Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, by Melanie Notkin. Originally published in 2014. 320 pages.
The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one. However, we’ll start with an overview of what the book is about as opposed to what it purports to be about, which is how the increasing number of childless women in our culture can live fulfilling lives of contribution.
Otherhood, a title I ran across while reading an article somewhere, piqued my curiosity for reasons that have little to do with being a modern woman longing for a new kind of happiness. Perfectly content with my old-fashioned kind of happiness, I sought this book out because of my intense interest in what it takes to build community across all lines. Community, of the real life, flesh and blood variety, is something I think a lot about.
In our current culture, where marriage rates are plummeting for all kinds of reasons, how can families integrate single, childless people into our lives seamlessly in ways that increase cohesiveness, and perhaps even create opportunities for people of like faith and values to meet and form families? The fact that this author is reportedly a devout traditional Jewish woman came back to bite me because the tone of the book was anything but that of a traditional religious woman.
This tome was a big, long lament about the treacherous and unfriendly water that the New York City sexual marketplace is for a single woman looking for love and marriage. True love of course, and nothing less, and how her refusal to marry a man she doesn’t want to have sex with after 20 years of looking makes her a victim of “circumstantial infertility”. Mind you, however, none of this means she is looking for a Prince Charming (language alert):
“I mean, is Prince Charming really the kind of man who seems like he knows how to have great sex? Because he doesn’t seem like that to me.” He seems like a great-looking guy who got lucky being born into royalty. I’m not attracted to lucky. I’m attracted to hard work. Hard work is much more f*ck-able than luck-able.”
Not being aware of the latest authority on cultural hot topics has come back to bite me on many occasions, and this was another one. If I had taken the time before reading this 300+ page whine-fest, I would have been fully aware of what I could expect from Otherhood and its author’s schtick.
Of the 28 chapters in this book, fully 19 of them were about the heartbreak and hazards of dating in NYC. Does the state of affairs in NYC surprise anyone besides the author and her friends who contributed stories to this book?
The only chapter which even began to touch on the subject I was interested in was near the end, titled “Savvy Aunties”. That particular chapter was about the ways that women whose maternal instinct was never allowed to give physical birth could be manifested in myriad ways to the children they know and love and even those they don’t who just need love.
To Notkin’s credit, she steadfastly refused to take the advice of her friends and colleagues who implored to either have a baby on her own, or marry a man with whom she had no desire to build a life whatsoever for the sake of having a baby. Unfortunately, she was so obsessed with first date chemistry that she dismissed a lot of men with whom she might have been able to build a beautiful traditional Jewish family.
In the end, despite all her protestations to the contrary, she wasn’t as traditional as she thought she was. And while I am fully convinced that there truly are women -and men!- out there who are “circumstantially infertile” in this culture does everything in its power to dissuade, marginalize, and isolate the very people who would be best equipped to pass on religious morals and values to the next generation, Notkin did not persuade me that she was among that number. She wasted a valuable opportunity.
Traditional Judaism with a side of Sex in the City is not a recipe that encourages family formation nor strong families.
Like said, the cognitive dissonance was strong in this one.
2 out of 5 stars.
content advisory: Smatterings of frank sex talk, but nothing overly graphic or over the top.