Sunday, August 27, 2006

Why women prefer Venus / The Editors of Forbes must be from Pluto

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

- Billy Collins, 'Man in Space'


Amongst all the brouhaha around the Noer article in Forbes advising men not to marry career-minded women (the Boing-Boing coverage here; as well as posts on Indian Writing and Within/Without - just in case you haven't seen this stuff yet), I remain intrigued by the incredible leap of logic made from the 'research' that shows (or claims to show) that married women with careers are unhappier than those without, to the prescription that men should choose women who have no career aspirations as wives. [1]

Look at it this way. Let's assume, for a moment, that the research findings are true (I really should read the article). Let's resist the temptation to ask whether women who don't care to have careers tend to just have lower aspirations in general, and are therefore more likely to be happy ceteris paribus (after all, happiness is pretty easy to achieve - all you need to do is set your sights low enough). Let's ignore the question of why Forbes should be dishing out advice on who one should marry in the first place.

So: married career women are unhappier than married housewives [2] [3], and this is an issue because it's making their husbands miserable [4]. But if a wife has such an all important effect on a husband's well-being, it seems logical to ask what effect husbands have on their wives' happiness. Surely a plausible explanation for this finding is that the majority of men are insecure, ego-centric jerks who turn unsupportive the moment their wives meet with any success outside the home. This lack of support may manifest itself either as a refusal to participate equally in housework, resulting in a disproportionate work burden on the wife, or as a negative emotional relationship that leaves these women stressed and unhappy.

In a nutshell, this argument suggests that it's not that men should prefer housewives because they're happier, but that housewives are happier because a majority of men already prefer them. It also, of course, explains why career women may need to seek emotional support elsewhere - one of Noer's key 'facts'.

It's interesting that the Noer article completely ignores this side of things. The article reads:

Many factors contribute to a stable marriage, including the marital status of your spouse's parents (folks with divorced parents are significantly more likely to get divorced themselves), age at first marriage, race, religious beliefs and socio-economic status.
Anyone see 'supportive partner' in there? I've never been married, and I'm no expert, but somehow I think having a supportive spouse has a lot to do with the stability of marriage, don't you? The article also says:

to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you
If that isn't paranoia, I don't know what is. If your wife grows more dissatisfied with you as her career takes off, it must be because she's a needy bitch, or because she's met someone more interesting in office [5]. It couldn't possibly be because of something you're doing wrong.

Looking at things the other way around gives us some very different implications from the ones the Noer article arrives at. If anything, it suggests that career women are ending up in unhappy marriages because too many of them are making bad choices and picking an unsupportive spouse, and that therefore it is women, not men, who should be more picky about who they get married to. It's not men who shouldn't be marrying career women, it's career women who shouldn't be marrying unsupportive men.

So, the next time the guy of your dreams tells you that he's totally supportive of your decision to have a career [6] make sure he understands that this implies that he does half the housework (a decision that you, on your part, are doubtless totally supportive of) and includes the possibility that your career may take precedence over his. And the next time the girl of your dreams tells you that she wants a career, she doesn't mean just till the babies come, or only as long as it doesn't get in the way of housework.

As far as advise to men goes, the lesson we should be drawing out, if this assertion is true, is that they need to get their act together and figure out what it will take to ensure that women with careers have more, not less happy marriages. Because let's face it, career women are here to stay (and a good thing to). And besides, wouldn't it be nice if your wife was less likely to cheat on you, not because you've managed to rob her of all social opportunity but because (gasp!) you actually make her happy.

Understand, I'm not saying that the argument I'm making here is true (though personally, I find it a little more credible than the argument Noer is making). Maybe unsupportive men isn't the problem at all. My point is just that the 'research finding' that Noer's case is built on is equivocal and could easily be used to argue the exact opposite of what the Noer article ended up saying.

Sigh. I suppose there's no chance of my getting hired as a staff writer at Forbes any time soon, huh?


What I find even more damning than the article itself is Forbes' decision to first take it down, and then put it back up with a counter-article. What was that about? Can we assume that the editors of Forbes don't actually bother to read / think about what articles they publish? That they just throw in any old thing they find, and then go look at whether they think it's relevant / valid only if someone complains? Or, even worse, that they did actually think about it and read it carefully, and it never occured to anyone that the article could be seen as sexist (what are these people - blind?)? Exactly what reaction were they expecting? Parades of career women down Wall Street saying Yes, Forbes is right, don't marry us?

And what price the backing down? Whatever my personal disagreements with the Forbes article, they have the right to take whatever line they choose and publish whatever opinion they want. I'll go as far as to say that there might even be some benefit in having ridiculous arguments like these out in the open so we can debate them. But all of that implies that they're making these statements after due consideration and are willing to back them up. Not that they'll run at the first sign of opposition.

And what sort of response is putting up a counter-article? Oh, we said something really stupid. Never mind. We'll continue saying it and pretend that it is a valid point of view, and instead of defending it against all the criticism that's pouring in, we'll just put up a counter-article of our own (and a fairly mild one at that [7]) and this means we no longer have to respond to all the other criticisms?

