When Atlas set down the apples and took the heavens upon his shoulders again, Heracles took the apples and ran away.
Here’s the question I have. I have no idea what the answer is.
There are many reasons/factors for why we are where we are. One of the most important, if not THE most important, is “feminism 1.0″, i.e., encourage females to get educated and pursue careers in the same way that men do. Women could of course do this before the mid-’60s but it was understood by society that she would be giving something up, the most important thing. Women who pursued careers (apart from traditional female roles such as teaching, and even that many women dropped out of altogether once they had children) were considered at best sort of harmlessly odd, fine, do what you want lady, but we know that family life is superior and more important.
That’s changed. Now it’s “You MUST do this for own sake, not to do it is to not realize your potential.” And that change is a direct cause of much of what you diagnose.
The way the UMC has “solved” this problem is to send girls to college, let them launch their careers–whether in soggy girly stuff like PR or crunchy stuff like business and law–and then they marry late (~30), have kids a few years later and drop out of working at least until the kids are grown. This answers a couple of needs, not least the need for two incomes to accumulate assets so that the couple can eventually buy into a UMC school district. But the real importance of this solution is to her psyche. Getting the education and career are a way of telegraphing “I am a complete person, not some drone like June Cleaver. I am just as smart and capable as any man. In my altruistic concern for my children, I choose not to use my talent in the marketplace but to devote myself to them.” In other words, she needs that education and early career to mark her as better than a mere housewife, even though she will eventually choose to become a housewife. (It’s actually very high status in these places to stay home with your kids–IF you once had a career–and subtly frowned upon for mothers to work. A woman who never had a career is low status in the blue state UMC.)
So, 1) do you think the solution to the problems you describe requires going back or can reform be accomplished with the basic tenets of feminism 1.0 still intact? And, 2) if you think going back is essential, how would you handicap the odds?
Escoffier has done an outstanding job of describing this phenomenon. What he is describing aren’t women who work primarily to support themselves and their family, but women who use their education and career as a way to check off the box to prove their feminist credentials before settling down into an entirely traditional role. To answer his specific questions, I think we can manage this issue without formally rolling back feminism 1.0. As I see it, to the extent that this is a problem it will generally tend to resolve itself. As I said in 40 years of ultimatums, women are and should be free to pile on whatever demands regarding marriage which they see fit. If this means demanding that their husband to be wait until they have tired of playing career woman and even assuming a significant accompanying student loan debt and expensive tastes, so be it. But this must be accompanied by the freedom for men to decide whether marriage under these terms is something they want to enter into. The problem isn’t that women are making expensive demands in an effort to prove they are feminist before demanding a traditional role as wife and mother, the problem is the Social Conservatives who are standing by insisting that men marry women under these terms.
So far the much fretted marriage strike hasn’t yet materialized. However, I do think these women are taking a significant risk. To the extent that the whole “Peter Pan” meme is accurate, the current cohort of mid to late 20s women delaying marriage until their 30s have laid the groundwork for their own potential spinsterhood. Men in their age group aren’t getting as strong a signal that working hard to become a provider will result in first a LTR and later marriage. While there may be a growing number of successful men who aren’t willing to marry a woman who waited until her late 20s or early 30s to marry, I suspect the bigger issue is that a significant percentage of men haven’t felt the incentive to prepare themselves as a provider. Even worse, these women playing career pushed out men from their slots in school and the workplace. So the men they one day hope to marry both have less incentive to do the extra work and planning to become a provider and face additional obstacles to do so. Compounding this is the very strong desire these women have to marry a man who is at least as well educated and financially successful as they are. The higher their own achievement, the smaller their pool of suitable potential husbands becomes.
So what if they don’t marry? you might be asking, these are after all feminist women. They don’t need a man anyway, they have their careers! But this is where we separate the real deal feminist career women from the fakers and posers. Men and women who work hard to support themselves understand that they are in it for the duration. There is a determined realism to them. Likewise the women who work to survive until they marry and after marriage until they have children are being pragmatic and working to meet the needs of their family. These aren’t the women we are talking about. The women Escoffier described see having a career as a badge of status to be collected on their way to their ultimate goal of stay at home housewife. They aren’t really career women, they are playing career woman much the way that Marie Antoinette played peasant and Zoolander’s character played coal miner.
It is striking to me how many women my wife and I know who are roughly our age and have already burned out and abandoned their careers. These women stand out the most when they are married but don’t have children. Some time in their 30s their infatuation with the professional world evaporates and they either trade down to a more fulfilling and less demanding job or stop working altogether. Recently Forbeswoman had a piece which was long on anecdote and short on statistics claiming this is a common trend: Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30 (H/T W.F. Price). While I didn’t find any corroborating data in the article, enough of the women who read the article identified with the feeling that the author wrote a follow up piece just on the comments. One commenter wrote:
Sent this to my millennial gf who is a high school teacher she replied with “The author has been stalking me, apparently. Spooky how accurate this is for my life.
What happened to her can do attitude? Doesn’t she know she needs to teach men a lesson? Another commenter was more ambitious, and pursued a career in law, only to find out that it was, surprisingly, hard work and not as glamorous as on TV:
You really captured how I feel about my career. I went to college and law school with the intent of becoming a lawyer. I had never had a full time job until I graduated and I was truly shocked when I realized I had to go to work EVERY DAY ALL DAY! I had no idea what kind of lawyer I wanted to be nor that I even needed a career path once I got my first job.
As I mentioned above, I don’t worry about the trend Escoffier is describing. The path entails a fair amount of risk, especially since the woman won’t know if her plan will be successful for over a decade when she sets out for it. She may find that marrying at a later age is more difficult than she expected. Even if she achieves this part, she may find that she has outlasted her own fertility (H/T Bill). Lastly, the status Escoffier is talking about depends on the woman being able to claim she really wanted to be a career woman, but was somehow drafted into the stay at home mom role by her husband and children. It allows her to both frame herself as a feminist and a victim of the patriarchy, all while enjoying the benefits of the traditional role she really wanted all along. The Social Pathologist described how the women of his generation managed this in a post this summer (emphasis his):
Fifty percent of my medical course was composed of women, usually women who had been groomed in high school for a “power girl” existence. These were women that were going to take on and change the world. The funny thing is though, is that the vast bulk of them, once they had gotten married and had children, actually wanted to stay at home and look after the children.(Much to the disappointment of their husbands) To their surprise, they found the experience of motherhood enjoyable, even though they did not expect it to be.
The problem is this trick requires a sort of plausible deniability which becomes more and more difficult for each new generation of working women; if men like Escoffier can see it, how long before others start to get wise to the plan as well? This is after all an extremely expensive feminist merit badge to pick up prior to becoming a housewife. It only makes sense if the status of feminist martyr is actually accorded to them. If perspectives change and these women are seen instead as fakers, all will be for naught. Even worse, the men of their generation may just call their feminist bluff, leaving them to continue carrying the weight of the world on their own shoulders.
We can do it poster from Wikipedia Commons
See Also: Running with the bulls