Dependence is really not a cure-all
This post by Leslie Bennetts at Huffington Post about how the cult of female dependence is only going to get more dangerous for women in an economic downturn is just fascinating. I admire Bennetts for writing her book The Feminine Mistake, which is about the financial pitfalls and dangers of allowing yourself to become dependent by choice on a man, no matter how upstanding a guy he is. This isn’t a popular thing to say. You’re stomping on the image of the happy homemaker, which is near and dear to the conservative heart, but you’re also going to find hostility from feminists, who are afraid to violate the tenets of choice by suggesting that some choices have more pitfalls than others. Or there’s even just a fear that it sends the wrong message, like, “Housewives can’t be feminists,” which isn’t true. So, when this book came out, I feared Bennetts was going to get it coming and going, but I think feminists have mostly left her alone because she presents her information as just that—information to take into account before you make a choice to be dependent on a man. It’s true enough that people that are empowered with good information are less likely to make certain choices (god knows good information has reduced the teenage birth rate considerably), and saying so doesn’t constitute an assault on the right to make choices.
But what her post reveals is that anti-feminists find the almost obvious point that it’s generally better to have your own income stream than not extremely threatening. Megan Basham, who has written a book telling women to quit their jobs and dedicate their lives to making their husbands more successful, has trotted out the usual slanders about feminists and how they only want women to protect themselves because they’re too ugly/bitter/bitchy to get some man to care to take care of them, and of course contrasting young women who are so adorable and fuckable and totally believe that men will always be a reliable source of financial support, and old hags who are bitter. As a youngish woman, I’m offended at this characterization, and side with the raggedy old crones who think that it’s probably wise to put your energies into bolstering your own life, and treat men, whether permanent fixtures in your life or just coming and going, as equals and companions, and I’m really offended at the idea that having no wrinkles or gray hair yet means that you’re stoked to make your husband your job while he makes his job his job.
I found this revealing:
Once home, the women I know (both those who work and those who don’t) were incredulous at her position. “Her husband must have left her,” they whispered to me. He hadn’t, I corrected them. She’s been married—happily, she says—for 25 years. My pals then looked at me in shock. Well, why then, they wondered—is she so angry?
It’s fascinating that anyone would think that the sole reason that a woman might be out there trying to help other women protect their own interests is anger, and that the only reason a woman wouldn’t want to squelch her own ambitions to play Alfred (with blow jobs) to her husband is because she’s bitter. I, for one, think it’s a lot easier to avoid being bitter if you’re not in a relationship where his interests and ambitions are the only ones that matter.
Now, mind you, I’m not bashing housewives, who usually contextualize theirs as a sacrifice made for the family. Basham is saying something else entirely, which is that women are happiest if they give up those silly self-actualization desires and adjust to their god-given role to help men self-actualize. And her angry follow-ups to her confrontations with Bennetts where she plays the “I’m so young and cute and not angry” card are obnoxious, and the implication that the only reason that a woman wouldn’t want to be dependent on a man is that because no one would have her are there, even if Basham realizes that it’s objectively untrue that Bennetts is flailing about sad to be rejected from the job of helpmeet. They also put me in mind of a great post Lisa KS wrote about the slam that feminists are ugly and the only reason they’re feminists is because they’re unable to score the sweet position of being entirely dependent on a man:
They do not believe that the feminist objection to the patriarchal social structure is, indeed, a philosophical one. What they have chosen to believe is that, if only feminists could experience the wonderful benefits that women draw from living in a patriarchy, then they wouldn’t be feminists anymore! They would love the patriarchy. Even they must acknowledge, however, that whatever benefits there are to a woman living in a patriarchy, they are overwhelmingly accrued by the beautiful and the young. Therefore, goes this simplistic line of reasoning, no young beautiful woman would ever object to the patriarchy. Only ugly or old (or worst of all, both!) women might not be benefitting to the degree that they perceive women do–so by a magnificent illogical reverse of cause and effect, they decide that any woman who objects must, indeed, then, be ugly.
It really explains a lot. Many anti-feminists, of both genders, spend a lot of time dwelling on patriarchal social constructs that they loosely group under the term “chivalry,” from such minor items as the man traditionally paying for a woman’s dinner on a date to the major ones like men traditionally giving up their seats on lifeboats to women. One thing I’m unsure of is the logic behind why they think these things are such wonderful benefits to women–two reasons suggest themselves and I really can’t choose between them. Either they secretly wish somebody would really take care of them as if they were small children, even to the point where they would be willing to sacrifice their personal autonomy for it (I do know people like that, of both genders) or they think that women aren’t much of a step above children in terms of emotional and psychological maturity and therefore don’t have any real problem with exchanging freedom for security.
And that’s the conceptual disagreement between Bennetts and Basham. I’d add that Basham plays another dirty trick, which is trying to get women to quit their jobs by making them feel like having a job is an indication that you’re not secure in your man’s love for you.
But when they interrupted with predictions that my own husband was sure to someday leave me, I realized we were reaching a pearls-before-swine type situation, and my twenty minutes were up anyway.
I have my suspicions that they did not actually give her a 100% guarantee that her husband would leave her. But by mentioning it in this way, she is trying to turn off people’s logic centers and get them thinking in terms of taboo. (Even mentioning divorce is bad luck, you know, like mentioning cancer.) Sticking your fingers in your ears and singing, “La la la la la” isn’t an argument. Even though the divorce rate has gone down and isn’t 50% like it used to be, it’s still really high, and it’s just common sense for women to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Your ecstatically happy marriage is more likely, statistically speaking, to turn sour and end than your house is likely to burn down, and few of us would suggest that home insurance was a bad idea. Heart disease and colon cancer don’t even run in my family, but I’m still willing to exercise and eat well as a precaution against getting it. The irony here is that I think that not only having your own career is insurance against destitution should your partner leave you, but it’s something of insurance against the relationship breaking up in the first place. A man who realizes that his wife has the ability to pack up and leave the next day should she discover an affair, for instance, has one more reason to think twice about it before he indulges. Worse, I would suggest that a relationship built on the idea that the woman is “useful” to the man as a personal assistant and sex object is one where her value to him will decrease as her usefulness does. The stereotype from earlier generations of the housewife who spent her life dedicated to a man only to see him run off with a younger mistress when the children are grown developed for a reason.
I suppose Basham would also suggest I see men as “enemy combatants”, but in all honesty, I’ve found that the more independence you have in a relationship, the easier it goes for everyone involved. There’s already too much pressure on romantic relationships (and this is true gay and straight) to be all things to people in them, and that’s doubly true when you’re talking straight women. Much, maybe most, of the relationship angst in the world would dissipate if people were able to diversify their investments, i.e. have a variety of ways to fill your needs. It takes the pressure off if both people in a relationship are getting, say, the need to have their ambitions and desire to be important in the world validated by a career or hobby. But if your husband is your career and your hobby, it’s easy for resentments to build up. I think that if men can get over the toxic masculinity issue of having to prove what big patriarchs they are, then they also benefit from not looming so large in their partners’ life. It’s exhausting to have to be so much for someone else. Having your significant other have other things going on in her life makes things easier.
Of course, no post on the ladies against women of the world would be complete without pointing out what giant hypocrites they inevitably are. Basham has made a career telling other women not to have one. What’s good for the anti-feminist goose is not good for the audience geese. Basham gets to have her own accomplishments and ideas praised, and probably has the benefit of a mutually supportive relationship with her husband instead of the one-way street she proposes for the rest of us. If the anti-feminist marriage is so all fucking great, why doesn’t Basham have that instead of the covert feminist one she’s managed to create for herself (albeit possibly without her husband clueing into it)?