What this rush to marriage gets you
I'm usually wary of trend pieces, but this one in Marie Claire by Kimberly Goad has some meat to it, if only because it has some research indicating that 30% of now-divorced women married knowing from the beginning it was a bad idea. I want to bring attention to it, because I want to address the real dangers that strem from the slew of books and articles and TV shows that are dedicated to making women fear that they're never going to fall in love and get married if they don't hide their intelligence, downplay their ambitions, abandon feminism, and lower their standards.
This pressure has really reached a saturation point where you can't turn around without someone telling women they expect to much and they need to tone it down (usually without an ounce of evidence). You get it from conservative scolds like Kay Hymowitz feigning concern that men don't make passes at women who wear glasses in order to scold women for getting too educated. Dating advice aimed at women is often built around the "don't ask for too much" theme. The entire whine of the Nice Guy® is built around the assumption that women's bodies are collectivist property to be distributed to men according to who needs orgasms and housework, and certainly not on the basis of what the women themselves want. Entire books have been written encouraging women to marry a guy even if the idea of having sex with him makes you shudder, so long as he's a good provider. You know the drill.
I think that it's hard not to look at all this pressure and read this article and see a connection. This kind of pressure is downplayed by Goad, but at least one of the women she interviews cites misogynist propaganda as part of the reason she got married to a man she didn't really love.
Then there's the usual suspect: the biological clock. Clark's was ticking and she was ready to start a family. "The number 30 reads like an expiration date for unmarried women," says Gauvain. Not only are your baby-making years racing by, but you're leaving behind your 20s — a decade of experimentation, one-night stands, and making mistakes, professionally and personally. In the next decade, you're seen as an adult and can't do those things."
And the unspoken bum's rush to the altar makes things worse. "Although women won't say it aloud, there's often a huge sigh of relief once they get their ring," says Gauvain. "Getting engaged can be a triumph, and if he's the wrong guy, the high from the attention of the engagement can minimize that fact."
But when people create loveless partnerships out of a sense of obligation, no one benefits. I'm skeptical of the claim that the pressure on women to marry quickly and not worry too much about love, maturity, and compatability has nothing to do with "family values". There's just no family that's being valued when you're escalating the possibility of an unhappy marriage and/or divorce. Valuing families means wanting those families to be quality families where there is actual stability and intimacy.
I think the pressure for women to marry quickly is about fear and of course, sexism. And more than a little resentment of people who are assumed to be footloose and fancy-free. Take rape apologist and misogynist galore R.S. McCain's screeching retort to Monica Potts for her humorous assessment of Hymowitz claiming, without a fact to back her up, that things were better when people married young under duress. McCain really, really wants you to get married, young women with professional jobs and active social lives!
In the American Prospect, Monica Potts gets all sarcastic about Kay Hymowitz’s new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys., describing Hymowitz’s thesis:
Hymowitz argues that a generation of parents who spent their time empowering girls has left men adrift and unable to understand their proper place in society. . . . Feminism, she says, has created a perpetual child-man unable to grow up, leaving scores of women partner-less. Apparently, Hymowitz believes, positive stereotypically male traits — courage, fortitude, stoicism — can only be enforced through traditional family structures. Left to their own devices, men fall into their natural irresponsible state, unable to commit because society has sent the message that they are unnecessary.
For this, she blames women!
Whether or not Miss Potts has accurately described Hymowitz’s argument, I’ll leave to others to decide. (I haven’t read the book, so I’m unprepared to defend it.) But I will note that Miss Potts provocatively headlines her article, “Why Aren’t You Married Yet?” — and never answers her own question.
This attitude is far from being atypical among young professional women who, like Miss Potts, are in their late 20s and make a great show of being indifferent to their marital prospects.
They have plenty of opportunities, such women would have you believe. Why, she can’t walk two blocks down the street without encountering some lovestruck man who, as soon as he sees her approach, falls to his knees and begs for her hand in marriage.
So . . . when’s the wedding, sweetheart?
My friends in Washington will laugh at that. Whenever I’m at a cocktail reception and encounter a young couple (who may or may not be dating) I inevitably ask, “When’s the wedding?”
This is asked in a half-joking manner, but only half-joking. Some social conservatives merely talk about traditional family values, but I feel compelled to actually try to do something to reverse America’s slow slide into moral decadence.
“When’s the wedding?” I ask the young couples. This typically provokes laughter — 20-something professionals in D.C. do not, as a rule, think much about their near-term marital prospects — but I persist as if in deadly earnest: “Seriously, there’s no waiting period in Virginia, you know. You two could go to the courthouse in Arlington tomorrow morning and be on your honeymoon before lunch. Time’s a-wasting!”
So what does this tell us, besides the fact that McCain sounds like a horrible bore and if you see him at a party, you should either avoid him or gear up your enthusiasm for shutting down his rudeness with your own. (If he corners you and starts badgering you to get married ASAP, please feel free to throw your drink in his face and say, "Well, I never!" No one will think less of you for it.) Well, I can't know for sure why it's so damn important to McCain to bully other people into marriage. But I do know that I'm always suspicious of the hard sell.
In fact, Lindsay and I were talking about this last night. (By the way, she's blogging at Dissent now, so check it out!) The hard sell always makes me think that someone doesn't have faith in the product. Like, if you walk into a store and there's immediately 15 people dangled over you, shoving stuff in your hands, then I automatically think the product is probably shit, because they're using personal pressure instead of highlighting the actual benefits of the product to get you to buy. And reading McCain braying about how he delivers the hard sell on marriage, all I can think is he hates marriage and privately thinks it sucks and no one would get married just because they want to. His ready assumption that women want to be bullied into marriage because they're all secretly craving the validation isn't so much a real belief, but a weapon he's using in the hard sell. Reading his post, I'm so convinced that McCain thinks marriage is a miserable trap and that he's all about misery loving company that I'm beginning to wonder if he knows anyone in a happy marriage at all. You wouldn't know it to read him. I'm definitely convinced that he's bitter about all the fun he presumes that other people are having—his rant about "fornication" makes that especailly clear—and he wants to bring as much of it to an end as soon as possible.