Saturday, June 16, 2012

Feminist wants to teach girls how to choose the right husband

If a feminist were to teach girls as part of the school curriculum how to choose the right husband, what qualities would they be advised to look for in a man?

Would it be character? Shared values? A commitment to marriage? A good role model for any future sons?

Well, now we know the answer. A reader sent me a link to a story about Helen Fraser who runs the Girls' Day School Trust in the UK:

Helen Fraser, 63, the chief executive of the Girls' Day School Trust, told its annual conference that girls should learn to be just as "ambitious" in their relationships as they are in their careers.

She said that female pupils must learn to find a man that not only helps around the home but would also be a "cheerleader" for their career.

The former managing director of Penguin Books said that girls can have it all - career, marriage and motherhood - but they must learn to pick the right partner to accomplish it.

She said that failure to do so could mean women not so much hitting the "glass ceiling" as being blocked by a "nappy wall" caused by having to make a decision between children and career.

"Just as I believe we should always encourage our girls to aspire to the best universities, I believe we should encourage our girls to be ambitious in their relationships," she said.

She said that she had been intrigued by comments made by the Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg’s that “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry”.

"Is this what we should be making space for our girls to learn?" she suggested.

 Speaking at the GDST's 140th annual conference in London, she said: "It's not just about finding a husband who does the Hoovering and makes the dinner.

"It's about finding one who really understands it is important for you to thrive and do well in whatever you choose to do.

"They should be cheerleaders and take pride in their wife's career as they do in their own."

Here are some of the things that struck me about Helen Fraser's advice to girls:

1. We still have the attitude, one that was expressed so frequently back in the 1990s, that the role of men in life is to enable the autonomy of women. Men are there to prop up women doing well in "whatever you choose to do".

Not only is that a dubious proposition in itself, there is no mention of any reciprocal arrangement. There is nothing about a wife being a cheerleader for a man doing whatever he chooses to do.

It's not surprising that many of the comments following the story in the Telegraph complained of a culture of female entitlement.

2. Clearly for feminists like Helen Fraser the one big good in life is career. A woman's life is to be organised around career goals. Children are to be looked on as a possible threat to career - as a potential "nappy wall". Husbands are to be chosen on the basis of how they enhance a woman's career.

It strikes me as mercenary, though I have to recognise that there is a social class (the more ambitious professionals, e.g. lawyers, business majors etc) for whom career ambition is a central focus in life.

3. Can it work? Only in a haphazard way, in my opinion. Some men might be willing to marry a career ambitious woman because they want the social prestige brought by the income. And some ambitious men might like to see the same career ambition in their wives.

But a lot of men and women are influenced by hypergamy: the man wants to be the masculine provider and protector and the woman wants a man who she can, in some way, look up to. There are men, too, who would find a "career at all costs" attitude in a woman unappealing; other men will be looking for a woman with the kind of qualities and values which would make her prioritise being a good mother for their children.

And there will be men, faced with female peers they can't keep up with in the workplace, who will downscale their own work commitments. They might start thinking of working in more fun, creative fields rather than in steady, well-paid jobs. They might keep studying longer than they would otherwise have done. They might not stick at jobs for long periods of time.

So it's unlikely that Helen Fraser's view of the ideal family life - of two highly motivated careerists, with the husband playing the additional role of career helpmeet to his wife by taking over parts of the mothering role - will ever become the generally applicable one in society.


  1. >>And there will be men, faced with female peers they can't keep up with in the workplace, who will downscale their own work commitments.

    Um, you mean no matter how highly he performs, HR refuses to hire him, and his much less qualified wife gets the good jobs?

    Anonymous age 70

  2. Anon,

    I agree that some men are in this position. One of my brothers has faced this issue.

  3. Oh wait, I think I just found the ideal husband for a young feminist girl to marry!

    Here's an article about the bloke:,,20597206,00.html

  4. It is still better though than a women needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Ultimatlty if women are going to want this from men they're going to have to offer them something in return. Men just won't line up in numbers otherwise.

  5. Jesse, maybe. It's just that I get the feeling that Helen Fraser wants women not so much to have "husbands" but to have "career support".

    In other words, I don't think the husband/wife connection is very important to her in itself, it's that she thinks men can prop up some other aspect of a woman's life.

  6. Its true that it becomes a relationship centred on careers rather than a family.

  7. Some men might be willing to marry a career ambitious woman because they want the social prestige brought by the income. And some ambitious men might like to see the same career ambition in their wives.

    Blogger Samson's Jawbone alluded a perfect term for this.

  8. Encouraging one another is an important part of marriage, but expecting one's spouse to serve as cheerleader strikes me as narcissism on steroids. She does't want a husband, she wants a supporting actor, a sidekick. And to stick with the movie analogy, we should remember that a sidekick is never the "love interest."

  9. My ex-wife once quipped to me, only half-jokingly, "You see, what I need is a wife, not a husband" (she's not lesbian).

