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19 Feb 2007 00:00
Kylie Minogue is not, I acknowledge, Everywoman. Everywoman does not regularly sport exotically draped jumpsuits, or find her outfits being displayed at an internationally renowned museum and art gallery.
But since her diagnosis with breast cancer in 2005, Minogue has inadvertently come to encapsulate the dilemmas of modern middle-class womanhood.
The 38-year-old singer is reportedly distraught at the idea that she may not now have children of her own, and considering the “daunting” possibility of adoption or surrogacy without a long-term partner. Although she had slices of her ovaries frozen for re-implantation before undergoing chemotherapy, time is most definitely not on her side. So it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for a woman who, for all her globally branded successes, has regularly reaffirmed that most ordinary and—in this age of single-person households, fractured families and dating websites—most complicated of desires: to meet someone to love for ever and raise a family with.
Having spent a succession of school discos in the Eighties attempting the Locomotion, I must confess to a particular fondness for this woman who began her trajectory in a time when celebrity had not yet begun to eat its own tail. For those of us who grew up with Minogue, there’s a certain safety in knowing that, beneath the glitter and the gloss, there’s Charlene from Neighbours, in a bad bubble perm and a frothy wedding dress, stepping out of Erinsborough church with Jason Donovan on her arm to the strains of Angry Anderson’s Suddenly.
But, at the risk of hanging an entire generation’s angst from her slender ankles, the story of Kylie does speak to thousands of women who find themselves wrestling with the fact that the decade in which they are ready to put their foot on the gas in their professional lives is also the one in which they should be taking partnership and procreation in hand.
Throughout her 30s, Minogue’s musical reinventions and international acclaim have been accompanied by a catalogue of romantic disappointments. It’s always appealing to the can’t-have-it-all Jeremiahs to point to the professionally stellar but emotionally empty lady in the corner. Feminism has often been described as a movement against nature. Camille Paglia once wrote: “The more woman aims for personal identity and autonomy ... the fiercer will be her struggle with nature—that is, with the intractable physical laws of her own body.” There’s still a sense that women get away with their public successes only for so long, before being punished by loneliness or infertility.
British adults, for example, are having fewer children than ever. This trend, and the cacophonous fertility anxiety that accompanies it, is a largely middle-class phenomenon. With success in the workplace, and the material benefits that brings, now considered the measure of bourgeois fulfilment, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some are unwilling to contemplate lowering their professional and consumerist horizons to raise children. The hard work of parenting sits ill with our modern absolutes of autonomy and individualism. Where once we debated how to make our children happy, now we ask whether they will make us happy.
Of course, there are structural reasons why middle-class women are pursuing their careers into their 30s, enjoying economic independence and professional fulfilment while controlling their fertility. Many are understandably unwilling to sacrifice their hard-won status in the public sphere because they are all too aware of the lowly status of mothering, and that having children will penalise them far more than it will their male colleagues.
Meanwhile, despite all evidence to the contrary, an expanding range of birth technologies that promise to ease later conception implies that any woman can choose to be a mother at any time, provided she tries hard enough and spends enough money.
But choice here is a vexatious concept. Some things cannot be scheduled—a shocking revelation in our buy-it-now, fix-it-quick, take-it-all society. Falling in love, getting pregnant and good health are three of them. As Kylie Minogue would tell you.—Â
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