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A desire for commitment continuously postponed

· ​Interview with Marianne Durano ·

Marianne Durano is one of the faces of integral ecology in France. At the age of 26, the philosopher, mother of two and teacher at a secondary school has had just published the essay Mon corps ne vous appartient pas [my body does not belong to you], in which she invites women to take back possession of their bodies in the face of technical and medical progress which is sometimes too invasive.

Is building a life project more difficult for today’s young women than it was for their mothers?

Illustration by Alice Negri

For me the problem lies in the very concept of a “life project”, since it implies that life is something to project on the basis of a plan to be implemented in the same way as a production plan in a business which complies with specifications. If we conceive of marriage as a project, it means that we imagine a model of existence, of relations, a chain of events which, if they do not take place as expected will be experienced as a failure. This seems to me to contradict the notion of commitment. When we commit ourselves, we do so towards and against everything, whatever unexpected events may occur in life, while a project responds primarily to a desire to control everything. Marriage is the opposite of a life project: we commit ourselves to loving our husband or our wife, whatever the unexpected events of life may be, for better and for worse, until death do us part. If we conceive of life as a project, if we expect that all the conditions will be realized, we never commit ourselves. Because life always nips all our projects in the bud.

There is more and more talk about the “child project” in the young generation....

It’s true and this is the problem. When one brings a child into the world, one doesn’t know what he or she will become, whether he or she will disappoint us or be disappointed…. Conceiving of parenthood as a project is therefore condemning oneself to suffering and burdening one’s child with demands and expectations which go beyond what one can expect of a human being, who should not coincide with the parents’ desires.

Where does this contemporary fixation on the notion of a project come from?

From a mould shaped on the notion of a “career project” deriving from the business world. Personal life has become an aspect which people endeavour to adapt as best they can to the career plan. Women are the great losers in this representation, because the rhythm of careers in our society is opposed to the rhythm of the female body. The peak of a woman’sfertility is at the age of 23. This means that the longer women wait to have a child, the more difficult it becomes. Now, if we consider the rhythm of a typical career, the norm today is to undertake long studies with a peak in professional productivity between the ages of 25 and 35 and a certain stability at 40. Launching oneself on a career at the age of 40 is more difficult: in the best of cases one continues along the lines of what one has alreadybegun to mark out; at worst, one finds oneself in a situation of stalemate. For women to have real freedom of choice and to overcome the dilemma imposed by this anti-biological organization of work, it is necessary that there be more careers for women which can begin at the age of 40. There are two possibilities: either the work market is adapted to women or women are adapted to the work market.

And on what side do the scales tip today?

The tendency is rather to adapt women to the work market. Women generally use contraceptives to postpone the birth of their first child until they are 35 years old, even at the cost of eventually having to take synthetic hormones in order to succeed in procreating after the age of 40. Some large firms even propose the freezing of oocytes.

So one of the current difficulties for commitment would therefore be linked to the extension of the market to the private sphere?

Yes. Let us take the example of marriage. There are two ways of conceiving of marriage: as a contract or as an institution. The institution consists of saying I commit myself to respecting the commitment made whatever the evolution of events. The terms of the contract are defined by the parties beforehand with certain conditions. If the marriage is considered as a contract, this means that it can be annulled if the spouse has not remained faithful to the image his wife had of him when he was 20 or if the spouses are separated by unforeseen events in life. In contemporary society, marriage is more inclined to the side of the contract rather than to that of the institution. Among other things, our mythology of marriage and of the couple is marked by fairy tales that generally end with the formula “they lived happily ever after”. This is the end of the story as though from that moment on they awaited only death! Marriage is seen as a final point, the conclusion of the story that precedes it, whereas in fact it is quite the opposite. We need to construct a new mythology.

Do young women experience this difficulty of reconciling their career plan with their life as a mother as tearing them apart?

Not necessarily. I am 26 years old and many of my friends are still postponing the idea of having a child to a very distant future. They have just emerged from studies and from adolescence, they live in a state of permanent youthfulness. The consumer society has every interest in favouring this type of attitude, because nubile young women produce and consume more than mothers of families in the home. Therefore they live for years under the illusion that they can have control over their biological clock. This illusion also permits men to defer the moment of commitment, since the question of fertility not only does not apply to them with the same urgency that it has for women but also technical progress provides them with an excellent alibi to put off building a stable couple.

Even financial precariousness doesn’t help!

Before being employed with a permanent contract young people accumulate internships for which they are paid little or nothing, or precarious contracts. They must remain flexible in order to be able to move easily, the search for work demands it, which leads to a sort of nomadism. In addition to this, areas where work is available are located around the large cities where the prices of real estate are exorbitant, which obliges young people to rent tiny apartments in which it is hard to imagine bringing up children. Further, the obligation to be geographically flexible goes hand in hand with the invitation to a certain sexual flexibility which the logic of the market has every interest in encouraging. Getting married at the age of 22 as I did is considered an anomaly, the death of desire. When I took this decision several friends asked me: “But why do you want to bury yourself so young? Enjoy life, have experiences, you will have the time to think about it later” – except that later it is too late. It is brutal to tell a woman, “be careful, afterwards it will be too late”, but it is the truth of the female body which society today conceals behind the illusion that I mentioned above.

Social surveys, however, show that the family continues to be considered one of the fundamental structures for young people.

Yes, it is still an attractive horizon. Emotional flitting does not constitute the ideal of contemporary women who want to get married and have children but put it off until later. The increase in life expectancy influences this vision of things, but it means forgetting that, even if one lives longer, the age limit of fertility stays the same.

Today, although statistics vary according to the country, a growing number of couples separate after the birth of their first or second child: what explanations can be given for this precariousness of the commitment made?

I believe that this fragility is linked to the separation that has been established between sexual desire and the desire for a child, and thus between lover and mother. This leads to sex, pleasure, seduction and love on the one hand, and to motherhood, reproduction and responsibility on the other. Birth is not considered as an extension of the sexual act and yet the same organs and the same woman are involved. This duality of the woman, which is her greatness, has become a kind of schizophrenia. The second factor in the fragility of the bond is the romantic concept of love imposed by the 19th century – love as passion, mystery and escape. After a birth it is necessary to accept that one is no longer in the territory of seduction. The third factor is that women are not prepared to be mothers. The initiation rites of ancient societies always rotated round fertility and parenthood, the onset of menstruation, the first sexual relations and the first pregnancy. I am not a traditionalist, I do not believe that “it was better in the past”, but there was something good in the fact that the whole of society surrounded the young couple to help them accept their parental role. In this day and age the first rites are the diploma, the driving licence and the first job, rites that prepare the individual to be a producer and not a reproducer. To these three factors of fragilization must be added youthfulness. Hegel wrote: “The birth of children is the death of parents”. When we bring a child into the world, we change generations, we pass from the side of those who procreate and are destined to move aside for the subsequent generation. This is a reality very hard to accept in the epoch of the myth of eternal youth.

Marie-Lucile Kubacki

Mother and philosopher

Marianne Durano was born in Lyon on 10 July 1991. In 2014 she came first in the competition for qualification as a teacher of philosophy, she married and her first book was published: Nos limites pour une écologie intégrale, with Gaultier Bès and Axel Rokvam.

Her first child was born in 2015 and her second in 2017. In 2018 she published her essay Mon corps ne vous appartient pas, with the publishing house Albin Michel (in the photo Marianne Durano with her husband Gaultier Bès). 

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