Monday, May 5, 2014

Why Is It Always Thought of As A Feminist Choice?

No matter how much I try to ignore "Princeton Mom", Susan Patton, she just won't go away.  She inflicts herself on the news media and consumers of media continue to give her an audience while pundits and reporters still give her interviews.

For those of you living under a rock and don't know what I'm talking about, Princeton Mom, is a divorced mother of two who now preaches that women should never hesitate to marry and that they should prioritize marriage while still in college.  In other words, women should seek the MRS degree.  This will guarantee that they marry a safe, hard-working, intelligent man and a stable relationship.

I am not even sure where to begin with my issues on this.

First, the assumption here is that feminists (oh, those evil feminists) have focused so single-mindedly on their careers that they have ignored looking for the right husbands and therefore end up in miserable marriages with unsuitable men long after their uteruses have dried up and become useless.

I really do take issue here with the assumption that because of feminism, women are automatically choosing a career over marriage and family and therefore are trapping themselves into these bad marriages and childless lives.  What's missing from this argument is that plenty of women feel that they can pursue a career and a marriage at the same time.  There is no rule out there that says that if you don't marry by the time you graduate college that you now have to focus all of your energy on a career and never go out looking for a husband if marriage is important to you.

"But what about having children?  If you aren't having children right away, you're going to miss out on that chance."  That point is duly noted.  Some women may decide that children are more important than a career and quit working.  Some women might decide to "mommy track" their careers.  Some women might just hire a nanny and keep working at the same level of ambition.  Some might decide to forgo children altogether.  That's what feminism is all about.  It's about choosing the path that you feel is right for you. A woman certainly doesn't have to marry straight out of college and forget about concentrating on her career in order to have a happy family life.

Anyway, there is no guarantee of a happy family life once that young, post-college marriage takes place.   The Ivy League woman marries her college sweetheart and they settle down right away and have children.  They are happy because she has the children she wants and the financial stability provided by her well-educated husband.  If you live this way divorce will never happen, right?  Your husband will never cheat on you.  Your husband will never become an alcoholic.  Your husband will never hit you.  You won't ever just grow apart as you mature beyond college and realize that you no longer have anything in common.  Since this will never happen, a woman doesn't need a good career foundation as a backup plan, right? 

Even if Patten is correct and marrying your college sweetheart could assure financial prosperity, lots of healthy babies, and a stable marriage, a marriage does not always happen just because you want it to.  A woman can't just decide she wants to marry and the husband will be waiting for her.

Let's look at my own college experience for a moment, shall we?

I went to a college where the ratio of women to men was about...oh let's say...63:1.  Okay.  I admit that's an exaggeration, but there was a large dearth of available men.  Most of the guys I dated in college were not students at the same school, which meant a lot of long-distance dating (difficult when I didn't have my own car on campus) and relationships that were not all that serious. Most of my boyfriends were placeholders or just recreational - even though I would never have admitted it at the time.  I'm not saying there were no tender feelings present, but they had little long-term potential.  I finally found an on-campus boyfriend at the end of my junior year and we dated until graduation.  At this point I was seeing many of my classmates pairing off.  It seemed every week another woman would walk into a class with a diamond ring on her finger.

I always wanted to marry someday.  I liked the idea of marriage.  I thought it was cool to have a partner to go through life with.  I always tried to be practical about it though.  I knew that maturity and financial stability were huge factors in making a marriage successful.  I knew that planning to marry at that stage in my life was not a wise idea.  I had no job and no prospects.  I would be bringing nothing to a future marriage other than a massive student loan debt.  My boyfriend agreed with me.  Furthermore, even though he was known to utter a wistful, "I sometimes wish we were older..." he made it pretty clear that I wasn't a woman he could really picture a future with.  It wasn't just that he wasn't ready to settle down. If he were ready to settle down, I wouldn't likely be his choice.

I spent the next few years dating.  I had very few serious relationships (I admit it was because it took a long time to get over College Sweetheart).  I was also struggling to make my way in the world.  I wasn't ambitiously breaking into a high-powered career.  My focus was on just finding a stable job, paying off my student loans, and moving out of my mother's house.  Would I have been willing to marry in those days if the right person came along?  I suppose I wouldn't have refused the offer.  Part of me really wanted anything that would be a hallmark of adulthood, but I still knew deep down that marrying might not be the best idea for me.  Having said that, I probably would have married the right guy if he came along.  It was a moot point as I still wasn't receiving any offers.

