Successful women, watch out. The menfolk, they don’t like us.
At least that’s the message from a New York Times piece by Katrin Bennhold, titled “Keeping Romance Alive in the Age of Female Empowerment”. And since we’re all, you know, successful women, we thought we ought to parse it out if only to share the idiot shivers. Prepare yourself for some backlash.
The piece starts out with SATC’s Miranda, the redhaired ambitious and successful lawyer sucked into the peculiar hell that is speed-dating:
Remember “Sex and the City,” when Miranda goes speed-dating? She wastes her eight-minute pitch three times by giving away that she is a corporate lawyer. The fourth time she says she is a stewardess and gets asked out by a doctor.
What made the episode poignant was not just that Miranda lied about her success, but that her date did, too: it turned out he worked in a shoe store.
The piece goes on to explore the stereotype, questioning whether romance has been done in by “female empowerment.” Ugh, right? But let’s keep reading anyhow:
Sexual attraction in the 21st century, it seems, still feeds on 20th-century stereotypes. Now, as more women match or overtake men in education and the labor market, they are also turning traditional gender roles on their head, with some profound consequences for relationship dynamics.
There is a growing army of successful women in their 30s who have trouble finding a mate and have been immortalized in S.A.T.C. and the Bridget Jones novels. There are the alpha-women who end up with alpha-men but then decide to put career second when the babies come. But there is also a third group: a small but growing number of women who out-earn their partners, giving rise to an assortment of behavioral contortions aimed at keeping the appearance of traditional gender roles intact.
Puh-leese. Can you hear me sigh? Next comes the anecdotal stuff: the smart girls who keep their hubbies happy by playing 1950s housewives just to keep the spark alive. Even though they outearn their men, they let them pick up the tab when they’re out in public. They let them hold open the door and drive the car. They book reservations in their husbands’ name, for fear that, I don’t know, these guys might have to turn in their testosterone card. Clearly, these guys are weenies, but whatever. You get the picture, which is summed up in the article thus:
Dating sites seem to suggest that highly educated women have more trouble finding a partner than women in more traditionally female jobs. “Care and social professions work well; the really educated profiles are more difficult,” said Gesine Haag, 43, who used to run match.com in Germany. An elite dating portal at the company, trying to match up highly educated men and women, was abandoned and refocused more broadly, said Ms. Haag, who now manages her own Internet marketing agency.
“Men don’t want successful women, men want to be admired,” she said. “It’s important to them that the woman is full of energy at night and not playing with her BlackBerry in bed.”
Bernard Prieur, a psychoanalyst and author of “Money in Couples,” says men who earn less than their partners struggle with two insecurities: “They feel socially and personally vulnerable. Socially, they go against millennia of beliefs and stereotypes that see them as the breadwinner. And the success of their partner also often gives them a feeling of personal failure,” Mr. Prieur said in the November issue of the French magazine Marie-Claire.
Blah, blah, blah. Granted, Benhold’s story has a Paris dateline, and its focus is Europe, where a man is still, you know, A Man. But there’s this, too. Where are the numbers? Where’s the research? Anecdotal information and weasel words like “many” or “more” does not a true trend make. And so, I have to wonder if there’s backlash at play: let’s keep the girls in their place by convincing them that guys still don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. Or, well, business suits. Can it become self-fulfilling prophecy?
We went here once before, in a post (referencing a column by Maureen Dowd) that suggested that we’re still letting the stereotypes define us: smart or sexy. Beauty or brains. I for one have had it with people telling us that we can’t be both. It’s bullshit, girls. And when we buy into that nonsense, we lose.
Broadsheet’s Tracy Clark-Flory might well agree. She also takes Benhold’s thesis to task, and provides some anecdotal counterpoint of her own, by racking up a bunch of quotes from men who not only have no fear of successful women, but actually prefer them. Here’s one:
Simon, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student, wrote me in an e-mail, “I’m sure successful women pose a threat to some guys’ egos, but that’s just to say that some guys are dicks,” he says, hilariously. “Is this a more general issue, though? Are more guys dicks than we might have thought?” He doesn’t rule out the possibility, but notes that “it seems like a strange point of view if what you’re actually interested in is romantic partnership.”
Right? We can go on believing the backlash and quite possibly hold ourselves back, or we can call it out for the nonsense that it is and stand tall in our Jimmy Choos or Armani suits. As Clark-Flory sums up:
Certainly many men will be insurmountably intimidated by women who pull in more dough, but that hardly seems a loss worth mourning. Might it reveal a more fundamental incompatibility in terms of interests, drive, lifestyle or basic ideas about sex and power?
Of course, men are conditioned to bring home the bacon, and it’s tough to escape that sort of rigid social expectation. As a psychoanalyst quoted in Bennhold’s piece says, men who earn less than their female partner “go against millennia of beliefs and stereotypes that see them as the breadwinner.” If the guys I spoke with are any indication, though, plenty of young men are up to the task — and that is quite a different story from the Times’ cautionary tale.