A very long piece in The Atlantic this month has pointed out several things we’ve been talking about in my books and blogs for over a decade. Which only illustrates the extreme disconnect between what has been going on statistically in this country for years and what the culture wishes to deny. The author of this piece, “All The Single Ladies,” Kate Bolick, tells us many things, among which are that marriage has changed. That women, who are on the ascent in the workplace, no longer need men to put a roof over their heads, which frees them to choose men for emotional rather than strictly financial reasons. That many men, who are not on the ascent in the workplace and aren’t earning as much as they once did, are not as traditionally “eligible” as husband material of yore…which means choosing a husband for financial reasons isn’t a winning proposition. That traditional marriage was predicated on the men-as-provider; women-as-nurturer model, and if we still have a yearning for that model, we have a decidedly shrinking chance of getting it.
First, notice how The Atlantic entitled its two major articles this year regarding women’s ascent in the workplace and the shifts in the marriage landscape. The first was “The End of Men?”, and this one, “All The Single Ladies.” Both are Scare Titles, reminiscent of newspaper headlines in the 80s that sent those women hoping to find husbands OUT of the workplace and back into the home, while recapitulating the preposterous idea that if women do well, men plummet. I wouldn’t have thought The Atlantic would have succumbed to this tiresome approach, but there you are. Let’s be clear: Women’s rise in the workplace is hardly The End of Men, any more than men’s historic dominance in the workplace ever signified The End of Women. Moreover, the fact that so many women are in the workplace doesn’t, alas, mean more women are running things there. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, laments, “Women are not making it to the top.” In corporations, women in C level jobs top out at 16 percent….”and the numbers are going in the wrong direction.” In fact, sometimes I think that more women in the workforce is a bit of a practical joke, giving the top brass , overwhelmingly men, more women to serve the companies’ needs… but not run the companies.
And while you’re absorbing the fact that yes, traditional marriage is pretty much over; and yes, we are now a country dominated by singles of both genders; and yes, we women can’t count on husbands necessarily to be the financial providers they once could be counted on to be; remember that choosing a man for reasons other than financial ones is what women have been demanding for over two decades. Women are the ones, after all, who have been leaving traditional marriage in droves—three quarters of all divorces have been initiated by wives for at least fifteen years. Breaking from that tradition is not bad for many women, but good.
Next time: Why this social upheaval is good for both women and men, and how we will be told otherwise.