Kate Bolick’s article in The Atlantic is well-worth the long read if you’re pondering gender and marriage. She summarizes a lot of the important, current dialogue of feminism: what is the new shape of marriage? are there enough suitable male partners for the modern, successful woman? why is the 1960s marriage widely seen as the marriage model anyway? can single be enough?
Kate’s summary of social historian Stephanie Coontz’s history of American marriage is important. They both argue that a mom-in-kitchen, dad-at-work marriage was a reality for only a minority of American history. Why do we focus on that model so much? Is it because it was most recent? Or because our gender roles are connected to that model most strongly? I think both, but knowing the history makes me more sure that marriage is fluid, changing, and will adapt to the modern woman.
What Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It to Beaver–style family model popular in the 1950s and ’60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.
Kate’s stats on men were the most extreme I’ve read, and pretty depressing:
An analysis by Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, reveals that, after accounting for inflation, male median wages have fallen by 32 percent since their peak in 1973, once you account for the men who have stopped working altogether. The Great Recession accelerated this imbalance. Nearly three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost in the depths of the recession were lost by men, making 2010 the first time in American history that women made up the majority of the workforce. Men have since then regained a small portion of the positions they’d lost—but they remain in a deep hole, and most of the jobs that are least likely ever to come back are in traditionally male-dominated sectors, like manufacturing and construction.
And her honest examination of the single woman is the best part. Kate talks about “all the single ladies” and tries to find a place for them in today. Should single women be enjoying their solo days as a phase before they finally find a mate, or can we accept single as a permanent status? I think she lands on the idea that single women who don’t settle for a mate can and must accept their single lives as enough, and that doing so requires some societal or at least peer group acceptance of the lifestyle (Kate goes abroad to find such acceptance).
[T]he single woman is very rarely seen for who she is—whatever that might be—by others, or even by the single woman herself, so thoroughly do most of us internalize the stigmas that surround our status.
This is not to question romantic love itself. Rather, we could stand to examine the ways in which we think about love; and the changing face of marriage is giving us a chance to do this. “Love comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part that craves that piece of chocolate, or a work promotion,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and perhaps this country’s leading scholar of love, told me. That we want is enduring; what we want changes as culture does.
I can’t do it justice. Read it all or at least skim.
” On Monday, a University of North Carolina hospital in Chapel Hill will open the country’s first free-standing perinatal psychiatry unit.”
Each year, Raines sees hundreds of women suffering from postpartum depression.
“I’ve had women come in here for a session and have said, ‘All I want you to do is give me the name of an adoption agency, because there’s got to be a better mother out there for this baby than me,’” she says.
Props to UNC and Dr. Meltzer-Brody for addressing this need.