When I was pregnant with my third child, a male acquaintance phoned me, jubilant, to holler: “Great news! Another blow against feminism!” The bizarre response was not spoken in jest. This guy’s phrase untethered feminist women from a desire for motherhood.
He was saying what many other, less-florid commentators — including some women — were thinking then, 25 years ago, their attitude detatching feminism from marriage-and-motherhood. Motherhood got off the hook, especially as single women began to have children, their bravery enhancing their feminist street cred.
But marriage? Although marriage as a contractual construct has been examined plenty — from political theories about oppression, to lists of who does the housework — I think we haven’t yet figured out how to talk usefully about relationships.
No credo helps turn the political into the personal here — namely, how an unattached woman can find and maintain a sustaining and loving relationship. While a lot of work has gone into helping women — especially young women — understand the workplace, there has been, let’s be frank, no parallel thrust to help women understand the trajectory of a relationship. Including how to find one in the first place.
Enter the Internet. There has been a price to pay for the focus on work, as we see in this issue’s provocative report on the e-dating scene.
Just at the point when young Jewish women have before them the largest field of eligible partners — when they’re in their 20s — they are absorbed in creating satisfying work lives: looking for challenging jobs, sussing out what’s wrong with the jobs they have, entering demanding graduate programs. The serious search for a life partner gets put on hold, often for a decade or more, by which time the pool of eligible mates has been depleted.
You’ll read in this article the idea that feminism has somehow failed to foresee that women would want satisfying love relationships as well as satisfying work lives. Clearly, feminism, as a program to better the lives of women, has work to do. The job isn’t done with advancing women professionally. What needs to happen to re-frame the issues so that similar satisfactions are available at home as on the job? No one is suggesting that women should stop being “picky” or should “settle.” (“My aunt thinks that if a guy has a pulse and some testosterone I should be interested in him,” one woman railed to me.) It’s rather that the time has come — again — to encourage women and men to figure out what they want in an egalitarian relationship, then how to try to create same. And to encourage women in their twenties to think about being as serious about finding a partner as about finding a profession. Time to talk plainly about the ingredients for a loving relationship that makes room for a woman to be authentically herself.
Couplehood itself has been something of a taboo subject. The same woman who has no difficulty telling her friends to let her know the minute a great job opens up in her field is shy about announcing she wants to find a partner. Job lust is sanctioned, honored even. Yearning for a match has, for some women, felt like an embarrassing sideline. Now, after decades in which women have spoken comfortably about work but not of love, the subject of mating is rising from underground.
Not without reason have smart women spent more energy critiquing marriage bonds than praising them. The still-imperfect world we inhabit today is better for women in a coupled relationship than it used to be, but the power imbalances, injustices and frustrations persist; for evidence one need look no further than the studies of women’s and men’s health. Married men are happier and healthier than their unmarried peers. Married women do worse on these measures than their single peers. But the desire for desire persists nonetheless.
The Internet provides for quantity, if not quality, and has many women in a dating frenzy, either looking for dates, hoping for dates, or going on dates. While the ‘Net has brought opportunities for women to be out there alongside men, trolling for dates, and while there are tips aplenty about how to refine your profile on a dating site, how to be photographed for same (with or without dog, e.g.), what’s really needed next is sound advice on what to look for in a relationship after you come home from that date.