You can see this difficulty at work in the life of 30-something American feminist Kristine Solomon. She describes herself as liberal, single and childless.
Kristine Solomon recently read a column by Suzanne Venker and was left conflicted by it. It's Suzanne Venker's belief that some modern women are turning men off marriage by being too angry, too unfeminine and too independent:
Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.
This isn't easy for Kristine Solomon to accept:
I didn’t spend all this time establishing a career and a comfortable, independent life so I could be told I’m "doing it wrong."
But even so she finds in Suzanne Venker's piece "basic truths that resonate with me":
The truth is, I do believe that there are certain instincts that are hardwired in men, and others that are hardwired in women, and that many men (perhaps subconsciously) are put off by a woman who asserts her independence too severely. I'm suggesting that when Venker urges us to embrace our "femininity," she isn’t implying that we should back down like scared animals and morph into 1950s sitcom wives. It's okay for women to sometimes exhibit stereotypically gendered behaviors — like nurturing or flirtatiousness — and for men to likewise indulge theirs — chivalry or machismo, for instance. It doesn’t mean we’re compromising our values if we engage in that dance. We’re still equal. We’re just... different. And that’s okay.
She's trying to get to the point at which she can accept "equal but different" and the complementarity of masculine and feminine. Better late than never, but as she admits she took a different view in her 20s:
Trust me, I didn’t always feel this way. I can tell you there have been many times when I've practically breathed fire in the face of my old-fashioned mother for suggesting that I refrain from coming across as "too independent," because, you know, the men I date might believe me and move on to women who do need them. Can you think of anything more offensive to say to an ambitious young woman?!
But, as time passed — and my 20s became my 30s — I began to realize that when I told men I was independent and didn’t "need anyone," many eventually backed off...I was determined to be equal, and my 25-year-old self found even the most remote sign of needing a man to be a weakness; I wouldn’t let myself go there.
She finishes with this somewhat compromised argument:
In my 30s, my approach to dating has changed. I've become even stronger and more independent, in large part because I’m no longer faking it. That freedom has given way to a sense of vulnerability. Traditional, antiquated acts of chivalry like holding a door open, paying on the first date and letting him walk on the outside of the pavement (yes, this is a thing) are welcome now. I don't feel those things lower me in any way, but rather, they make me feel protected and cared for. I don’t feel weak allowing that because I only date men who I know, right off the bat, hold me in high regard and consider me their equal. So there are no sensitive implications to being treated "like a woman." I don't feel I have a chip on my shoulder, and I’m no longer defensive.
She is no longer faking things, but likes feeling protected and cared for. She no longer has such a chip on her shoulder and is willing to accept a sense of vulnerability. But it all still has to be justified in terms of being independent, as she has been brought up to see this as the higher good.
She's wrong in continuing to justify herself in terms of independence; if she were really aiming at independence she would stay single and childless. The truth is that she's beginning to accept other goods as important in her life.
I can't criticise the reforms she is making, but I do find it interesting that she was sensitive, in her 20s, to being treated like a woman. That must have confused the men who tried to make contact with her. It can be difficult enough for people to meet the right person without major stumbling blocks like that being put in their way.