On biological clocks, mortality and men

In today’s edition of thisistruebutsoisthat, I wrestle with the ‘biological clock’ in women and men.

In describing her new novel, the brilliant Zadie Smith comments on how changes in women’s bodies puts them in closer touch with their mortality, in comparison to men:

I think it’s an enormous power and advantage women have, this understanding of time and mortality. It’s only a shame that we often do everything we can to abandon or deny this natural advantage. I always think of the menopause: what a gift it is to women to have, in their own bodies, this piece of time-keeping which allows them to fully understand, in their bodies, that death is coming. They’re not very good managers of time, men. Men don’t have that – you see so many men heading towards their deaths in utter shock and incomprehension because right until the final moments they thought they were going to be given some kind of reprieve. Or all those powerful men who make terrible fools of themselves in old age with girls a quarter of their age . . . They’re not very good managers of time, men. So it’s an odd thing that in my generation this female advantage has been so submerged. The menopause never spoken of among young women, hidden like a curse. Everybody trying to look and be twenty-eight forever…

Fantastic insight, speaking to the interesting cycles in women’s bodies and how they operate as timekeepers for our lives.

But then a couple of weeks ago I also read that, contrary to popular belief, men also have a fertility drop off in their 30s:

Biologically, both women and men are at ideal baby-making age years before completing a liberal arts degree, before the post-graduate malaise sets in, before they ease into staff designer or assistant editor or bartending jobs, before they select photos for their OkCupid profiles, before they register at Crate & Barrel, before they choose a broker. For men, too, the fertility drop-off begins at age 30 and accelerates at age 35. Now that thirtysomethings are the new twentysomethings and it has become an urban rule of thumb that most dudes aren’t going to opt for Park Slope parenthood much before 40, it’s time to stop associating fertility problems with just high-achieving women and dirty old men.

–Ann Friedman, “The Male Biological Clock

Not sure how to reconcile those two ideas, except that it seems that today we’re all running from death. And also, that our generation has so much to sort out whenever we ‘grow up’…


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