Saturday, March 06, 2010

We're sceptical too Elizabeth

Elizabeth Gilbert has written a new book titled Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.

Laura Wood gave it a hostile review over at The Thinking Housewife:

Contrary to its title, this book is not at all about making peace with marriage, at least not marriage to a man. It’s a misty-eyed paean to feminine independence and an ignorant and misleading appraisal of the institution of marriage. It is shockingly anti-male ...

As Laura Wood points out, it's odd that people should accept marriage advice from someone like Elizabeth Gilbert. She was married in her 20s, but divorced when she decided she never wanted to commit to children. She has finally settled aged 40 with a 55-year-old Brazilian man and some dogs.

There are two highly objectionable messages in her book. The first is that women should marry as late as possible, the later the better:

Marriage is not a game for the young. Wait as long as you humanly can to get married, and your odds of staying with one partner forever will increase dramatically. If you wait until you are, say, 35 years old to get married, your odds of success are pretty terrific.

She justifies this by claiming that 85% of women who marry before the age of 23 will divorce and that the divorce rate continues to decrease for women in their 30s.

The statistic is misleading. It's true that there is a high divorce rate for teen marriages, but the risk declines rapidly for those in their early 20s:

According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48% of people who enter marriage when under age 18, and 40% of 18- and 19-year-olds, will eventually divorce. But only 29% of those who get married at age 20 to 24 will eventually divorce—very similar to the 24% of the 25-and-older cohort.

Furthermore, the risk of divorce for those marrying in their 20s is much lower if the participants are not high school dropouts, if there is a reasonable income, if the parents are not divorced, if there is church attendance and if the couple wait until after the wedding to have children. Depending on these factors the chance of divorce can vary from 10% to 90%.

I would agree that it's probably better not to marry as teens. Most people are still developing into their adult personalities at this time, so the potential of people growing unexpectedly apart is much greater.

But the idea of women waiting until the last possible moment to marry is dramatically wrong. It will lead many women to end up just like Elizabeth Gilbert herself: childless and settling with a much older man. Women are at the peak of their fertility, beauty, sexuality and emotional responsiveness in their 20s. It's when they have the most opportunity to marry well and have children.

And if women wait to the last possible moment, then men are likely to have already adapted to a bachelor lifestyle and be much less suitable husband material.

The second flawed message in Elizabeth Gilbert's book is that women are held back from marriage by a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She claims that marriage benefits men much more than women - and again she argues her case with some questionable research:

Interviewer: Do you think marriage is more beneficial to men or women?

Elizabeth Gilbert: This is not my opinion, but a fact backed up by every conceivable study: Marriage is far, far more beneficial to men than women. Married men perform far better in life than single men, and are happier than single men, and live longer than single men, and earn more money than single men.

Married women, on the other hand, make less money than single women, suffer more from depression than single women, don't live as long as single women, and are more likely to be the victims of violence than single women. This has always been the case, which does fly in the face of the mythology and romanticizing of marriage that is epidemic in our culture.

The "Western Style Problem" my friend Ting in Laos describes is the moment that women start deciding that they might want to delay or even defer marriage - understandable, given the facts - which tends to throw a wrench in the workings of traditional family structure. Social conservatives lament this, but maybe the bigger question needs to be, "How can we create family and marriage structures where women don't lose so big?" Maybe if that were the question being confronted, more women might be interested in embracing marriage again.

What nonsense. Her claims are not "backed up by every conceivable study". There is plenty of research showing that women, too, benefit from marriage rather than "losing big". Consider, for instance, the following information from a Maggie Gallagher column.

First, on the issue of violence:

Marriage lowers the risk that both men and women will become victims of violence, including domestic violence. A 1994 Justice Department report, based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that single and divorced women were four to five times more likely to be victims of violence in any given year than wives ...

On longevity:

Married people live longer and healthier lives. The power of marriage is particularly evident in late middle age. When Linda Waite and a colleague, for example, analyzed mortality differentials in a very large, nationally representative sample, they found an astonishingly large "marriage gap" in longevity: nine out of ten married guys who are alive at 48 will make it to age 65, compared with just six in ten comparable single guys (controlling for race, education, and income). For women, the protective benefits of marriage are also powerful, though not quite as large. Nine out of ten wives alive at age 48 will live to be senior citizens, compared with just eight out of ten divorced and single women.

