age (formerly geriatric pregnancy) is defined as women who are 35 years or older at their estimated delivery date.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw
Derek Smith
Derek Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

That’s exactly what our Gynaecologist told us when my wife was pregnant with our 3rd at 34 (we went on to have another healthy one born just before her 36th birthday).

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

That’s exactly what our Gynaecologist told us when my wife was pregnant with our 3rd at 34 (we went on to have another healthy one born just before her 36th birthday).

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

What a fabulous response! Thanks for so much for that, and it’s obviously a subject you’ve given a great deal of thought/study towards. The key message would suggest that natural forces developed through evolution simply can’t be gainsaid, and it’s only through thinking we can do so that creates the psychological issues when it turns out otherwise.
For women, or men, who can’t reproduce without some form of assistance, having that assistance available as an option is a major development in human ingenuity, but without any guarantees (as with natural reproduction, e.g. children born with physical/mental impediments). Our ancestors have survived and thrived to this point, and we do the countless generations that’ve gone before us a huge disservice by giving in to the “pain” rhetoric. I’m not being critical of the author, more the whole industry of psychological distress that she writes about.

Teresa M
Teresa M
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

Excellent response. The fertility industry is particularly cruel because of the false promises the doctors and all involved make, without regard to the spiritual, emotional, and psychological well-being of the individual women they treat. A few years ago I had a running buddy who had been so seriously sexually abused by her father that her reproductive system was permanently damaged and even before she was married doctors had told her she would not be able to have children. She found a darling of a man who treats her with love and kindness, they married, and they wanted children. He was willing to adopt. She wanted a biological child of her own. They found a fertility doctor who said – and these were her words – “I can get you pregnant.” They refinanced their home to get the $40k they needed for the treatment and what followed was months and months of pain, anguish, disappointment, and even hospitalization (complications after one of the implantations). My running buddy also had to give up running during the treatments, and running was an integral part of her mental self-help. In the end she ended up having spent $40k for physical and emotional suffering added to the physical and emotional suffering she experienced growing up, and still no baby. And after her IVF experience she didn’t feel stable enough to adopt a child. I think the author of this article isn’t considering all of the evil that comes about as a result of the hubris of fertility doctors who think they can play god and produce a human life at will.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago
Reply to  Heidi M

Excellent assessment.
It’s also the case that sperm can be examined for shape and motility prior to IVF. Of course, genetic (DNA) issues may still be present but basic screening is possible.
The condition of the egg however is not as simple to assess so poor quality eggs collected during harvesting cannot be weeded out so easily.
The greatest chance of success is when the couple try for children in their 20’s. Not fashionable I know but it’s the truth.
Advanced maternal age (formerly geriatric pregnancy) is defined as women who are 35 years or older at their estimated delivery date.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw
Heidi M
Heidi M
11 months ago

Perhaps it has just been a long day for me, but it seems this commentary is a bit all over without quite hitting the mark. There are indeed many ways that fertility clinics prey on women (and men). Self-blame is only a contributing factor for how that can occur. It is so not so much that these treatments make women feel they have failed by not being able to carry the child, it is that they obfuscate what technology can do and make the false promises (rooted in feminism, not patriarchy) that everything about our fertility can be simulated and controlled and can be put off endlessly until the time is just right for us. The statistics of successful pregnancy begin to hint at this. The reality is two fold: there is so much about pregnancy and fertility we still do not understand (heck we still only have theories for what actually triggers the cascade of labour!) and the fertility process bypasses key steps which the body has in place which probably have repercussions for viability. For example in each cycle a number of eggs are recruited before the body chooses the one for ovulation. It is unclear what makes that egg the best egg, but it certainly seems unlikely to be random. Egg retrieval harvests all of those eggs at once and hopes to get the viable one working in a petri dish. Even which ovary produces the egg is variable, and seems to have some relationship with fertility (I.e. as a women ages they tend to ovulate more from the left side which also for whatever reason tends to result in less pregnancies). In addition there are significant barriers which the female body (and egg) have in place to ensure only the very best sperm make it which I am pretty sure is not being simulated in the lab.

