It’s been 19 years since Susan Faludi’s seminal tome on the anti-feminist backlash of the 80s—titled, of course, Backlash—was released. The book covered a lot of ground, indicting everything from the film industry to the legal system, for waging war on American women’s rights and dignity. One of her biggest coups in the book was the devastating expose of Newsweek, for an irresponsible feature story that implied that feminism has run men off of marrying in retaliation, with the notable and completely false claim that a woman over 40 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist rather than get married. Faludi not only disproved this claim, but also attacked the larger narrative about how women are desperate to marry unwilling men, pointing out that polling data shows that men are more, not less, eager to marry than women. Newsweek was so thoroughly and famously devastate by her critique that they actually had to recant the story, albeit 20 years later and with lots of defensive caveats. They even went so far to dig up 11 of the “unmarriageable” women they profiled in the original story, and found that 8 of them have married since then, and others have decided they really don’t want to marry anyway.
You would think after an embarrassment like that, journalists and other writers might think twice about trotting out thinly disguised hysterical warnings to educated, professional women that all those brains and all that independence was going to run the menfolk off. You would think that the fact—admitted in the Newsweek recantation—that college-educated women are more, not less likely to marry would cool the jets a little. But there is no fucking way that some folks will let little things like facts and evidence get in the way of anti-feminist backlash fun. Irina Aleksander has introduced a quirky new take on the whole genre of making shit up about how American women can’t get married (at least, college-educated, professional American women can’t)—proposing that American men hate the idea of committing to those nasty female things so much that American women would be better off marrying foreign men, who are more eager to settle down. Or, to be fair, she’s narrowed it down to New York women, probably hoping the geographic specificity will shield her from those nasty facts and evidence.
Her argument has giant holes in it, even taken on its merits. Here’s how it begins:
It was the boozy hour of 1:30 a.m. during a recent party in Carroll Gardens, and the 30-something hostess was telling a flock of women a story about a friend who moved to Berlin last year, after a series of tragic breakups, and met a man who almost immediately wanted to marry her. There were “oohs” and “aahs” all around. The women had to contain themselves from outright applause.
The hostess looked over at her live-in boyfriend of several years, who was sitting across the room with the other boyfriends. “I guess nowadays you have to go to Europe to find a husband,” she said, looking at the fair, upturned faces around her.
For now, I’m going to set aside my skepticism about the idea that a whole roomful of women would be so impervious to the shame of bullying your boyfriend to love you—or at least, present a realistic facsimile—in front of company. Let’s assume this happened, and that there was indeed a roomful of people that merely lived together, and that this is evidence that no one was committed. Then what to make of this?
Jane Yager, 31, a writer, moved to Berlin four years ago and met a British man with whom she now cohabits and has a 16-month-old son (though they are not married; in Europe, American gals’ preoccupation with “getting the ring” is viewed in many quarters as hopelessly bourgeois).
By her own measure, if an American man moves in with you, it shows his lack of commitment, but if a British man does it, he’s totally committed. Perhaps these recalcitrant New York men also find marriage hopelessly bourgeois? That seems the likelier explanation to me, far likelier than assuming that all men in New York are filled with such loathing for showing that they might like a girl (which is SO GAY) that they’ll put off the wedding indefinitely. But what do I know? I’ve only lived her for a month. Maybe I’ll discover that New York men are a special breed of asshole, though I have seen exactly no evidence for this contention and have instead hung out with a lot of men who are married or otherwise happily committed to their female partners.
But what bothered me more than giant logic holes like that—and believe me, that’s saying a lot, due to my loathing of giant logic holes—is the “just us girls, OMG!” tone this piece takes. It makes me want to hand over my uterus and all pairs of high heels I currently own, just to get an exemption from this shit. The opening paragraph alone tells you how little Alexsander believes that women have a fucking brain cell beyond just those that keep your unconscious physical functioning running. Like most people, I’ve known a lot of women—old, young, stupid, smart, conservative, liberal, mean, sweet, women who actually want to be laden down with tacky diamonds, women who gave up shaving a long time ago—but I have never met the woman who would ooh and aah if a friend said, “Oh yeah, he wanted to marry me within minutes of meeting me!” I’m sure such a woman exists, but the vast majority would immediately worry that their friend has lost her fucking mind and would caution her about how men that want to lock that shit down immediately are probably the sort that will begin beating the shit out of you minutes after the wedding. And that’s a best case scenario—there’s always the possibility that he’s a serial killer with a whole bunch of dead families that you don’t know about, or perhaps that he’s a killer robot with a whole bunch of dead families you don’t know about. Point being, you can’t trust a man who wants to marry a perfect stranger. He’s up to no good. I find it impossible to believe an entire roomful of women that doesn’t have killer robot fears about such a man would be something you could simply toss together over cocktails in Carroll Gardens.
But apparently Aleksander not only finds this possible, but believes that all women—yes, even you female readers—are firm believers that there’s something just great about overtly creepy behavior that seems more like a trap than an expression of love.
Ms. Yager said. “[Here] if you were interested in having a relationship, you could show it much more directly and immediately. … We were not even living together at the time he suggested we have a baby.” Yes, dear reader, he suggested it.
The notion that men have to be dragged kicking and screaming into marriage and babies by women is a myth that won’t die, no matter how much statistical evidence you throw up to counter it. Look, by every measurement, marriage is a pretty damn good deal for men, and not so much for women. Married men make more money, have more free time, live longer, and even adopt healthier eating habits. In contrast, women have less free time, make less money, are more likely to be depressed, and even gain more weight when married. I’m not saying that women get nothing from marriage—there’s always the desire to express love, you know—but the fact of the matter is that marriage generally works in our society as a way for women to contribute labor and support for men, to men’s betterment and often at women’s expense. The only reason you could possibly think that men wouldn’t find the institution beneficial is if you believe that women are so irritating, so nasty to be around, such a drag that men are willing to forgo all these benefits to escape women.
Reader, I’m skeptical. There are many reasons individual men might not want to marry, but the idea that it’s a trend makes no sense at all.
One thing I can safely say is this: The notion that Europeans offer a safe haven for marriage-happy Americans who want to escape our oppressive anti-marriage culture is about as wrong a statement as you can make. Aleksander tips her hand a little on this, noting that there’s a lot more respect for cohabitation in place like Britain, but then she scurries back to her indefensible thesis, as if that covers her ass enough. I don’t know about men vs. women, but I do know that the European Union countries have lower marriage and childbirth rates than the U.S.. It seems that contrary to Aleksander’s claims, Europeans are less interested in marriage and babies, especially in seeing these things as something that you have to accomplish in your lifetime or you’re an incomplete, unloved harridan. I’m not saying they don’t have the bullshit squirrelly spinsters vs. reluctant bachelors narrative. I’m quite aware of Bridget Jones Diary. But if indeed there is a marriage strike of any sort going on, caused by men or women or both, then the statistics show that it’s much more likely to be happening in Europe and not in the U.S.