Wanting to marry and actually marrying are two different states of being.  Sometimes not wanting to marry is a better decision. That decision may have nothing at all with being too focused on a career to find a decent man.  Sometimes you truly aren't ready for marriage for other reasons and it's better to know that before you even start dating someone seriously.

What is also missing from the argument is the men's point of view. Maybe men don't want to marry either.  Maybe that's why women aren't marrying young.  Women are constantly being told by both the men they date and society at large that young men want to avoid commitment and want to play around as long as possible.  We are told that men don't want to be pressured, so we back off and don't say anything for fear of scaring a date off.  How many men want to marry young so that they can start paying for children right away?

More importantly, how must that make a man feel to know that his girlfriend is so desperate to marry that it really isn't about him?  He's just a future sperm donor.  Does she love him because she loves him for who he is, or does she love him because he is seemingly the perfect spouse? If I were a man, I would be very wary of the woman who is in school for the MRS degree. 

I have often pondered whether or not it is a wise idea to put two people together who are both desperate to marry.  If  two people only want to marry, and they can't find anyone else, should they marry each other?  That kind of situation might create a marriage, but can it sustain a marriage?  Can people stay married to each other on the strength of just being happy to be married?

I have seen a few of situations where friends of mine were feeling that sense of desperation.  They saw their friends marrying off all around them.  They worried about being too old to have children.  They married someone equally willing to marry for the sake of being married, telling themselves over and over again that they truly were in love.  They're all divorced now.

Here is another personal example.  The closest I ever came to marriage before I ever met my husband was with someone I dated who was  desperate to marry. His obsession with finding "the one" seemed to blind him to what he really wanted and needed in a wife.  He was very insecure and needed to know he could find a woman who would pledge to love him the rest of his life right away.  I suppose there was part of me that was a little desperate too.  As I said above, for a few post-collegiate years I felt like my real life was going nowhere and I wanted some sign of being a grown up.  I took his offers somewhat seriously.  The problem was that he wanted to be married more than he wanted to marry me.  He was convinced he was in love with me, but he was really just in love with the idea of being in love with me.  He was able to prey on my own insecurities by telling me everything I wanted to hear.  He wanted me to know he was the perfect man for me.  I believed him because it was hard to not believe such a nice guy (and I don't mean to be too disparaging - he was indeed a nice guy) would lie to me.  I don't think he realized he was lying to me, or at least didn't realize the impact of his lies.  He believed once we were together, everything would fall into place because we were in love.  What a disaster that would have been if we had married.  It took less than a year for us to realize how incompatible we truly were and it reinforced the idea that marriage for the sake of marriage is never a good idea.

There are so many reasons why a woman shouldn't marry young, and so many reasons why a woman who wants to be married isn't.  None of those have anything to do with prioritizing a career over marriage because feminism made you do it.

"B-b-b-but BABIES," scream the opposing voices. "Feminists don't realize there is only a finite amount of time that women can have babies."

I would like to know if there are any women living in the US, who don't live in some cabin off the grid in a remote part of the forest, who aren't being told on a daily basis somewhere in the media that their biological clocks are ticking.  If you don't have a baby by (insert age here) you will struggle to conceive and once you do conceive, your baby will be riddled with genetic defects because of your crappy aged eggs.  Even if you manage to conceive and the baby is healthy, you will suffer all kinds of pregnancy complications and your old body will never bounce back.  You will also be too old and tired to properly parent your children. Women receive these messages all of the time.  I have heard many of my peers declare they will go to any extremes to make sure they have children before age 30.

Also, women like Patton like to ignore the statistics that marrying before age 25 increases the chances of divorce.  Waiting for marriage might be just a smart idea from that perspective as well.

I believe in a woman's right to make her own choices in life.  Everyone, male and female, has to make the choices in life we feel are best for us.  We can't live our lives according to what others feel we should do because their choices led them to an unhappy place.  It's not that we shouldn't take others' experience into account when making life decisions, but everyone's situation is different.

We all have the power to make our own choices, but we can only choose those options that we are actually presented with.

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