Thursday, November 24, 2011

Singlehood and marriage are getting better for women..and worse

It's the article that everyone has blogged about and discussed, and I know I'm about two months late, but I still want to make some notes. If you want a nuanced reading of Kate Bolick's All the Single Ladies, which came out in the November 2011 Atlantic, please go here somewhere. All I'm presenting here are the passages in this long, but fascinating article, that I highlighted. Words in italics are quotes from Bolick's article:

The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons ("something was missing") I see now is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else.

Of Stephanie Coontz, social historian and author of Marriage: A History from Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage:
She'd long known that the Leave It to Beaver-style family model popular in the 1950s and '60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn't understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.

Of how married couples functioned before the Beaver years: [t]wo-income families were the norm.

Here are the main ways Bolick sees American straight marriage and heterosexual dynamics fundamentally shifting (the numbers and words not in italics are mine):

1. We keep putting marriage off. (That is, the common age of marriage keeps increasing.)

2. We no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don't want to.

3.Over the past half-century, women have steadily gained on - and are in some ways surpassing - men in education and employment.

4. ...men have been rapidly declining - in income, in educational attainment, and in future employment prospects - relative to women.

5. If, in all sectors of society women are on the ascent, and if general parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men's overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction.

6. ...American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be "marriageable" men - those who are better educated and earn more than they do.

7. In their 1983 book, Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question, two psychologists developed what has become known as the Guttentag-Secord theory which holds that members of the gender in shorter supply are less dependent on their partners because they have a greater number of alternative relationships available to them. (Bolick points out that in societies where women are in short supply, relationships are characterized by the valuing of motherhood, homemaking and marriage. In societies where men are in short supply, there are more illegitimate children and higher divorce rates.)

8. ...the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment.

9. Today, with the precipitous economic and social decline of men of all races, it's easy to see why women of any race would feel frustrated by their romantic prospects. (Is it any wonder marriage rates have fallen?)

10. Of her own singledom, Bolick writes, If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I'd be a little...happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.

11. Singlism..."matrimania"...Those who don't want [marriage] are seen as threatening.

12. Our cultural fixation on the couple is actually a relatively recent development...Indeed, [Helen] Fisher sees the contemporary trend for marriage between equals as us "moving forward into deep history" - back to the social and sexual relationships of millions of years ago.

13. Some even believe that the pair bond, far from strengthening communities (which is both the prevailing view of social science and a central tenet of social conservatism), weakens them, the idea being that a married couple becomes too consumed with its own tiny nation of two to pay much heed to anyone else...unlike singles, married couples spend less time keeping in touch with and visiting their friends and extended family, and are less likely to provide them with emotional and practical support. (Mmhm.)

14. Coontz points out that two of the hallmarks of contemporary marriage are demands for monogamy on an equal basis, and candor. "Throughout history, there was a fairly high tolerance of [men's] extramarital flings, with women expected to look the other way," she said. "Now we have to ask: Can we be more monogamous? Or understand that flings happen?"

15. ...real change can seldom take hold when economic forces remain static. The extraordinary economic flux we're in is what makes this current moment so distinctive.

16. Bolick quotes Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn: "In every society where women have power - whether humans or primates, the key is female bonding."

And those are what struck me as the passages worth highlighting.

3 comments:

Mick said...

Cant really argue with these statements as they seem quite true, funny how the western world is evolving.

Food for thought though if we turned the clock back a few decades (to my parents time) and go back to the traditional, everyone gets married, only married people have kids, the man is the bread winner, the women brings up the kids and looks after the home, etc.
Would our countries be better ?

Less unemployment ?
Less Poverty ?
Don't know about America but kids from single Parent households are more likely to go off the rails and into crime.

I'm sure we can all think of more but you've got to ask the question is the world changing for the better ?

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

I don't believe the world ever changes for the better. It just changes.

David A. Parker said...

Thanks for posting this, Regina!