On wealth:

Married people not only make more money, they manage money better and build more wealth together than either would alone. At identical income levels, for example, married people are less likely to report "economic hardship" or trouble paying basic bills. The longer you stay married, the more assets you build; by contrast, length of cohabitation has no relationship to wealth accumulation. On the verge of retirement, the average married couple has accumulated assets worth about $410,000, compared with $167,000 for the never-married and $154,000 for the divorced. Couples who stayed married in one study saw their assets increase twice as fast as those who had remained divorced over a five-year period.

On mental health:

Marriage is good for your mental health. Married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed Americans. By contrast, getting divorced lowers both men's and women's mental health, increasing depression and hostility, and lowering one's self-esteem and sense of personal mastery and purpose in life ...

Wives are also much less likely to commit suicide than single, divorced, or widowed women.

Consider what Elizabeth Gilbert is really arguing. She is claiming that despite all the hard work and sacrifices that men undertake for their families, that women would be better off single. What kind of a message does this send men? It suggests that men ought not to make the effort to begin with.

The truth is that Elizabeth Gilbert did not recoil from marriage because of a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She did so because she was brought up with a liberal ideal of autonomy for women - an ideal that she is now struggling with: she is sticking with it even whilst she wonders what life would be like with some other more traditional ideal.

I'll go on to discuss this in a future post.


  1. Marriage is also good for the children.

  2. Perhaps married men make more money and live longer, not because women have anything to do with those things, but because women are astoundingly hypergamous when under zero social constraints, as they are today.

    Women are marrying these men precisely because they're tall, good looking (therefore presumably healthy), and make outstanding money. Women rarely marry men who do not already possess these attributes, or who won't soon have them. Short or unattractive men make less money statistically, and we all know what lack of money does to a man's marriage prospects.

  3. It's amazing how many stats feminazi activists simply make up out of thin air knowing that no journalist is ever going to hold them to account.

    The stats, in journalistic jargon, are "Too good to check".

    And since the journos know that no-one is ever going to hold them to account for being so lazy, there is no downside for either party.

  4. "And since the journos know that no-one is ever going to hold them to account for being so lazy, there is no downside for either party."

    I've heard this is the case and that mainstream journalists will often accept stats from left wing sources on face value.

  5. Hey, I'm an old poster from Vanishing American and I read your blog and frankly your blog is starting to become a little bit hurtful.

    Can I make a request to get off of this "marry before 30" tripe. And yes it is tripe. I am not a feminist, I want children and I simply and utterly can't find anyone.

    No one asked me out in college, no one asked me out in graduate school, no one asked me out at the company I worked at, and sure as hell no one is asking me out now that I'm 27 and self-employed (yeah being self-employed gets rid of the 'meeting at work' thing).

    Reading your blog is just so hurtful to women like me.

    Some women just get overlooked by men. And I don't need your blog telling me that it's all my fault.

    All my friends are married now and frankly I think they are all horrible people. One girl married at 22 for money (and she's still not working!) My best friend is marrying next weekend, a guy who loved her since she was 18 and she would not date him...only after she got hit by a guy did she come to her senses and realize that she should marry the nice guy who loved her. And my ex-friend is marrying the guy who had a crush on her for over a year...she MOCKED him behind his back saying he was not good looking enough to date her etc etc...but when she started getting too old and the douchbag she was dating dumped her suddenly she gets married to the guy who had a crush on her.

    I'm sorry but the reality on the ground is not what is in your blog.

    I may not ever get married and in your eyes I may be a complete worthless loser....but at least I can say that I'm not a horrible 20-something girl who is marrying a guy she rejected over and over and over -- made fun of, mocked, insulted behind his back----and then dated when she realized she was 'running out of time.'

    I will never waste a man's time. Men deserve better than girls like that. Yet it seems like those are the girls they want.

    Some of us just don't meet the right person. It's not because we're feminists.

