Feminism has left middle-aged women like me single, childless and depressed (2024)

I increasingly feel that feminism has failed my generation. It is a peculiarity of the West that it is divided into sets which differ profoundly in their beliefs. This state of affairs began with the Reformation and has grown more pronounced ever since. There were Protestants and Catholics who differed fundamentally not only on faith but on practical matters. It was among Protestant communities that feminism first emerged, and it is in Protestant countries such as America and Britain in which feminist beliefs have been at their most vocal and strident in tone, like a religion with no dilution of agnosticism. Margaret Thatcher, though she would have denied it, was a feminist de facto, and no Catholic country could have produced her like.

In one of those encounters that make life instructive, I met Lady Thatcher at my late father’s house, when I was 13. She had recently become prime minister and after our introduction she began to address me, as Queen Victoria once said of Gladstone, as if I was a public meeting. The gist of her address would have been greeted with hosannas by every feminist of the age; in summation, a woman’s career superseded by far her relations with the opposite sex. (Her own union might as well have been to a cipher as opposed to a husband. Indeed, when the Thatchers dined with us, Denis withdrew to the drawing room with the women.)

At my private school, St Paul’s Girls’ School, we children of Thatcher were similarly educated out of marriage and distaff pursuits. I recall an occasion when Shirley Conran attempted to upbraid us with the words, “Paulinas do not cook, they think.” This is all very well when you are young and aspire to greatness. Shakespeare says, “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; / The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

Historically, of course, the feminist argument had valid points. In the old days, when members of my sex were bound first to their fathers and then to their husbands, they undoubtedly led disagreeable lives. If a woman had a good education, however, she could make a comfortable living and remain independent of male approval. When the desire for marriage and children overwhelmed her, she would almost certainly lose her job, and in consequence become tied to her house, compelled to perform a thousand trivial and demeaning tasks unworthy of her ability.

But the world has changed in a way the early feminist would find incomprehensible and grotesque – indeed, she would view today’s flag bearers as hollow and preposterous nothings. I sometimes think the West has outgrown the feminist philosophy entirely and should cast it off.

Where, for instance, does it leave women like me, when we have reached the age of 54, as I have, and find ourselves both single and childless? Hugging the collected works of Proust, or engaging in furtive sojourns to the pub that bring remembrances of things pissed? One in 10 British women in their 50s have never married and live alone, which is neither pleasant nor healthy.

According to a recent study by an American medical institute, loneliness is the leading cause of depression among middle-aged females. I should know, as I recently fell prey to the unforgiving maw of mental illness. This has taken me to hospital several times after I experienced impulses so dark that friends became concerned. On one occasion, I recall a nurse in A&E asking me about my plans to end my life, and replying that, like Keir Starmer’s views on women, they were unformed.

But the truth is that much of my depression sprung from a solitary existence that would be eschewed by a race of alley cats. I do not know one single woman of my generation who lives such a life and actually likes it. Our plight is like that of the Tory voter, or of certain minorities before the 1960s liberal reforms. Such people as myself lead twilight lives, afraid to go out during the day, commiserating with each other in the privacy of our homes. Now, thanks to Generation Z, we are the demographic that dare not speak its name. Readers may demur, but I have sympathy for Generation Z. I really do. Not for its idleness, but for its desire for emotional fulfilment; for its instinct that human affection and relationships are as important as work, or even more so.

Recently, after my depression became debilitating, I had a female student living in my home. She was 24 and had blue-black hair and skin that seemed lit with the sun’s afterglow. After a week of acquaintanceship, it dawned on me that the notion of not marrying and giving birth before the age of 30 was anathema to her, and, like Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, she wished to dash this cup from her lips. In short, she wanted to conduct her life like a woman.

Feminism made the error of telling us to behave and think like men. This error was a grave one, and women like myself are paying for it, like gamblers in a casino that has been fixed. We are not men, and in living the single life, with its casual encounters, we play for much higher stakes and have more to lose. I wish I had not been taught to throw the dice so high. Even Shakespeare’s princes needed someone to look after them in their old age.

Feminism has left middle-aged women like me single, childless and depressed (2024)

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