    The point is that most professionals who go to the very tippity top (CEOs, CFOs, General Counsel, founding their own huge companies, etc.) are either single (increasingly the case) or have a "supportive" (read: domesticity-managing) spouse. It's because the degree of time, effort, dedication, relocation and so on required for these positions is of the extreme variety. It is only slightly less so for the next tier down in an organization -- not the corporate heads, but their "direct reports". For all of these people, having a "supportive spouse" is key, if they are married. And, in most cases, this means they are men.

    Women *do* have a point about that. The problem, however, is that they are faced with a contradiction between their sexual/romantic desires, on the one hand, and their career desires, on the other. This is not a problem for people who are happy enough to be "career capped" in middle or upper middle management or its functional equivalent in medicine and engineering. Those people have what you would call "good jobs" without the same levels of extreme hours requires for higher levels of success. But if you are the kind of person who wants to push it to the next level, trying to do that with an "egalitarian" relationship is virtually impossible -- for either a man or a woman.

    There are some women who are okay with having a "supportive" husband whom they are totally superior to economically and career-wise. I have met some of these. Generally they are the women who are (1) very focused on career success to a much higher degree than average for either men or women (2) very driven in regards to (1), (3) not as maternal as other women are on average. They exist, but there aren't that many of them. I actually think that there are more men who would be interested in marrying this kind of woman than there are women like this.

    I have known *more* women who have done the female breadwinner thing who have been dissatisfied with it to a significant degree for various reasons -- mostly because they don't fit the (1) to (3) characteristics in the previous paragraph. Often these women feel trapped in a relationship they don't want, but which they "took" because they were progressive, open-minded, "in love" and so on -- the husbands are generally artiste types (painters, photographers, sculptors, etc), who can be "sexy attractive" in a "demonstrating mastery" kind of way, but aren't breadwinners, and that eventually grates on the wife who feels all of the financial pressure while also not having control of the domestic sphere. Again, some women like that, but not very many of them.

    So, contrary to what is proposed in the article, women really do have to choose -- as do men as well. A man who chooses an egalitarian relationship is also running a high risk of capping himself in his career because he won't have the flexibility to move to the very competitive upper levels, where people have arranged their lives differently (i.e., around the ability to do so). Life is about trade offs. Teaching young people that they can have it all is a recipe for bitterness and disappointment, IMO.

  10. Brendan may be partly correct about the real high flyers, but then again, at that level one doesn't expect one's spouse to "hoover" the house or change the "nappies." If my wife were working that hard, I'd expect to have domestic staff. That's why I don't think the article is talking about high flyers. It's talking about middle-class couples and it's asserting that in such couples the female's professional ambitions come first. Life is a movie and she's the star.

  11. Brendan may be partly correct about the real high flyers, but then again, at that level one doesn't expect one's spouse to "hoover" the house or change the "nappies." If my wife were working that hard, I'd expect to have domestic staff.

    Yes, but the job of the "supportive spouse" is to manage the domestic staff, manage the educational situation, manage the after school enrichment, manage the upkeep of the house (not chores, capex), and so on. It is STILL a supportive spouse role, even if you have "hired help" (I do as well for my apartment).

  12. Cheerleaders always have lower status than those they cheer for, and that is not something a woman will tolerate. In addition, the high status men women desire are never cheerleaders. Thus this advice leads women to choose men they will eventually despise, or choose men that will never give the cheerleading bit they're supposed to receive from a man. Failure all around!

  13. "the role of men in life is to enable the autonomy of women"

    So wait, I'm enabling their autonomy, but what about my autonomy? Are they enabling mine, or doesn't mine matter?

  14. Well, anon, conveniently for the feminists the theory goes that you as a privileged man have already gathered for yourself all the autonomy you need and more.

    Which explains, in part, the complacency of feminists when it comes to the male motivation to sacrifice for women and society.

    A traditionalist would say: well, if you realistically expect men to continue to make sacrifices for their families and for society then it's important that women help to make family life an attractive proposition for men.

    But feminists don't see men making sacrifices, they see men accumulating privileges at the expense of women. So their focus is on the idea of restitution - that men out of a sense of justice should be doing whatever is needed to maximise autonomy for women.

  15. The average man (like me) has very little autonomy. I work for another man; I do what he says; he, in turn, works for another man and does what he says. You have to go pretty far up the chain before you find someone who truly decides for himself what he's going to do every day.

  16. These career-worshipping couples do exist; they rarely have kids, or any interest in having kids. They're the classic DINKies.

    There are marginal couples where the wife has one child late in life. But the successful couples with big families tend to have a much more traditional relationship; the man works at a well paid job and the mother puts as much or more effort into raising her children as into her job, if any.

    So, overall the headmistress's prescription is likely a prescription for sterility.

  17. Are there enough men of their race to marry?
    'Cause if not, they'll have to look elsewhere.
    Or participate in polygamy (which I believe is illegal in Australia).

  18. So she's saying that men should be helpmeets. LOL