  6. No one asked me out in college, no one asked me out in graduate school, no one asked me out at the company I worked at, and sure as hell no one is asking me out now that I'm 27 and self-employed (yeah being self-employed gets rid of the 'meeting at work' thing).

    There seems to be an obvious solution here, if only you would avail yourself of it.

  7. Anonymous: Judging by your own anecdotes, you are the exception, outnumbered by women who did not marry even though they were NOT being overlooked by men. Therefore, the generalizations about women your age do not apply to you, so why would you take them personally?

    Oh, I forgot; taking everything personally is the feminine way. :-)

    By the way, you were making the same kind of generalization, via anecdotes, as you object to.

    It still seems to be a valid generalization that a LOT of women your age are not marrying because (1) they don't seek marriage until they suddenly decide they are running out of time, and (2) they don't have a clue how to evaluate men as husband material. These generalizations don't apply to you, but they seem to apply to a lot of women you know. These women are destroying family formation and the structure of society.

  8. "Reading your blog is just so hurtful to women like me."

    Hi Anonymous,

    I think you're very courageous for expressing your views here. I don't think that this is an easy issue for anyone, men or women and that no one party should feel they should carry the blame.

    Having said that if we don't meet up, find partners and have children our society is doomed. Relationships aren't easy, we have to adapt to the expectations of the opp sex and do so in a way that doesn't make us feel miserable. If you're a woman who works you have to pursue your career at the same time as dealing with historical views that women should take care of the domestic scene etc. You may have to deal or meet up with guys who "need a bit of work" and aren't quite there yet.

    I think you should be congratulated for your efforts and success with your business. The "30" age thing though isn't totally arbitrary. Its biologically the case that reproduction is harder in women's 30's in spite of the many medical advances. Being 30 also gives women some time to settle into careers or whatever and explore the different partners they may be interested in while not being too old to enjoy or raise their children.

    When it comes to dating as every 20 something guy knows, it doesn't always "happen". Effort has to be expended to find out what women want and what is needed to make them happy. Every guy knows this because historically they've been on the front foot on the dating scene and also because they like women and are prepared to work fairly hard to make it and stay in their good graces.

    One issue here is the difference between some of the underlying ideas of liberalism and conservatism. Under conservatism I think we're willing to say that we have certain "duties". Hopefully fulfilling them won't make us miserable and hopefully and with good reason we expect that they will make us happy. Alternatively under liberalism there is a shorter term focus I believe and what makes us happy now is good. The issue is raised on this site repeatedly because the idea is that what makes us and women happy in our 20's won't necessarily make us happy latter in life. Like the grasshopper we can't just play the fiddle while the sun is shinning and hope that everything will be ok.

    Thanks for your comment and all the best.

  9. Anonymous,

    I understand that there are women like yourself who would like to marry in your 20s but haven't had the opportunity.

    But you must know, since you have read some of these posts, that there are women who did have the opportunity but passed it over because they were committed to a single girl lifestyle in their 20s, and then found it difficult to partner in their 30s.

    And women are still being given advice, by the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, to defer a commitment until "the last humanly possible moment" in their late 30s.

    Are conservatives really supposed to stay quiet when the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert give such bad advice?

  10. Anonymous,

    I too wish you all the best in your personal life.

    It's not easy to stay open and hopeful but I hope you find the strength to do so.

  11. Hey Anon,

    I'm a former reader of VA's blog too--did you post there often?

    As for your post, though, I hear what you're saying: it stings when you, as a single person, hear other people talking about marriage and duty and all of that. I'm about the same age as you and I'm not married either, though I'd like to be.

    But one thing you have to remember is that Richardson is talking about general truth here, not about you and your life in particular. Truth is constant for everyone. But the details and particulars vary a lot from person to person.

    If you read VA's blog very regularly, I'm sure you remember her saying some things that weren't always flattering to non-white readers. But she was speaking general truths; a non-white should not have understood anything she said as a personal attack. Same principle here for Mr. Richardson, you know?

  12. First time visitor here. Great blog Mark- full of lots of uncomfortable truths.

    I read an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert some time ago (with an excerpt from her book "Eat, Pray, Love") and had to force myself to finish the column. The book sounded like a pretentious, self-indulgent screed, which I refused to read when it was suggested for book club. The fact that she's pedaling this toxic message- a demonstrable failure if one looks at what has happened to women (and as a result men and families) of her generation- is of concern.

