... and ain't i a woman?: Marriage and career

Issue 

Marriage and career

Commercial media wisdom tells us single career women are desperate for marriage but will be left on the shelf: if women choose economic independence and professional fulfilment over marriage and child-bearing, the cost will be dreadful — loneliness, nervous breakdowns, the loss of femininity.

Newsweek writer Kay Ebeling labelled feminism "the great experiment that failed, which has robbed us of that one thing upon which the happiness of most women rests — men". In Hollywood's infamous Fatal Attraction, a high profile career woman turns psychopath in her desperate desire to become a wife and mother. Pop psych books like Smart Woman/Foolish Choices tell us women are suffering from widespread distress as a consequence of feminism.

This portrait of single career women as anxious, distressed, unloved and unfulfilled creatures, is, according to Pulitzer Prize winning author Susan Faludi, simply untrue. In her recent book, Backlash, she traces the data upon which this myth is based and concludes that they are dodgy at best and usually false.

Throughout history, she argues, when women have gained a handful of small victories, there has always been a powerful counter-assault — a backlash that attempts to retract women's newly gained power.

The backlash is set off not by women's liberation, but by the small possibility that they may achieve it. It is a pre-emptive strike to stop women before they really get going.

And what better way to stop women from making inroads on male territory than to tell them their professionalism, money and independence will leave them sick, lonely and unfulfilled?

Backlash, says Faludi, stands the truth about feminism on its head and proclaims that the very steps that have elevated women have actually led to their downfall.

Aided by meticulous research, she sets about dispelling the myths. It is not true that women over 30 have only a slim chance of marrying. At 30, never married university-educated women have a 66% likelihood of marrying. At 35 the chances are 40%. And university-educated women at 30 are more likely to marry than their counterparts with a high-school education. The proportion of never married women is lower than it has been at any time in the 20th century, except for the 1950s.

In fact, the proportion of never married men is larger than it has ever been in this century. If anyone faces a shortage of potential spouses, it is men in the prime marrying years of 35-54, where there are 119 single men for every 100 single women. Men are also more anxious to marry than women, with single men far outnumbering women in dating services.

Meanwhile, the unpublicised truth is that women don't think marriage is so great. Faludi points to methodical studies which show that over 60% of single women believed they were happier than their 90% of unmarried women said the reason they haven't married is because they prefer not to.

And the more women earn, Faludi discovered, the less eager they are to marry. Also, single women have better health and are more likely to have regular and satisfying sex than their married counterparts.

Single, working, or well-educated women are not lonely or sick. Whether they are professional or blue collar workers, working women experience less depression than housewives.

If anything threatens women's emotional well-being, says Faludi, it is the backlash itself, which works to undermine women's social and economic status — the pillars on which good mental health is built.

By Angela Matheson

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