Moral of the story is, why are clinics telling people that they can somehow equal the incredibly intricate process of the body? Indeed it is unfair to tell women your body is so dysfunctional even a Petri dish can do better. Why are we telling women one of their most significant bodily functions can bend to their will and easily be outsourced as needed? Why isn’t more money and time being spent to treat fertility issues at the source rather than removing it entirely from the body? I am sick and tired of being lied to by feminists, by institutions who are more concerned with money then the good of people, and most of all when mistakes occur (like this oversight of the nurse addicted to drugs) blaming it on an individual or group (must be the patriarchy!) rather than the the actionable failings of organisational/system level procedures, policies, feedback systems, checks, culture, etc

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
11 months ago

I suppose that my “assigned” role here is to be the bad guy. Even though I agree with the comments and therefore disagree with the article, my own comment is unlikely to provoke any likes and likely to provoke dislikes.
As I read this article, I became increasingly irritated. I’ve spent almost forty years reading feminist material of just this sort: incessant complaining. Some complaints are justifiable, sure, but others are not. The latter emerge from a gynocentric worldview that privileges the needs and problems of women and ignores those of men. At some point, probably in the 1970s and certainly in the 1980s, feminism transformed itself from a movement that sought sexual equality (fueled by democratic idealism and the civil-rights movement), into one that sought, among other things, sexual revenge (fueled by the centrality of victimology).
Over and over again, Smith resorts to facile comparisons between women and men. I say “facile,” because they hide as much as they reveal. “It’s about the censure,” she says, “that surrounds the whole issue of female fertility: which women can get pregnant, which can’t, which women can stay pregnant, which can’t.” But childless men have faced that problem both historically and cross-culturally. Moreover, many societies have not only considered male bodies “expendable” but also punished men who rebelled or even might rebel. Here’s one more example: “In an era that prizes freedom and choice,” she says, “you [women] are subject to the restriction and unpredictability of your own body.” Tell that to men at war, even to men who work at dangerous jobs or at jobs they don’t like. Actually, physical vulnerability is a universal fact of life in one way or another and always has been. You could even say that it’s among the factors that have produced all religions and philosophies. Smith might not disagree with that. Nor does she lay the blame entirely on men; in fact, she lays part of it on feminism. But she nonetheless turns the rise of new reproduction technologies into yet another rallying cry for women in opposition to men and thus follows the pattern of FINNRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering).
But the problem that I want to highlight here is not so much misandry (which appears in the article several times, notably in a quotation from Catherine MacKinnon, and which I’ve discussed elsewhere) but self-pity. Unlike compassion, which is a moral phenomenon, self-pity is an emotional one. And it flourishes in a society that consistently glorifies emotion and subjectivity (at which women supposedly excel) at the expense of reason and objectivity (at which men supposedly excel). This article, though by no means the most egregious example of navel-gazing, was for me the last straw. Enough already.
And yet self-pity is hardly unique to feminism. By now, it has become the characteristic feature not only of woke ideology but also of other political ideologies (even though one of them, transgender ideology, opposes feminism).
Decades before the rise of wokism, however, self-pity had become a hallmark of popular culture, much of which relied–and still relies–heavily on pop-psychology. This explains the meteoric rise of a vast self-help industry and its therapeutic worldview (one that replaces moral philosophy with something that looks to me like warmed-over psychiatry).
But wait. Underlying that is, almost by definition, the strand of excessive individualism that is inherent in liberalism. Individualism as the source of rights (in opposition to the infinitely more powerful state, as it was until the twentieth century) is one thing, a good thing, but individualism as the matrix of self-pity is something else.
And even that would be tolerable if it were indeed confined to a few individuals. But self-pity has by now become an identity, something that unites individuals within collectivities (victim classes according to sex, race or whatever) but in opposition to other collectivities (one or more oppressor classes) and therefore fragments society as a whole.