    You may have addressed the issue in other posts, but can you "round-out" your argument by addressing a (genuine) statistic at the other end: does a divorce rate in excess of 40 percent not also signify (belated) selfishness on the part of one or other individual? Isn't divorce (like endlessly deferred marriage) often the manifestation of one's desire to be free of the constraints of marriage and family life?

  13. Mark said:

    The second flawed message in Elizabeth Gilbert's book is that women are held back from marriage by a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She claims that marriage benefits men much more than women...

    Whoever thinks this is suffering from some kind of Aspergers syndrome. Most women without family and life partner are without a life.

    Marriage connects women's present with their past and future. It does so for men too. But they are somewhat dispensable in the breeding stakes.

    Women think first, foremost and mostly about personal relationships. The basis of personal relationships is marriage from whence come our ancestors and where go our descendants.

    This kind of thinking shows that "anthropology" (ie post-modernist liberal ideology masquerading as human science) has suffered a complete intellectual collapse. Stove remarked that anthropology was an intellectual "disaster area":

    And by the time you come to the festering slums, such as sociology and anthropology have become since the defeat in Vietnam, the situation is quite reversed. There, now, almost any innovation would be for the better, and the rankest amateur, if he could get his foot in the door, would be sure to raise the tone of the place out of sight, morally of course, but even intellectually.

  14. The single anonymous here again...

    The truth is I don't think these feminists are a generalization of women. All my working rotten LIBERAL feminist girlfriends are all having weddings or about to. I went to a bridal shower the other week and someone asked my soon to be married friend "have you two talked about how many kids you want?" and she started blubbering and sputtering...the answer was no they have not discussed children (which is really upsetting....)

    Working/Liberal/Feminist women are not putting off marriage. This is not the problem. No Liberal women I know are putting off marriage to "live the single girl lifestyle." Not one.

    They are however, putting off children. And I think that maybe you should focus more on that aspect on your blog. The fact that so many of my girlfriends are getting married for Financial Reasons and STILL putting off children. I mean think about it...the ultimate feminist can get married, have double the income to buy stuff with, have a vacation partner, plenty of sex and then just not have children? It's PERFECT!

    In fact, going back to the fact that none of my female liberal friends are marrying guys they truly love....I just want to say that when you really really love someone you have a desire to have kids cuz in a way it's like "mulitplying them" You want more "thems" in the world cuz you love them. Which is why the bridal shower answer is so disturbing.

    Anyways.....I'm getting off topic....but I think the Feminist has a point....If you get married later (say your 30's) I think you appreciate what you have more. Look at me versus my friends. I think I'm going to appreciate my husband WAY more because I have had plenty of alone hours to feel miserable and contemplate all this crap. I think if you get married at 25-27 to someone you don't 100% love then when you get to be 34-37 lots of things can go wrong.

    Now back to the "couples not having kids" I think this is the wayyy bigger societal issue. Even if you get married at age 35 you can still have a few kids. (Oh oh..another BIG problem that needs to be addressed is the pill and how it impacts future fertility....lots of couples I know are trying to have kids and can't and I think its cuz the girl spent so many years prior on the pill)

    So yeah....I want someone to talk about why even after you are married Children are Still a Scary Proposition. Hey even I sometimes catch myself thinking "If I got married to this guy we could go on vacations and just have one kid and live this super luxurious lifestyle etc etc etc" It's so much EASIER just to have 1 kid....and I keep my figure :)

  15. one more quick thing...

    You know the Feminist got married when she was in her 20's. Why didn't the man ask her BEFORE they even got married "Hey Do You want to have my children? How many do you want?"

    Why hasn't the bridal shower girl's husband asked her this question? Why didn't the guy who married my gold-digger friend ask her before he proposed "Hey do you want to have children with me?"

    Why are the men marrying these women???

  16. I keep forgetting that this is OzConservative...maybe there is a different trend in Australia? Especially if the Ozzie newspapers are printing all these pro-feminist articles all the time. Your media may be brainwashing the population a bit differently then here in the U.S. Other than Maureen O'Dowd I can't think of any American feminazi writers.

