By Lindy West
Isn’t it bizarre that not particularly long ago a whole bunch of women just assumedthey’d grow up to be housewives? Wives! Just in a house! Wifing around! ALL THE TIME. This isn’t news, I know, it’s just what women of a certain class did. For years and years and years and years and years and years, the expectation was that you should find a “good” husband, and then you’re taken care of. 4 LYFE. You take care of the house, beat the rugs, maybe you get a cute little vanity degree, you sleep in a weirdly chaste twin bed with your hair in a scarf. That’s your “job.” He pays the bills, provides the penising, trips over the ottoman, maybe has an affair or two. That’s his no-quotation-marks job. He’s happy. You’re happy. The end. Except — PLOT TWIST — womenweren’t happy. And it wasn’t the end, it was the beginning of all this shit we’re endlessly shouting about.
A new poll suggests that, perhaps, public opinion is (slowly, arduously) beginning to shout with us. Researchers asked 1,000 British parents what they thought would be the determining factors in their kids’ longterm success. A hundred years ago, the parents of girls would, almost certainly, have put “marrying well” at the top of their list. 200 years ago? Scratch the “almost.” But today, in our 21st-century matriarchal utopia (lolololoolllolll), here’s what happened:
When asked whether their daughters thought their financial future was dependent on having a husband, only 31.9 per cent agreed.
By contrast 37.7 per cent of those with sons thought having a wife would make them financially secure.
Parents were also asked to choose what they thought their child would see as providing the greatest financial security from a list of options including matters like getting a good job or getting married.
Only seven per cent of parents with daughters chose “marrying well” as a top priority – with another one per cent chosing “marrying a celebrity”.
By contrast 57 per cent thought that their daughters should prioritise getting a good job and 22 per cent singled out the importance of doing well at school or university. Only four per cent ranked starting a family as a top priority.
Among parents with sons almost 14 per cent chose either marrying well or marrying a celebrity.
Meanwhile only 47 per cent singled out getting a good job as the most important option for their son.
Okay, full disclosure: I have no fucking idea what’s going on here, but I’m kind of excited about it. What’s stumping me is that the numbers didn’t even out — or equalize — they flip-flopped. Now more parents see a “good” marriage as essential for their sons—while those with daughters seem to not give much of a shit. So why on earth would that happen? Here are some theories:
With more women entering the workforce and becoming financially independent, men are feeling less pressure to do anything. It’s not like your kids will starve if you don’t get that promotion, so why not play some video games and crack a Zima, bro? Like, I don’t get any work done if I don’t have a deadline. So maybe the nation’s men are just me-trying-to-write-my-book-proposal. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. No wonder their moms are worried.
All of the people polled coincidentally happen to have Tracy Flick daughters and besweatpantsed-manchild-trapped-in-a-carbon-monoxide-leak sons. Seems totally plausible.
Feminism worked! For lack of a better option, I’m going to go with this one. Feminism worked. Or, is working, finally, to some tangible extent. Here are some more newish numbers:
The vast majority of young people – about 80% of women and 70% of men across all races, classes, and family backgrounds – desire an egalitarian marriage in which both partners share breadwinning, housekeeping, and child rearing.
That same piece goes on to explain that though young people express those desires in theory, in practice their actions play out differently:
With this in mind, Gerson asked her respondents what type of family they would like if, for whatever reason, they couldn’t sustain an equal partnership. She discovered that, while men’s and women’s ideals are very similar, their fallback positions deviate dramatically.
Men’s most common fallback position is to establish a neotraditional division of labor: 70% hope to convince their wives to de-prioritize their careers and focus on homemaking and raising children. Women? Faced with a husband who wants them to be a housewife or work part-time, almost three-quarters of women say they would choose divorce and raise their kids alone. In fact, despite men’s insistence on being breadwinners, women are more likely than men to say they value success in a high-paying career.
It sounds grim, but I actually find that data deeply heartening. Sure, those “fallback positions” complicate things a bit, but the study as a whole indicates that the Role of Women is genuinely shifting. (Also, high-five, women.) Whatever they actually do in practice, the fact is that 70% of men expressed a desire for an egalitarian relationship. That’s huge. And it makes sense that it would take time for practice to catch up to theory. We can want equality before we achieve it. In fact, we have to.
Feminism has deep roots in the concept that women deserve to have a voice and a presenceoutside of the home—that we’re more than just babymakers and rug-scrubbers and penis-receptacles. Our sphere is bigger. We want to vote and work and be listened to. Maybe it’s because my mom worked and took care of the house, but to me, the idea of marrying a rich dude and then just hanging out for the rest of my life is completely foreign. Like to the point where I sometimes fantasize about it, in the pie-in-the-sky way a person might fantasize about having a private island or a team of raccoon butlers. (All of which, I have a feeling, would be much better in theory than in practice. Like, ugh, what do I do with this entire island? I couldn’t even keep my studio apartment tidy — now I have to MAKE INFRASTRUCTURE? BUT I’M SO TIRED. WHY IS THERE BUTLER POOP ALL OVER THE GUEST HOUSE MEZZANINE.)
And we want all of the benefits and the responsibilities that go along with that liberation. In other words, modern women understand that the right to be breadwinners comes along with the hard work of actually winning the bread. The right to fight in combat comes with the possibility of dying. The right to not be property comes with the responsibility of splitting the check. We’re cool with that. Really! We really really mean it.
So it makes sense, in a way—the suggestion that marriage might, suddenly, be more important for men than for women. I’m going to think of it as aspirational. The parents with male kids are recognizing the value of women as breadwinners. (Teaming up with these plucky gals might actually be beneficial!) The parents of female kids are throwing their support behind women’s independence. (My daughter is a scholar and a brain surgeon and she doesn’t need some manto win her bread!)
Whatever it means, it makes me happy. Keep it up, world.