Life Isn’t Fair

A short while ago, National Public Radio ran a piece entitled, “Many Women Underestimate Fertility Clock’s Clang.” It related the results of a recent study showing that most women are ignorant of the young age at which one’s chances of easily conceiving begin rapidly falling. Women who heed the prevalent cry to concentrate on their careers or focus on fun in their twenties are often shocked and saddened when they find that they may have missed a fertility window.

I give credit to NPR (which is different than saying that I think NPR should be taxpayer funded, but that’s another matter) for covering this story. As they report, there was a “vicious backlash” by women’s rights groups to an ad campaign ten years ago which was designed to make women aware of their bodies’ timetable. It seems that some groups feel that vast efforts should be made to educate women about how much they can achieve professionally while keeping them ignorant of the possible price of that achievement.

All choices have consequence; “having it all” just isn’t always possible.  While feminism led to some positive and necessary changes, many of us would argue that it resulted in quite a number of negative ones as well.   The twin sirens of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ lead many into troubled waters brimming with unhappiness.

There was a period when one of our daughters would ask for a bowl of “Life Isn’t Fair” cereal. Not yet able to read the cereal box she heard her older siblings referring to it as “Life” and she recognized the opening word of a phrase my husband and I repeatedly used.

In a house full of young children, there was a lot that didn’t seem fair. Perhaps one child received an invitation to a birthday party while the others didn’t; perhaps the child at the birthday party missed a fun family outing. If one child outgrew her shoes more rapidly than a sibling, we felt no compunction about getting a new pair for only the growing child. While there was much that was equally shared – like chicken pox and hopefully, at the end of the day, love – there were seven children with individual talents, personalities and situations. This meant that each one sometimes got a little more and at other times a little less. The cry of “it’s not fair” might have precipitated some sympathy, but also the reply, “Life isn’t fair.” My husband and I thought that was an important life lesson to absorb; not as a call to be passive but in recognition that learning that certain realities are built into this world helps one live more successfully.

Yet the idea that life must be fair persists.  The NPR article quoted a woman who struggled to conceive for many years as saying, “The ticking biological clock is not a burden women should bear alone.”   In her view, men should be equally concerned. After all, that would be only fair.   After years of celebrating the separation of sex and reproduction and demanding that a woman’s body is entirely her own business, it seems a bit weak to yell, “It’s not fair,” when reality intrudes.

The impending Health Care legislation raises lots of questions of fairness. A great deal is unknown about the Health Care bill that passed in 2010, including whether it is constitutional and if the upcoming presidential election will completely change the rules. But meanwhile, there are a lot of ambiguities about how it will actually work. Nancy Pelosi’s infamous words that Congress needed to pass the bill so that we could find out what was in it were hardly reassuring. One could conclude that the bill is a Pandora’s Box.

Let’s posit a number of thirty-five year old women, who made different life choices. I may be drawing these virtual women in broad strokes, but I do think that the situations described aren’t out of bounds.

Amanda loved to travel and while she always pictured a husband and children in her life, she thought that both she and her future family would be happier if she satiated her wanderlust before settling down. Never motivated by money she combined volunteer work abroad with occasional short-term jobs that financed further travel. Confident that Mr. Right would be around once she was ready; she has been disappointed in the quality of men she has met since returning home. Deciding that she can raise a child on her own she is discovering that not only will child care be outrageously expensive, but even getting pregnant may come with a hefty price tag.

Casey got married during college, despite the protestations of her friends who thought she was much too young. She and her husband both wanted a large family and they now have six children ranging from thirteen down to two years old. Finances are always tight, particularly since the couple manages on one salary so that Casey can homeschool the children.

Brianna always knew that she wanted to be a doctor and met her husband in medical school. Having established their careers after years of study (and a great deal of student debt), they agree that it is time to begin their family. As older first-time parents, they are realistic about possibly needing invasive medical procedures to get pregnant and know that both the pregnancy and their children face a statistically higher chance of medical complications.

Marcy never went to college. She had her first baby at seventeen and her second by a different father, at nineteen. She was married for a short time during her twenties and had two more children. She thinks it’s ridiculous that minimum wage is so low and believes that companies should be required to provide day care. How else will she and her children have a chance to move forward in life?

Amanda, Brianna, Casey and Marcy had different opportunities and made different choices. But they are where they are. Do Casey and her husband need to pay higher taxes so that Amanda and Brianna can receive fertility treatments? Is it selfish for Casey and her husband to want lower tax rates so they can save money and travel once their children are older? Should Amanda not have been allowed to travel or choose her own employment since it delayed her becoming a taxpayer?  Is it unfair that Brianna and her husband have an income which will allow them access to all sorts of specialists which their prospective children might need, and is Marcy entitled to the same level of psychological and medical help for hers?

Life isn’t fair. Government’s utopian and futile attempts to make it so tend to backfire. In the real world, human beings cannot be equal precisely because they are human beings with differing needs, desires and choices. Equality before the law is American; equality of outcome as a policy is the opposite of the freedom to choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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