    I read Ask Sam from the Sydney Herald, and she strikes me as the type you speak about so maybe there is far more of a 'single girl' mentality in Oz then in the U.S. ??

    Thanks for listening I'm off. I love your blog and the Ozzie perspective :)

  17. I’d like to raise one thing if I may and that is are people really prepared for married life?

    People are generally prepared for ego maximization, they’re prepared to make the most of opportunities, they’re prepared to largely get away with what they can. (You might be saying that that’s isn't the case with me but I think it is common). Marriage is different though, its much harder. Maybe its not so much a question that people don’t want marriage but that they’re unprepared for it and so struggle a little.

    How do you prepare for marriage? Well there’s a perception that getting married is to be a loser. You’re giving up your “hopes and dreams” to a degree, meaning you’re largely giving up your independence and through commitment the possibility of future “advancement”. As in sure I’ll get married … to Claudia Shiffer.

    It’s a cultural ideological thing if you ask me. The mindset is to get more. Its very difficult to “settle”. Its very difficult to let others look at you warts and all and maybe see problems. Its very difficult to look at others and deal with things about them that might disappoint you. It seems its difficult to “give” to a degree. Just a thought.

    The argument raised was that you should "hold off marriage as long as possible". Why not hold it off altogether? Are you just getting married to say that "you've done that" too? "Holding off" marriage seems to support the view that its considered something really not desirable. It shouldn't be a suprise that a culture which pushes autonomy so strongly should struggle with something like marriage.

    The way marriage is talked about these days, as "a co-dependant relationship", for instance. It makes it sound so ghastly. Also when we think of marriage as a positive its usually when we consider how we will personally benefit, which in turn then requires the other partner to be selfless and giving. In practise if we both want the other partner to be selfless, but are not that well dispossed towards it ourselves, life will be awkward and unsatisfying.

  18. Anonymous,

    I guess the "fun married" situation is like an updated version of dating. It probably also goes along with, "if it doesn't work out we can get a divorce" These gals might have a higher divorce rate too.

    I'm an Army Reservist and without sounding too pompous or intimidating I'm willing to take a bullet for my country (ok it sounds a bit pompous). If things are too "fun" I'm suspicious. Great trips and everything ... You've got a long life these days and you'll have time for trips. Family etc is something that has to be prioritised. People have no problem prioritising their careers. Trips are not something which in my view should be. That's usually my first test as to whether someone's a flake or not, lol I don't mean to sound too rude.

    By the way you may have a point about the pill I haven't thought about it.

    On the point about children obviously that's a commitment. Also as you say if you're marrying someone for the "lifestyle" you may be less willing to have kids with them. Although, motherhood is becoming a trendy lifestyle too lol, with those "Yummy Mummy's".

    And thank you for your perspective.

  19. Anon said:

    "Why are the men marrying these women???"

    Good question. They have the same ambitions as the women. Shallow women attract shallow blokes.

    Also I think there's something a little magic about really self centred women. More of a challenge? (I'm keeping a straight face here honestly).

  20. There is only one solution to the collapse of the Western family- a return to the traditional Eurasian traditition of arranged marriage supported by the extended family.

    Not gonna work. You can arrange all the marriages you want, but if women still have the right to pull the plug when their 'ginas stop tingling for the beta provider they married, then those arranged marriages will be for naught. To quote the master: "When the law relieved husbands and wives of the obligation to give a damned good reason to leave their partners, it was a race to the exits, and beta males took the brunt of it under the new polygynous rules. Yes, some individual divorce parties will suffer without the easy out of no-fault. But the suffering of the few is to be weighed against the betterment of the whole."

    Further cogent advice here:

    - Stop browbeating women to go on to higher education
    - Fire all the divorce lawyers
    - Fathers of daughters have to take a stronger role in punishing and publicly humiliating male interlopers and their slutty daughters
    - Reinvigorate the manufacturing sector of the economy
    - Reform child support and divorce laws

    You may hate the messenger, but I think his message is spot-on.

