This is not about writing (though I will tie it into writing eventually). This is about an absolutely unbelievable article written by Michael Noer in Forbes magazine (found via the Smart Bitches). Thank God for the counterpoint article by Elizabeth Corcoran which, according to the SB’s, only recently appeared on the site.
Writes mommy’s boy Mr. Noer:
Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career.
Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women–even those with a “feminist” outlook–are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.
Cough, choke, sputter. Jeez louise, it gets even worse after that. (And let’s not even discuss the faulty argumentation in that second paragraph: “many social scientists” — how many? Names, please. “Recent studies” — bibliography, please, not just for these amorphous studies but also for the Social Forces article.)
What Mr. Noer fails to consider is that the patriarchal culture, which has been around for, oh, a few millenia or so, has inculcated women with the idea that taking care of the family is their primary responsibility. It’s only in recent decades that women have had the freedom to pursue careers on a large scale (and, in case you thought women had equal standing with men in the workplace, you only have to read the bigoted opinions of men like Mr. Noer to realize it ain’t so).
Yeah, so maybe women might retain some uncertainty with the career/caretaker dynamic! Not all women, certainly, and I’m not even going to check the veracity of the studies he (almost) cites but if we just go ahead and believe those studies are correct in their essential claims, then might there be a reason other than women belong in the home and therefore feel unfulfilled when they are not?
Yeah, and maybe it’s because women do feel some guilt and, worse, pressure to conform to what the dominant patriarchal system still claims as its right: women taking care of men and children and households (the system doesn’t claim this on the surface, necessarily, but if you question that it’s still the norm, just read Mr. Noer’s article. Occasionally, the truth rises to the surface like a rotting corpse that just won’t stay tied to the bottom of the lake).
That doesn’t mean women are necessarily happier when they are homemakers or that they want to be homemakers. Yeah, we think we live in enlightened times all right, but here’s more evidence we don’t, not yet. And, yeah, my knickers are in a twist because my thesis was about this very damn thing (The Heroine’s Journey: The Feminine Quest for Identity in the Selected Fiction of Virginia Woolf). Sure, we may have come a long way, baby, but the journey ain’t over yet.
The fact that a man could say such things in a national magazine, could call professional women “career girls” (do we ever call professional men “career boys”? Maybe we should) is a sign that we aren’t as enlightened as we like to think. No, I don’t think Mr. Noer should be silenced. It’s his right to say these things and to think he’s offering an intelligent, reasoned argument while doing so. I’m saying that the fact he could write it and think it reasonable, and that Forbes published it thinking it perfectly reasonable, and that people are reading it thinking it may have a point, is merely a sign that we have a long way to go in our thinking about gender roles and sexual equality.
I have a graduate degree (or will soon). I don’t, at this time, work outside the home. My reasons are my own, but you can bet it wasn’t so I could take care of my husband. Yeah, I do the bulk of the household chores — the cooking, cleaning, and shopping. I even do the finances. If I worked outside the home, you can bet we’d be having a discussion about divvying up the responsibilities. Of course writing is a career, and of course I take it seriously. But I don’t yet have a book contract, so I can’t say “Hey, hon, I’m going to ignore everything and concentrate on a story.” It’s my choice to do it the way I do it. And I am fully aware that a man is currently taking care of me, providing income and insurance so I can do what I want to do.
And, by golly, being the force in the home, the caretaker and primary child raiser, should be a CHOICE that women CAN make without feeling like it’s a bottom level job. Some women will want to stay home. Some men will want to stay home. That’s fine, and I’m not saying women should all have careers outside the home or should want to have them. But don’t tell me that those who do are bad mates. Studies, which I don’t have in front of me but which I think Ms. Corcoran talks about, still show that when both spouses work, the woman does the lion’s share of the household chores anyway. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I take him to task for not providing citations, but this is a personal blog and not a national magazine; if I were writing for a magazine, you can bet I’d be EBSCOing my butt off.)
I have only to talk to working friends or to look at certain women I know (my mother) to see the truth of this one. Women will work demanding jobs and then go home and cook dinner, put the kids to bed, do laundry, etc, while the man sits on the couch with the remote. No, I’m not about to say all men or to generalize, but I have seen this in nearly all the dual working relationships of people I know. That does not make a study, I realize, so don’t think I’m saying it’s wholesale true. (That would make me as bad as him.)
How does this relate to romance writing? Romances are by and large written by women. Romances cross the spectrum of styles. You’ll see the fainting flower of a heroine who needs a man to take care of her, sure, but not so much anymore (or at least not in romantic suspense, which is what I write and read mostly). (See the NYT article on Nora Roberts — though they still make fun of romance, and aren’t as respectful of her as they would be of, say, Margaret Atwood, they have to admit she doesn’t write needy heroines which they conclude is a good thing.) But, most often now, you’ll see a heroine who’s morphing into something more. A kick-ass, take names, join up with the hero as an equal kind of gal. Yeah, men are still there, and the couple ends up happily ever after at the end. We romance writers like men; go figure.
But, dammit, I think (my opinion) that women write and read romance not because we want an escape from our humdrum lives, but because we want a MAN LIKE THAT. Not a gorgeous muscular man (but oh who would complain?) but a man who a) loves a woman with his whole being, who b) wants to please her, sexually and other, who c) understands her motivations and knows what she needs to be comfortable and happy in a relationship.
Oh geez, there’s so much more to it, and it could probably turn into a dissertation, but romance heroes are not fantasy men in the sense of their physicality, though of course they are that too, but fantasy men in the sense that women want more from men than a lot of grunting, scratching, and channel surfing. We want a man who isn’t afraid to talk to us when we want to rant (Mars/Venus stuff
), who knows we sometimes want a strong shoulder to lean on, who gets that we don’t get the appeal of NASCAR (okay, so that’s me, I know there are plenty of female fans) or boxing, who will rescuse us if we need rescued, and — real important — doesn’t mind us rescuing them when they need it.
Romance heroines get the guy, but not by being needy doormats. Whether we write stay at home moms or CIA spies, our heroines want something and aren’t afraid to go after it. It’s a quest, and if it’s going to be successful, then she will grow and change and learn to do what she didn’t think she could do.
So, for Mr. Noer, who surely had a stay-at-home mother who took care of all his needs and who desperately wants that in a wife (maybe he has it, though the tone makes me think not), you can’t lay all the blame for failed marriages and unhappy males at the feet of “career girls,” dude. Maybe it’s the men who need to shift their paradigm. Did you ever think of that? Multi-dimensional women with goals and intellect and attitude shouldn’t be feared. Men who do fear them need to look inside themselves for the answer because the problem isn’t with women. It’s with the men who seek to define feminine life on their terms. How can you ever be happy with yourselves if you insist on laying the blame on us? Maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t forced to look within, you won’t have to confront that vast emptiness inside you. So go define yourself and leave me the hell alone.