Thursday, August 22, 2013

Frenchwomen, househusbands

-I'm confused. Didn't we just get through discussing Hugo Schwyzer, and how he was extolling the virtues of dating older women in print (well, online) while chasing after far-younger sorts off-blog, and how this may or may not have been the precipitating factor in his downfall from the feminist blogosphere? Was the lesson not learned? Not any Schwyzer-specific lesson, but rather that essays from men about how older/non-pubescent women are actually beautiful end up seeming like protest-too-much declarations about just how gorgeous women are not past whichever age? That they read as "nice guy" to feminists (or just irritating because who cares what some random dude we don't even know thinks about what we look like), and get whichever "game" sorts panties in a twist because Science tells us that women become hags at 17. No productive conversation ever ensues. The boring reality - that individual men and women of all ages are desired and thus beautiful, but that "distinguished" doesn't sell bathing suits - is maybe, I don't know, too simple? Haven't we moved past this brand of nonsense?

Evidently not. The NYT Style blog just published a different man's essay about how women get more beautiful with age, really they do, even women in their 80s can be hot, really they can. As the astute commenters there have already noted, the piece is accompanied by photos of three French actresses, between the ages of 23 and 37. See! A woman of 37 can totally be attractive, assuming she's a beautiful French actress.

But the photos are the least of it. The text itself is a mix of the nauseating, insist-too-much thing about older women's charms and some of the stalest Francophilic clich√© I've come across and that's saying something. It contains this gem: "Frenchwomen respect the natural adornments of time and are perhaps less in thrall to the fatal glow of false youth." Gah! From le very same newspaper: "A survey by the market research company Mintel found that 33 percent of French girls between 15 and 19 are already using anti-aging or anti-wrinkle creams."


-I can't possibly be the only one who questioned Prudie's advice to this 30-year-old whose long-term boyfriend has house-husband written all over him. She makes "over six figures" (seven?, and yes, I know that's not what she means) but insists, "I live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, so I would need two incomes to support a family." Well that settles it! Prudie gives the Prudie equivalent of DTMFA: "You look at your boyfriend and see a life partner and great father. I see a sponge." 

Second gah! of the day. If we want to see more women being high-powered lean-inners, we need to accept that some such women will be in 50-50 power-marriages, while many more will be the higher-powered of the two spouses. Otherwise we're effectively condemning women like this one to choose career over family. If she dumps this guy she's crazy about because society tells her she needs a man at least as ambitious as she is, who's to say such a man is around the corner?

Yes, fine, it's different if there's something wrong with the boyfriend that explains his not having worked full-time (we don't know precisely what he has been doing, which Prudie rounds down to "playing computer games and staring at his Claudia Schiffer posters"). Is he depressed, is he a terrible person, how exactly shall with pathologize his situation? But if he's just not that ambitious, and she's ambitious enough for them both, and has been with him since forever, and remains fond of him, what's the problem? He can take care of the kids when she's staying late at the six-figure firm, and won't mind when the firm relocates to Singapore because video games and Claudia Schiffer posters can travel.

10 comments:

caryatis said...

Yeah, I second the "gah," but I really want to know why he's not working. "Unambitious" is one thing (and I'm dating an unambitious guy so I have no problem with that) but never having a job, zero savings, and living with his parents sounds like there's something else going on. If he can't or won't support himself, is he really the kind of guy who should be trusted with a share of the OP's income and care of their kids? Her ultimatum suggests she doesn't think so.

Also agree "over six figures" means anywhere from $100,001 to infinity. Not helpful. Why not just say six figures, does that not sound like enough?

Phoebe said...

The guy may have worked - just "never had a full-time job." That could mean so many things, esp. in an economy where a lot of people work a lot of hours through multiple part-time jobs, freelancing, or are in school, etc. That he's managed to be in what sounds like a happy relationship for seven years makes me inclined to think he's not a complete mess, but more of a slacker. That, and the fact that nothing is mentioned - no drug problem, etc.

The letter leaves open the full range of possibilities. That much is clear. But then the right answer would have been two answers - one for if he's a mess, the other for if he's just not that ambitious. She needs to sort that out before proceeding. But it's a mistake to assume that there aren't pre-househusband men out there, and that such men aren't actually a good thing for feminism, if they get nicely paired off with women (or men) too busy with work to deal with household chores.

Petey said...

"See! A woman of 37 can totally be attractive, assuming she's a beautiful French actress."

It's funny cuz it's true.

