Although it was not Hewlett's intention in writing the book, the publicity that ensueded from it was the beginning of a backlash against the achievements of feminism. Women, of course, were creating this problem all on their own. The Time story, for instance, cited an iVillage survey of more than 12,500 women, who answered 15 questions about fertility. Only 13 percent knew their fertility began to drop at age 27; 39 percent thought their reproductive capacity was unchanged until 40; only one woman got all 15 questions right. The message was clear: Women had gotten themselves into this situation through their own ignorance. No mention was made, of course, of the wide array of socioeconomic factors that contributed to this trend – including the cost of childcare, or even the decline in the standard of living in America that had made it impossible for a single income to support the majority of households in America. No, the sisters were doing it to themselves.
The media juggernaut was unstoppable. Those hot independent career women immortalized in Sex and the City? They better trade in their Manolos and get real if they ever wanted to become mothers. A lot of women bought into the panic, and blamed themselves for their own irresponsibility. In a May, 2002, article in New York magazine, journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote: "These days the independence that seems so fabulous – at least to those of us who tend to use that word a lot – doesn't anymore."
"Baby Panic" became the new media mantra of 2001 —not unlike the phrase "Marriage Crunch," which had taken America by storm in a similar moment of cultural backlash. In 1987, Newsweek ran an article claiming that a woman who reached forty without a wedding ring was more likely to be struck by terrorists as she was to get married. We now know that this statistic could not be further from the truth: In September, 2007 Newsweek retracted the original story, revealing that in fact a 40-year-old woman today has a better than 40 percent chance of marrying. One can't help but wonder how many women had suffered from anxiety as a result of that article in the intervening twenty-years – or even made bad choices to stave off their punatively inevitable spinsterhood.
In 2001, Hewlett's book hit me like a punch in my unpregnant gut. Her argument hit exactly on the facts of my own situation and intensified my anxiety about my romantic and biological clocks. I was even questioning where I might have gone wrong in my choices. Suddenly I felt bad about all my career ambition and the emotional and financial independence that I had achieved. It was as if I should start listening to another, older, cultural message; a learned desperation because I was not in the proper, socially sanctioned place a woman of my age should be.