This Sunday, the NYTimes added another segment to their “Room for Debate” series in which four “experts” chime in on the subject du jour: should women redefine “marriage material” given today’s reality. Not only do more women earn college degrees than men, but they are also more likely to work in an industry (teaching, nursing, service) that isn’t as affected by the economic downturn. No longer are women dependent on men for physical and economic security. The Times asks how these changes “might affect decisions to marry? Should women alter their expectations of what a husband brings to marriage?”
Betsey Stevenson points out that fifty years ago, women with college degrees used to be far less likely to marry than those without them. Today, women with degrees marry at around the same rate as those without. This suggests that many women today marry for love, not security. They can support themselves and yet still choose to marry.
A teacher of family history, Stephanie Coontz, worries about how this changing dynamic will affect men, “especially poorly educated ones whose traditional sources of masculine identity are increasingly unattainable in today’s society.” She wonders if, unable to fulfill the traditional male roles, these men will grasp “hypermasculine” tendencies; at the same time, she points out, husbands today are more likely to share in the housework and childrearing.
Barbara Defoe Whitehead suggests that “a man without a job is just another mouth to feed”–after all, women don’t need a husband to have children–while the final writer, anthropologist Helen Fisher, suggests that men will simply find another way to make money.
What I find interesting is how quickly this paradigm shifted. Clearly, this change has been going on for a while; women have been earning more college degrees than men long before the recession. But it’s our new normal: boys without college degrees, girls not marrying, children living in single-parent households.
And this whole discussion is very heteronormative. I don’t know that I can take any discussion of marriage seriously that only considers marriage between men and women. It seems like a false argument, like those stories on the news clearly aimed at a certain demographic; it’s not the whole truth. Someone recently posited that we should only have civil unions, for men and men, women and women, and men and women; “marriage” should be reserved for religious ceremonies, or those who choose it, while all parties should have access to the benefits (tax, social, etc) that come from life-time commitments. I thought it was an interesting idea.
Regardless, genders are still treated unequally. The pay gap has grown, not lessened. Misogyny exists on all corners of our planet. Those in power continue to be disproportionately male. It’s hard not to think that many are worried about this paradigm shift and that, consciously and subversively, actions are being taken to ensure that men stay in control while women do all the work.