"Second gah! of the day. If we want to see more women being high-powered lean-inners, we need to accept that some such women will be in 50-50 power-marriages, while many more will be the higher-powered of the two spouses. Otherwise we're effectively condemning women like this one to choose career over family. If she dumps this guy she's crazy about because society tells her she needs a man at least as ambitious as she is, who's to say such a man is around the corner?"

I thought you were a defender of psycho-Prudie.

What we have here is a need to re-define "sponge-worthy"...

Phoebe said...

"It's funny cuz it's true."

No less so of men, though, which was one of the (many) glaring ridiculousnesses of the post. "In this not entirely fair world of ours, men, as they grow older, get to look distinguished, while women often feel they disappear." True enough re: women, but men? If they happen to be rich/powerful/famous, fair enough, but few are. And even if they are, youth will win out if we're talking commercial, billboard-type beauty. (For example.) This idea that "distinguished" is handsome refers to some fantasy world in which an 'older man' is basically a young man with some gray around the temples. In the world of real people, aging does the same number on men as on women. Paunch, baldness, stooped-ness, etc., that's what the distinguished older gentlemen of the world have to offer. They may be lovely people, and subjectively attractive, loved, lusted after, etc., but no, our society does not consider older men all that beautiful.

caryatis said...

But Phoebe, you're still confusing unambitious, i.e. content with a low-paying/low-status job that is enough to live on, with _incompetent_. Even making the rosiest possible assumption, that this guy was working part-time or freelancing, it wasn't enough to allow him to pay rent or to save ANYTHING!

I mean, if I was shopping for a househusband, I would want someone with a basic level of competence. This guy sounds completely incapable of dealing with the basic tasks of life. Unless he had a _really good_ excuse for being a slacker for ten years, I wouldn't trust him with my laundry, let alone my kids or my checkbook.

Phoebe said...

Not confused in the least. Let's say his degree turns out to be a grad degree he paid for. Or that he'd done a PhD, or started one, at least. There are ways to end up without savings at 31 that don't imply incompetence or pathological slacking. There's a vast, finding-oneself middle ground. It's not terribly appealing, but it's not incompetence.

caryatis said...

I don't think he's a current student (otherwise the OP wouldn't push him to get a job). He may be a former student, but if so why isn't he looking for work?

It is not impossible that he has a decent excuse, but it is very unlikely.

Phoebe said...

I think we're discussing this wrong. The aim here isn't to establish, via close textual analysis, where on the innocuously-unambitious to total-mess spectrum this guy falls. We have evidence in the letter for a range of possibilities, and without more info, we just don't know. The really obvious red flags (drug dependency, debilitating mental illness, or, conversely, bratty behavior - being totally capable of living on his own, but preferring his parents to pick up after him) aren't mentioned, but that doesn't mean they aren't there but not mentioned. We don't learn that he's not trying to get a full-time job, nor that he is.

What we do know is that this woman is mostly happy with the guy, has been with him 7 years, and is at a life stage where it's difficult for men or women to meet people, and where for women who wish to have biological kids with a partner (and she evidently does), time is relatively limited. Part of the advice to her needs to be to consider the guy's househusband potential, and to reflect a little on why she hasn't. The answer might be, he'd make a lousy househusband because x, y, and z. But that's not necessarily the case.

The reason she gives for not considering it - that two incomes would be necessary (as vs. that she doesn't think this guy would be a good father) - is weak. I mean, anyone can want what they want, but it suggests, to me at least, a double-standard. Society tells women they need to be with men at least as successful as they are, and it's hard to picture that this is not at all entering into her assessment of what's necessary in a spouse.

caryatis said...

"Society tells women they need to be with men at least as successful as they are, and it's hard to picture that this is not at all entering into her assessment of what's necessary in a spouse."

I am sure you're right here. But I don't think we should take at face value the assertion that she's happy with him. Doesn't every person who writes to an advice column claim to be happy?

She's "terrified of going back in the dating pool," after all, and just as there are social forces pushing her to demand a high-earning man, there are forces which would make her feel guilty if she dumped a man because of his lack of income--no matter how little excuse he has for the unemployment. Just as we don't know what reason he has for being irresponsible, we don't know why she is being indecisive.

Britta said...

Yeah, who knows with this particular case, but in general, the idea that high achieving women place themselves out of the marriage market drives me insane, because it relies on a very traditional, (IMO) anti-feminist concept of hypergamy. Women are supposed to marry men with higher powered careers. If a law partner wants to marry a man 10 years younger than her because he's eye candy and a good cook, she's considered to be "marrying down" or at least being frivolous, but if the genders are reversed the man is considered to have done well. This is also why I have no sympathy for the Lori Gottliebs of the world or their advice, since it's always about having impossibly high standards based on traditional gender roles combined with 3rd wave feminism.