Archive | November, 2011

Achievement

That women are now the majority of the workforce is not a terrible thing. So how come, with every new achievement of women, there is a corresponding outcry about the “end of men!”? When did anyone ever cry “The end of women!” throughout all the previous centuries during which men were the majority of the workforce?

I know men aren’t thriving right now, for a host of reasons beginning with the economy and including a dramatic sea change in social structure. But when coverlines (and here I mean like the Atlantic’s) undermines one gender’s success by linking it to the other’s failure, they’re playing an old power game that women have no interest in: The If–you’re- not- one- up, you’re-one-down idea of power.  For one thing, women are not at the top of their game just yet: It’s worth remembering how very few women are really at the top (for more about this, see Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg’s wonderful TED talk on YouTube). And while women may be outnumbering men in the workforce, they aren’t being paid the same salaries as men.  As it stands,  women will reach the age of sixty and have accumulated a million dollars less than men of sixty who have had exactly the same job.

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Fun

For a survey I was conducting some years ago in a woman’s magazine, I asked readers:What do you think the primary purpose of marriage is? Among the options offered were the obvious ones: To have a family. Monetary stability. Settling down. Sharing a life. I offered one, though, that stuck out in this roster of noble reasons for wedlock: “To have fun.” Of the 5,000 respondents, twenty-four percent checked that one.

I’d expected some resistance to the pleasure option, since, if marriage isn’t sobering, sanctified, and serious, what is? Ever since the Puritans turned the pursuit of happiness into a frenzy of righteous self-improvement, Americans have opted for betterment over pleasure. We are suspicious of enjoyment for its own sake (pleasure has to improve our blood sugar levels). It’s as though what’s good for you long ago won out over what feels good. But what was special about these readers who chose what we called “The Pleasure Marriage” is that, when I interviewed them individually some time later, they were still having fun. Their marriages, of the ones I was able to find out about, were the happiest.

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Hindsight

One of my favorite authors is the late Carolyn Heilbrun, whose wisdom about women still moves me when I pick up, as I often do, “Hamlet’s Mother,” or “Writing a Woman’s Life,” two of her books. The title of my blog, InHeynsight,  is a rewriting, but not a rethinking, of her words—words I used as a chapter epigraph in my book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife:

 “Men tend to move on a fairly predictable path to achievement. Women transform themselves only after an awakening. And that awakening is identifiable only in hindsight.”  

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Prenups

A woman who appeared on my cable show not long ago revealed, when I announced that fifty percent of all American women will live with or marry a man with children, the following (familiar, alas) story.

She’s close to retirement and has been saving for years. Her adult son doesn’t need money, so her small stash supports the household she shares with her boyfriend of five years, a twice-divorced man  whose money mostly goes to his two young children by his second wife. My guest agreed to this arrangement, feeling strongly that his children should be his first priority, and that they could manage their household expenses together.. BUT, she says, “in  this protracted downturn, none of his money goes to our household; it all goes to his (second) ex-wife’s. I’m wondering where to draw the line. He does, after all, live here. He did, after all, make a financial commitment, albeit a small one, to our life together.”

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Ambivalence

A group of young men were complaining to me the other night about their live-in girlfriends. “In three months, my fiancée has been home nine nights out of sixty-two,” Elliott said. “The other nights she’s playing tennis, learning French, seeing her friends.”

“That’s terrific,” I said.

“What’s so terrific? I never see her.”

So I got to thinking about the difference between a man’s desire for more “space” and a woman’s. We ‘ll readily call his “commitmentphobia,” “intimacy problems” and “terror of dependence.” We (make that I) champion hers as “autonomy,”  “independence” and “growth.” I think it’s because for so long, a man’s “I need more space,” was a creepy code phrase for “I’m outtahere.”  A woman, though, tends to mean that she needs more independence, more room for growth and self-expansion within the relationship. 

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