It's hard to respect a news magazine when they put up an article as illogical and sexist as this one. It's even harder to respect them when they don't even have the nerve to either defend it or admit that they were wrong.


[1] I'm also very curious to know what these men are supposed to do in the meantime. Sit around twiddling their thumbs in the Drones club until all these 'career women' finally see the light and give up their challenging, satisfying careers for the privilege of marrying these insufferable prats?

[2] I use the term 'housewife' merely as the opposite of career woman. I don't imply that being a housewife is any less 'meaningful', nor do I particularly want to get into a discussion about where the two categories begin and end.

[3] There's the separate question of whether unmarried career women are happier than a) married career women and b) married housewives, but let's not go there.

[4] You would think Forbes would want to do a piece talking about the issue that so many career women are supposedly miserable, wouldn't you?

[5] This is another bit of the article I don't get. The only reason your wife won't cheat on you is because she doesn't have the chance to meet someone new (obviously pool boys don't exist)? And you're HAPPY about this?

[6] I'm consistently amazed by the number of men I meet who seem to think this is big of them. As if 'allowing' a woman to work were their natural prerogative.

[7] To be fair, Corcoran does sort of make the point about looking at what the guy is doing. But she goes off into some strange tangent about differential learning rates (before talking at length about how wonderful her own marriage is, as if that proved anything). This doesn't really make sense, unless she's claiming that men in general tend to develop less over time than women. At any rate, it seems a little far-fetched - and ignores the potentially direct link between the wife's success and the husband's negative / unsupportive behaviour.


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

It's a survival strategy.

Apart from the fact that my wife makes sure I don't self-destruct spontaneously, we'd have had a tough time making ends meet if she had not been working. Or I would.

Besides, if she had stayed home all day she'd have bitten my head right off when I came home.


Szerelem said...

Even Karan Johar has a more progressive view of women than these idiots.
I dont understand why some men feel the need to project themselves as cavemen reincarnates.

km said...

Forbes lacks a pair. That is all.

confused said...

The problem is that they are not interested in happiness within marriage but happiness for just one partner, the men.

For the rest, as you said, its simply that woman who do not chose to have a career have simply lowered their expectation of what happines and satisfaction means.

Tabula Rasa said...

there's also the assumption that they're feeding their target market - presumably overwhelmingly men who feel good because they let their wife have their platinum credit card number.

orion said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
orion said...

True, more than financial support, it's emotional support women are looking for.
But to some extent females too, in a rigid mindset of not seeing their husbands less successful, are not letting that false sense of male superiority die. They go out looking for a supportive man, and a little something extra - that if not more, he earns as much. For at the onset, they are probably looking for a best fit than to alter themselves a little.

In my opinion marriage is about giving each other space - of not matching success in careers, but in trying to let the other person be. To barter effort and time so that both can be happy in what they do. To have completely different careers if you will, so that they can talk more and compare less.

dazedandconfused said...

Yes, I see it now. You ARE a feminist :)

Prerona said...

i'm not saying there arent any, but i have never had the good fortune to meet a guy who is genuinely enthusiastic about a woman / his woman's career ambitions. i have met many who prefer her to be working so as to make end meet more smoothly or just to keep her 'occupied' and hence out of trouble ... but a drive, a ambition, a career as opposed to a job ... i havent seen a guy who likes that in a woman ... like i said, it doesnt mean there arent any ... there was a guy in 'the prodigal daughter' ... but then he was imaginary ;)

Falstaff said...

JAP: Ah yes, the financial motive. Yes, keeping your wife in corduroy pants can be expensive, I'm told.

But notice that if marrying a working woman is a survival strategy, then you can't afford to marry woman who doesn't want a career in the first place, so Noer's point is still pointless.

Szerelem: True. I don't understand why some cavemen have to project themselves as speaking for male interests more generally. Noer is more than welcome to go paint bisons on a wall with his docile wife, it's when he starts applying his inane ramblings to 'men' in general that I get bugged.

km: True. Now if only they'd stay quietly at home instead of trying to make a career for themselves.

confused: Yes, but that's so ridiculous, isn't it.

tr: I guess. Though I wonder how real that perception of the target market is. a) you'd think women in the corporate sector was a large enough market segment to not want to piss off and b) you'd hope that men wouldn't want to get their news and analysis from a magazine that published such utter rot.

sb: I'm not sure. I think we risk getting game theoretic here. Certainly many women I know have concerns about finding a guy who makes more than them, but it's often because they believe that no guy will be comfortable if they make more than he does.

Also, I don't know about different careers meaning you talk more and compare less. In my experience the real benefit from different careers is that you talk about work less and about other stuff more (which, in my books, is a good thing). That said, there's no reason why the woman can't be the one with a corporate career and the guy the one who's doing something else (like maybe academia? Hey, a guy's entitled to dream)

d&c: Thank you, thank you.

prerona: I know quite a few guys like that, actually. Though admittedly, none that are single. The market clears fast.