[Another guest post by Makeda. Before you submit comments criticizing me for writing this, please know that I just love being mistaken for a young black woman-doctor, even if that makes you look silly.]
I recently caught myself snapping at a white-haired man who simply said hello to me. The context was a leftist gathering of sorts. I find such men, greying male leftists, unusually creepy. Perhaps I've been traumatized by men my father’s age making passes at me in the synagogue, or the surprising prevalence of borderline pedophilic academics who get caught sleeping with their students, but I’ve come to suspect that all old leftist men are acting politically involved only to try to pick up younger women.
Many such men have apparently been successful at this in the past, but, ever the optimist, I cling to the hope they have managed to produce offspring in some way that wouldn't creep everyone out. And so I recently asked whether one such old man’s twelve-year-old was perhaps a grandchild, or a child adopted with a presumably younger gay partner, only to hear it he was his own son. Which leaves two choices: either the man had rented a younger woman's ovaries via egg “donation,” or he had exploited a clueless younger woman and her perky anatomy. A third, unlikely possibility, is that he had found himself accidentally stumbling into love with a woman half his age. Such things do happen, but they are statistical outliers, and given the prevalence of such untimely offspring one is forced to recognize that something more than chance is at play. Where in the world (outside of Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan) do fifty-year old men routinely get to mate with twenty-year-old women?
The phenomenon of wealthy geriatric fathers is now so prevalent in New York City that it barely raises eyebrows. No longer the exclusive domain of misogynistic cultures in war-torn countries, the child-bride phenomenon is plainly visible in the most elite circles in the US, which, to flash their hypocrisy in neon, proclaim themselves to be “progressive.” Paul Jay recently mentioned on his left-leaning Real News channel [where, by the way, nobody could tell me how old he is when I called for a fact check -D.O.] that he had a baby. I gasped when I heard that! By the looks of him, some poor woman will likely end up changing the diapers on both the baby and him, one right after the other!
Medical science has made great strides, making it possible for a few Americans to live longer and longer lives, generally in proportion to their greater and greater wealth. One only need take a casual stroll through Manhattan to figure out what's going on. I was recently out on such a stroll when I saw a lovely girl in a beautiful dress pushing a boy in a designer stroller. I congratulated their grandfather, who was shambling along with them, on his adorable grandchildren. “Actually, I’m her father,” quoth the grizzled one. Visions flashed through my head of empoverished women in war-torn Ukraine having their eggs harvested to be implanted into the bodies of equally poor brown-skinned surrogate mothers in the US, all of these women being deprived of having children of their own. Eugenics, anyone?
But I said nothing. No one wants to challenge those who ostensibly use donor eggs and surrogates. No one wants to delve into the difficult issues of ethics, and we can’t exactly put the babies back where they came from. No one wants to come out and criticize older men who are out hunting for younger wives. If we did, we might be viewed as prudish, or, worse yet, practicing age discrimination in the face of intergenerational true love. But there is a difference to be drawn between acceptance and celebration. I suspect I’m not the only one who wishes that men like Paul Jay would keep their personal lives in a closet. What these men are doing, whether they are aware of it or not, is promoting a world of rich white male privilege. Ironically, such men also attempt to portray themselves as simultaneous feminists and saviors of women. I’ve had many conversations with older men about why they date younger women. Many see themselves as “helping” younger women by providing financial support. Apparently these sugar daddies live in a mental world in which it is unimaginable that a woman might find ways to feed herself other than by sleeping with older men. Other older men simply admit they can’t get it off with their own saggy, wrinkly peers. (This, by the way, is simply nature's way of telling them that it's time to stop breeding). My own brother-in-law, when trying to explain the age difference between himself and my sister, said “I’m really immature.” (Perhaps the immature shouldn't be breeding either.)
Yet it would be a hopeless and morally reprehensible act to try to stop older men from having relationships with younger women. Who doesn’t want everyone to be as happy as possible? Even I sympathize, on a personal level. It seems cruel to call people out on an individual level; yet all responsibility is, in the end, individual responsibility. Looking around at how men only slightly older than me have let themselves go, I wonder if I won’t be joining some sort of cougar club soon. But growing up involves making a compromise with reality—for most of us, but not for the rich and the privileged. Wealthy men apparently plan to live to be 200 while the rest of us die earlier than our parents did: the first generation of Americans who will live shorter lives, on average, than their parents will, has already been born. But the life spans of this generation are anything but democratically distributed. The best indicator of life expectancy is the ZIP code. Biology has been trumped by political reality. America has covertly adopted the crudest, cruelest, stupidest and most profligate form of eugenics conceivable: sterilizing and killing the poor while lavishing resources on unnaturally breeding the rich. When the rich cannot be bred by scientific means such as IVF, we are expected to suspend our disbelief and pretend that they can, celebrating every obviously stolen surrogate-born or donor-egg baby as if it were a scientific miracle.
But were any of you to ever set foot inside many of the hospitals that serve the poor, it will be impossible for you to miss the anti-pregnancy literature that clutters the obstetrics wards. The working assumption seems to be that the poor just have no knowledge of how avoid pregnancy, and are continually having accidents. If only we could stop all of these accidents from happening, through education, then there would be no more poor people. The lack of logic in this line of reasoning is breathtaking: if the poor are doomed to little or—let’s be realistic—nonexistent social mobility and artificially shortened lives, then perhaps having children is for them a stunningly logical life choice. Having kids very early increases the chance that they will get the support of a living grandparent. The prospects of those who obey such obvious logic seem rosy compared to the plight of women like myself, who see their dreams of parenthood fading with every student loan payment.
Given such grim life patterns, it is understandable how older men come to see themselves as saviors of younger women. Many of my peers wondered why creepy old men contacted them as just they were finishing their professional degrees. These men may have thought that they were doing the country a public service: enabling terminally indebted women with scant career prospects to survive and procreate in spite of making the terrible mistake of living past twenty-three without finding a husband.
Someone needs to tell the gray-haired rich white men’s club that if they really want to “save” women, they might consider using their considerable financial and political resources to force through social change, so that women can live biologically normal lives. They might help usher in a world in which work-life isn’t a cult to which one must dedicate oneself monomaniacally, or face expulsion. They might even start making it socially questionable for men to pursue much younger women.
Such a cultural change is far from a feminist utopian dream. Yes, we do live in a society where men high-five each other for bedding “barely legal” women, but it may not all be hopeless. Quite recently, I sat with friends in a pub. A peer in his thirties announced that he had begun dating an eighteen-year-old. He wasn’t the only one in my social circle to attempt this laughable feat. I hinted that this was inappropriate with gentle humor: “I know you feel bad to be getting up in age with no children. Is combining babysitting and dating into one activity your way to feel better?” Taking a cue from me, one of his peers dug into him. One beer later even he was laughing at himself as his friends were asking whether he was going to help his new girlfriend finish high school. It had become clearer even to him how utterly ridiculous this was. Poking fun at men who attempt extreme cross-generational breeding experiments may be the only effective tool we have. There are some men who would argue that we should not be trying to prevent such situations because, after all, who could be against “true love”? These advocates for “true love” should remember that this kind of love’s extreme conclusion is a world in which a few oligarchs have a list of ex-wives, a young new wife, plus a few mistresses and girlfriends, while they—the normal men—die in solitude.
I would like to make a very modest proposal, in the name of equality and peer-on-peer love: perhaps the next time you observe a budding relationship between a fresh young woman and a decrepit septuagenarian, you should offer not only your congratulations but your sense of humor as well. See if you can't get the whole room looking at him and laughing. After all, laughter can heal.