Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s."

That's the line that jumped out at me in the latest college-coeds-doin'-it exposé. Why that line, despite so many so much racier ones?

-I wonder how these very same women (and we're going to assume, for the sake of convenience, that a real phenomenon is being described, even if it bears little overlap with our own experience of a not-so-different college not-so-long before) will feel if The Husband doesn't magically appear at The Age, and if they instead meet him at 42, or not at all.

-I wonder, of the women who do marry at The Age, but no earlier because Career, how many will readily abandon said career (or scale back substantially, never to recover) upon marriage or kids.

In other words, the window-of-opportunity problem I keep yammering on about. Prior to The Age, women (elite women? elite-women-broadly-defined?) are given this oh-so-feminist message about pursuing independence, ambition, dreams, not being held back by any man, and not wanting any casual thing with a dude to turn into anything more serious. But the old-timey expectations - marriage-panic and all that - haven't disappeared. They've merely shifted down a few years, and gotten that much more panicky.

There are two contradictory - and equally misguided - conclusions we might draw. One would be that everything is going so well for these women until The Age, and that the problem is that they're ever settling down. The other is that these women are foolish not to snag husbands while still young and nubile - the Princeton Mom argument. The former insists that a woman's true self wants a career and not a relationship; the latter, that women only ever really want relationships, and are somehow suckered into thinking otherwise by feminism.

The reality: most women and most men want both a career and a family. Men are assumed to want both of these things; more to the point, they're not assumed to have rejected one when they acquire the other. As long as this seems, to women, to be either-or, the balance of power is not so favorable. Thus, perhaps, the asymmetry of sexual pleasure, the culture of sexual violence, the sad (apparent) fact of hook-ups not being the utopia of gender-neutral sexual adventure one might imagine.

So in a way, younger women's belief (reinforced by advice from those around them) that they need to stay independent of relationships if they're going to have careers actually sets up the later sense that, once they do get married, whichever burgeoning career there was is as good as done.


Paul Gowder said...

What struck me was the racy photography... seems a little exploitative, actually.

Phoebe said...

That does seem to go with the genre - sexy sex had by sexy coeds, with the veneer of concern. The men are also having sex, presumably, but it's not as titillating to read about their doing so, or something.

Anyway, here's the prompt the NYT gives for comments: "How did your romantic and sexual experiences in college shape the relationships you've had since then?" This has to be breaking some kind of new overshare ceiling.