This may be the funniest scene in the 1992 movie My Cousin Vinnie: Marisa Tomei, in a skintight jumpsuit on a cabin’s front porch, stamping out her frustration as she tells her long-term fiancée, “My biological clock is tickin’ like this (thump! thump! thump!) and the way this case is goin’, I ain’t never gettin’ married!” Those thumps came 14 years after the term “biological clock” got famous. It had traditionally been used by biologists to describe circadian rhythms, the processes that tell our bodies when we should rise, eat, and sleep.  But in 1978, Richard Cohen wrote “The Clock Is Ticking for the Career Woman” in The Washington Post. And suddenly, newspapers and TV shows all across the U.S. were focusing on stories about women obsessing about the need to get married and have babies before their biological clocks ran out.

In a long story in The Guardian, Moira Weigel meditates on the ways in which the metaphor has served to reinforce sexist ideas: “Within months, the clock was stalking career women everywhere. Ann Kirchheimer, a staff writer for the Boston Globe, reported that ‘the beneficiaries of the women’s movement, a first generation of liberated young ladies . . . who opted for careers, travel, independence rather than husband, home, and baby are older now and suddenly the ticking of the biological clock is getting louder and louder.’ One woman Kirchheimer interviewed, a psychiatrist, jokingly diagnosed the affliction from which she and her other single friends were suffering as –‘withering womb syndrome.’

Or consider this, from a 1982 cover story in Time:

“For many women, the biological clock of fertility is running near its end. The ancient Pleistocene call of the moon, of salt in the blood, and genetic encoding buried deep in the chromosomes back there beneath the layers of culture – and counterculture – are making successful businesswomen, professionals and even the mothers of grown children stop and reconsider.”

Weigel brings up the fact that men, too, have biological clocks. “Women and men are found to experience fertility problems at roughly equal rates, but you would never know it from reading most press coverage of the subject. Our assumption seems to be that reproduction is a female responsibility first and foremost. Anything going wrong with it must be a woman’s fault.”

READ MORE at The Guardian

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