  21. Hi Anonymous,

    I don't want to cut you off but I find the beta stuff really offensive. Maybe that's a beta thing to say? If Beta guys get dumped by women there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Alpha guys dump women.

    Surely in a democratic country there has to be popular support for major changes, although this will often not be majority support. I think there is a growing dissatisfaction with the marriage situation and the divorce rates but surely changes must be bottom up rather than pushed too hard from above? Just a thought.

    On the manufacturing front how are you going to compete with cheaper goods from Asia, raise protections? I would have thought there's only so much of that you can do whilst still maintaining economic potentials.

  22. This is an excerpt from Charlotte Allan, "The New Dating Game" The Weekly Standard 15(21) 15 February 2010:

    "Wives have historically reported less satisfaction from their marriages than husbands, but according to the National Marriage Project’s latest report, their discontent is growing: fewer than 60 percent of wives report that they are 'very happy' in their marriages, in contrast to more than 66 percent in 1973. (Male marital happiness has declined, too: from 70 percent to 63 percent.) 'Women initiate two-thirds of divorces,' W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, told me. [citing Wilcox:] 'With no-fault divorce since the 1960s, that can be divorce for no reason at all. The reasons wives divorce their husbands can be legitimate or illegitimate—adultery and abuse or lack of intimacy, growing apart, or having found someone more exciting. And because it’s no-fault divorce even when there might be actual fault, the spouse left behind is often treated unjustly in dividing income and property, and frequently regarding custody of the children.'"

    I read somewhere that today men "start and end marriage on their knees". Hardly an incentive to tie the knot.

  23. Ah, just found it:

    "Marriage, for example, is an MUE from the proposal till the divorce. Men begin and end the relationship on their knees. The entire ceremony is utterly feminine and the contract entered into produces an almost two to one failure rate. The home is owned, designed, organized and dominated by the woman. Men, fathers, are always visitors. Sexual harassment laws in schools and tertiary institutions have made it extremely difficult for men – both as students and teachers."

    It's from Patrick McCauley, "Killing Fathers" Quadrant Online (17 February 2010).

  24. Re Anon's comment that "Hey Do You want to have my children? How many do you want?"

    - That is one of the best ways to prevent any girl wanting to go out with you in your early twenties.

  25. ""Hey Do You want to have my children? How many do you want?""

    Surely this should be discussed before marriage though.

  26. Dear Anonymous- I read your post and have a suggestion. I am a male, and when I was in my late twenties I dated sporadically and never found a woman who wanted to marry me. I am short, but was not ugly or overweight. After a break-up, I was angry with God, and asked him why I could not find a girl who liked me. I was on my knees asking him why he was being so mean to me. Shortly thereafter, I met and married my wife when in my early thirties. We have now been married over 25 years and have 3 beautiful children, all of whom are smart and successful. I remember when we were engaged a woman pulled my wife aside and told her how brave she was to marry a short guy like me. This isn't a Pollyanna tale-being a short man doesn't mean you're inevitably going to be a pariah-Tom Cruise is short, for crying out loud, but never seems to lack for female companionship as far as I can tell( being rich and good-looking like him probably help). I would suggest that you pray to God for help-I am sure God answered my prayer, and my wife and I both believe that God brought us together. When you admit your weakness before God and seek his help for a righteous cause, I am sure he hears such prayers and answers them.

  27. Anon Single, perhaps you could look to a matchmaker who deals with marriage minded individuals only. They do background checks for you and set you up based on pragmatic rather than romantic consierations.

    I think Anonymous Single demonstrates the painful problems that result from the breakdown of any rules governing courtship.

    The liberal worldview embraces breaking down rules and removing any restrictions. This leads one to wonder, "What is the proper way to go about acheiving this goaql?" There is no longer a road map. To the liberal mind this is liberating, to otehrs it is chaotic.

    I think if you get married at 25-27 to someone you don't 100% love then when you get to be 34-37 lots of things can go wrong.

    I disagree. Love is an active not passive thing. It grows over time, especially after a couple goes through hardships or life changing events together.