Last edited 11 months ago by Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
11 months ago

I suppose that my “assigned” role here is to be the bad guy. Even though I agree with the comments and therefore disagree with the article, my own comment is unlikely to provoke any likes and likely to provoke dislikes.
As I read this article, I became increasingly irritated. I’ve spent almost forty years reading feminist material of just this sort: incessant complaining. Some complaints are justifiable, sure, but others are not. The latter emerge from a gynocentric worldview that privileges the needs and problems of women and ignores those of men. At some point, probably in the 1970s and certainly in the 1980s, feminism transformed itself from a movement that sought sexual equality (fueled by democratic idealism and the civil-rights movement), into one that sought, among other things, sexual revenge (fueled by the centrality of victimology).
Over and over again, Smith resorts to facile comparisons between women and men. I say “facile,” because they hide as much as they reveal. “It’s about the censure,” she says, “that surrounds the whole issue of female fertility: which women can get pregnant, which can’t, which women can stay pregnant, which can’t.” But childless men have faced that problem both historically and cross-culturally. Moreover, many societies have not only considered male bodies “expendable” but also punished men who rebelled or even might rebel. Here’s one more example: “In an era that prizes freedom and choice,” she says, “you [women] are subject to the restriction and unpredictability of your own body.” Tell that to men at war, even to men who work at dangerous jobs or at jobs they don’t like. Actually, physical vulnerability is a universal fact of life in one way or another and always has been. You could even say that it’s among the factors that have produced all religions and philosophies. Smith might not disagree with that. Nor does she lay the blame entirely on men; in fact, she lays part of it on feminism. But she nonetheless turns the rise of new reproduction technologies into yet another rallying cry for women in opposition to men and thus follows the pattern of FINNRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering).
But the problem that I want to highlight here is not so much misandry (which appears in the article several times, notably in a quotation from Catherine MacKinnon, and which I’ve discussed elsewhere) but self-pity. Unlike compassion, which is a moral phenomenon, self-pity is an emotional one. And it flourishes in a society that consistently glorifies emotion and subjectivity (at which women supposedly excel) at the expense of reason and objectivity (at which men supposedly excel). This article, though by no means the most egregious example of navel-gazing, was for me the last straw. Enough already.
And yet self-pity is hardly unique to feminism. By now, it has become the characteristic feature not only of woke ideology but also of other political ideologies (even though one of them, transgender ideology, opposes feminism).
Decades before the rise of wokism, however, self-pity had become a hallmark of popular culture, much of which relied–and still relies–heavily on pop-psychology. This explains the meteoric rise of a vast self-help industry and its therapeutic worldview (one that replaces moral philosophy with something that looks to me like warmed-over psychiatry).
But wait. Underlying that is, almost by definition, the strand of excessive individualism that is inherent in liberalism. Individualism as the source of rights (in opposition to the infinitely more powerful state, as it was until the twentieth century) is one thing, a good thing, but individualism as the matrix of self-pity is something else.
And even that would be tolerable if it were indeed confined to a few individuals. But self-pity has by now become an identity, something that unites individuals within collectivities (victim classes according to sex, race or whatever) but in opposition to other collectivities (one or more oppressor classes) and therefore fragments society as a whole.

Last edited 11 months ago by Paul Nathanson
R Wright
R Wright
11 months ago

I was interested in the first half of the essay, but then the man-hating undercurrent began oozing through in the rest of it. How is ‘the patriarchy’ responsible for women choosing to work high powered careers? This is not worth the (presumably Apple) laptop it was typed up on.

