Amanda writes about a Wall Street Journal piece which urges that young women in college should start investing more in husband-hunting and less in their careers. This one is by Susan Patton but the template has been used by many others before.
The conservative, anti-feminist story goes something like this:
1. All men want is casual sex:
When you find a good man, take it slow. Casual sex is irresistible to men, but the smart move is not to give it away. If you offer intimacy without commitment, the incentive to commit is eliminated. The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won't buy the cow if the milk is free.
Men don't want intimacy, commitment, marriage or children. All they want is sex (a common anti-feminist view of men, by the way). Women want marriage but not sex, and heterosexual women must con heterosexual men into marrying them.
The exchange plan the conservatives tell women to have is to refuse to provide sex without marriage.
Think of sex as milk and a young woman as a cow, as Patton does in her article. Men won't buy the cow, she writes, if the cow gives away its milk for nothing. So it's important for the cows not let any milk leak. That way you, the cow, get to be bought (and presumably fed and cared for) and this is called marriage.
What this means is that a woman must cross her legs until that ring is around her finger. The flaw in this plan is pretty obvious. There's a big market for just the milk out there. If men truly did not want commitment or marriage or children, they could find enough milk to buy or even get it provided freely.
2. Never mind that actual market. Patton argues that cows get old real fast, and any woman who spends time on her career and next promotion and so on will suddenly find herself competing with much younger women in the marriage markets!
Think about it: If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you'll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s. That's not a competition in which you're likely to fare well. If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors. Don't let it get to that point.Somehow those much younger women are not like the women this article speaks to, which is illogical and bothers me. Because if young women in college indeed are not prioritizing marriage, then they are not yet competing in the marriage markets with their older sisters (those poor deluded careerists whose eggs are beginning to smell.)
But never mind. The real point of this step in the theory is that youth is what makes women attractive to men, youth fades away, and anyone who focuses on work is going to miss the marriage train.
Because somehow "planning for a husband" is so time-intensive that it cannot be combined with planning for promotions and a career or studying hard? Women can't walk and chew gum at the same time?
That's what Ms. Patton appears to be saying.
4. The final step is to accept that men don't mind "marrying down" but women do, and that women like marrying up but men don't*:
Could you marry a man who isn't your intellectual or professional equal? Sure. But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can't keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won't find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing. And if you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.
This is a common Evolutionary Psychology** argument ("all women are gold-diggers", "all men look for brainless Barbie-dolls," and this is argued to be hard-wired in our genes). I have written several stunning take-downs of those arguments.
A better way to understand why women in the past have tried to marry up (in the sense of finding a richer husband) is because of the laws which took most of the alternatives away from women so that marriage indeed became the best career path for most. If inheritance favored sons over daughters, if guilds excluded women from membership, if the incomes women earned didn't belong to them but to their families, if universities and professions explicitly excluded women, well, how is a woman to make a living? Add to that the weakness of any birth control, and you can see why Marriage As An Economic Arrangement would have been much more central to women than to men.
But writers like Patton implicitly assume that this is how men and women are, in some fundamental sense***. She also seems to think that men won't mind having a wife who can't follow erudite discussions, perhaps because he can always talk about the Bayeux Tapestry with his male friends? The same alternative is available for those uppity college women, of course.
Duh. I ask myself why I write about any of this because Patton just takes out the conservative recipe, found under the title: How To Keep Women From The Top End Of The Labor Market: The Fear Cake, measures out the ingredients and bakes the cake. The recipe fails, because it's not based on facts about marriage rates and women's education. As Amanda points out, evidence suggests that more educated women are more likely to get married over their lives than less educated women, and the general evidence on marriage shows that it's not in trouble among the more educated or the higher earning parts of the US population.
So why aim this advice to a particular group of women? Why not write about the decline of marriage among those with less education and fewer earnings options if your job is to uphold traditional marriage?
The answer is in that name of the cake I created. None of this is about caring about the fate of young women in college but about a certain kind of social structure, the kind the social conservatives (who read Wall Street Journal) prefer to see, the kind of social structure which is reflected in the gender percentages of Republicans in the US Congress and the kind of social structure which cannot be maintained if too many women catch the brass ring or insist that kitchen chores and childcare must be shared more equally.
What's ironic about the Patton article is that in the olden days what she recommends used to be called getting your Mrs. Degree, and getting your Mrs. Degree was one of the slurs college women got thrown in their faces, along the lines that they were taking away the college places which should really go to those who plan to have actual careers. Which just goes to show that it doesn't really matter what young women in college are there for; the conservatives would rather not have them there at all.
But honestly, the funniest thing about the Mrs. Degree piece is that it assumes some weird sort of giant effort to be required to hook a husband and that the puny female brains cannot fit both falling in love and studying but must choose between the two. The next funniest (though also insulting) thing in the piece is the treatment of men as rather simple one-cell creatures which run on the need for sex and can be manipulated on that basis. Sadly, that manipulation would end up hurting the women more than men. This is not something Ms. Patton worries about, of course.
*This term is usually understood to be about education and income. You "marry up" if your spouse earns more than you and/or is more educated than you.
**The capital letters serve to define this as the sub-field of the more extreme evolutionary psychologists, the ones who like JustSo stories about the prehistory where nomadic tribal living (with very little opportunity for amassing any kind of resources except those embodied in the person) in family-based units somehow provided the optimal environment for women to develop hard-wiring which today translates into preferring older men with large bank accounts.
***But more women do seem to be "marrying down".