R Wright
R Wright
11 months ago

I was interested in the first half of the essay, but then the man-hating undercurrent began oozing through in the rest of it. How is ‘the patriarchy’ responsible for women choosing to work high powered careers? This is not worth the (presumably Apple) laptop it was typed up on.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
11 months ago

Where is she finding these ‘patriarchal narratives which situate fertility in relation to virtue and women’s ‘natural’ role.’ ?
We live in an individualistic liberal market society, not a ‘Patriarchy’.
A lot of current liberal feminism is just finding spurious causes for resentment in an imaginary ‘Patriarchy’/ invisible oppressing social forces located inside their own heads. Not a healthy way to see the world.
Mary Harrington’s new book is really good though, and outlines a meaningful feminism, within a coherent and realistic framing of our social contexts

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
11 months ago

Where is she finding these ‘patriarchal narratives which situate fertility in relation to virtue and women’s ‘natural’ role.’ ?
We live in an individualistic liberal market society, not a ‘Patriarchy’.
A lot of current liberal feminism is just finding spurious causes for resentment in an imaginary ‘Patriarchy’/ invisible oppressing social forces located inside their own heads. Not a healthy way to see the world.
Mary Harrington’s new book is really good though, and outlines a meaningful feminism, within a coherent and realistic framing of our social contexts

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago

“A man’s life proceeds in smooth continuity”
“Sex difference …presented as the justification for restrictions that are cruel and arbitrary”
“threat of infertility so often used as a stick with which to beat women who might otherwise become too liberated”
“failed to prove the traditionalist wrong by having a baby on your own terms,
“shameful…is your desire”

Considering how resentful so many “modern” women are about the “curse” of being able to be a mother and give birth, it’s just as well so many of them will increasingly manage to give it a miss.
Instead of suffering with childbirth and wasting their lives on children, they can spend their 40s and 50s on their careers and complaining about the gender pay gap.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
11 months ago

“A man’s life proceeds in smooth continuity”
“Sex difference …presented as the justification for restrictions that are cruel and arbitrary”
“threat of infertility so often used as a stick with which to beat women who might otherwise become too liberated”
“failed to prove the traditionalist wrong by having a baby on your own terms,
“shameful…is your desire”

Considering how resentful so many “modern” women are about the “curse” of being able to be a mother and give birth, it’s just as well so many of them will increasingly manage to give it a miss.
Instead of suffering with childbirth and wasting their lives on children, they can spend their 40s and 50s on their careers and complaining about the gender pay gap.

Kat L
Kat L
11 months ago

My fert doc in Houston told me that the organization he belonged to tried a publicity campaign about the realities of age but was hounded out of doing it by the feminists who claimed they were taking away opportunities for women’s self discovery. Feminism has been bad for women. I started seeing that years ago but it was confirmed after my own struggles to have babies.

Kat L
Kat L
11 months ago

My fert doc in Houston told me that the organization he belonged to tried a publicity campaign about the realities of age but was hounded out of doing it by the feminists who claimed they were taking away opportunities for women’s self discovery. Feminism has been bad for women. I started seeing that years ago but it was confirmed after my own struggles to have babies.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
11 months ago

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Last edited 11 months ago by Nell Clover
Kat L
Kat L
11 months ago

I waited too late because I as arrogant and chose to believe the fems over common sense advice of friends and acquaintances. I thought tech would save me and it did; however it was at a astronomical cost and self administration of painful shots and procedures. Now I tell everyone to find a suitable mate and rear their children up and out then pursue a career if the compulsion is there. Finding a non insane person who shares similar values is the most important thing you will do.

Kat L
Kat L
11 months ago

I waited too late because I as arrogant and chose to believe the fems over common sense advice of friends and acquaintances. I thought tech would save me and it did; however it was at a astronomical cost and self administration of painful shots and procedures. Now I tell everyone to find a suitable mate and rear their children up and out then pursue a career if the compulsion is there. Finding a non insane person who shares similar values is the most important thing you will do.

Cate Terwilliger
Cate Terwilliger
11 months ago

“Much of the time, infertility and recurrent miscarriage are unexplained, but … we invent reasons for then, and whatever reasons we invent tend to make women themselves the culprit.” Again, we forget that we are mammals, and that a certain number of individuals in every species are infertile or incapable of carrying to term. While this may be a personal disappointment, it is not a personal failing, nor a disease to be treated. How much better off we would be if we remembered we exist as part of a species, and accepted that, as individuals, we don’t always get what we want. There are plenty of children out there who need good parents; we would do well to ask what drives these costly obsessions to instead have our own.