    Couples who have been married since their young 20s were able to grow into adults together. The problem is that marriage in general is not valued or viewed as a long term investment. Not that younger brides (and grooms) do worse at it. The women who marry for trivial reasons intheir twenties would still have married for trivial reasons if they had waited a decade.

    I also disagree that there is any such thing as shared "eurasian" culture.

    Or that arranged marriage can be considered Western. The Romans were big on arranged marriages for most. During the medieval period, the ordinary pesants and what not did not arrange marriages for their children, just nobility and the wealthy. The Germanic and Celtic tribes seem to not have arranged marriages much during the Roman years either(from what texts that we have on them.)

  28. Long-time married feminist here.

    I am impatient with advice from anyone as to when to get married. It is not something anyone can control because wamarriage depends on the cooperation of a willing and compatible partner. So telling people to get married in their 20s is useless -- unless you want people to get married just for the sake of getting married, which sounds to me like a recipe for disaster, and even then an individual might not be able to find a willing partner. Similarly, telling people to wait until they are older is silly, because you could easily stumble upon that fabulous, compatible person at a fairly young age. (I did, and I wasn't at all looking to marry.)

    It seems to me that the philosophy most conducive to happiness is one of "going with the flow." Wait and see what happens, and resolve to be happy with whatever the outcome is, whether it is marriage or singledom.

    One hugely positive outcome of feminism is the improved status of single women. Even as recently as my mother's day, being an "old maid" meant being an object of pity and scorn. This put women in a terrible position, because women had to marry to gain social respect (or at least relatively more respect), yet (as I noted above) the decision to marry wasn't exactly within their control (especially an era that more rigidly enforced the notion that men, not women, initiate courtship).

  29. To the anonymous single woman on this thread who is upset that men are marrying her mean, liberal, feminist girlfriends:

    I have to question whether your frustration with your own situation is coloring your assessment of their motivations and situations. (I also question why you are friends with women of whom you have such a poor opinion.)

    That said, at 27, you are still a young woman! You are hardly an over-the-hill old crone. You have lots of time to get married and have babies, or if you are older when you get married, you still have plenty of time to adopt.

    Since I don't know you, I don't presume to know why you are havig trouble getting attention from men. But one possibility is that it may be that you are overly passive. I only propose this because you sound like a traditionalist, non-feminist woman, and therefore you may believe that you ought to wait until a man notices you. I would suggest perhaps being a little more outgoing. I don't think that asking a man out for a cup of coffee, or even for dinner, would turn you into a ball-busting feminist, and most men would be wildly flattered (men aren't used to being asked out) and give you a second look even if they haven't noticed you before. (Of course, if you do this, you have to be prepared to be turned down. If you are turned down, don't take it personally. Give yourself a pat on the back for putting yourself out there and for giving the man a compliment and brightening his day.)

    Again, I don't mean to presume, and perhaps this isn't something you would be comfortable with. I bring this up only as a possibility to consider. It worked for me and gave me the chance to get to know men who wouldn't have given me a second glance otherwise. And it always made me feel good to give them the compliment of asking them out, even if they turned me down.

    Anyway, from one feminist gal to a non-feminist gal, I really hope you don't despair at this early stage in the game! There's plenty of fish in the sea! Chin up (and stop taking this out on your liberal friends).

  30. Maggie said:

    "It seems to me that the philosophy most conducive to happiness is one of "going with the flow."

    That's fine but you have to put yourself in the right streams. Nobodies saying that you should snap to it and marry anyone by a certain age but if you're living the vida loca that might not prepare you for marraige and then boom you're in your 40's wondering what happened.

  31. "I am impatient with advice from anyone as to when to get married"

    I mean don't you think that marriage is good and that people (western people) should have babies? Or should everyone just do whatever they want no matter what the cost?


  32. It seems to me that the philosophy most conducive to happiness is one of "going with the flow." Wait and see what happens, and resolve to be happy with whatever the outcome is, whether it is marriage or singledom.

    I disagree. the philosophy that leads to the greatest sense of meaning and fulfillment is standing as a bulwark in the face of great streams of opposition. Standing for morals and substance and the truth of God in the face of cruel world is better than just accepting that the silly nonsense that 99% of humans engage in has any worth.

    just going with the flow leads to meaningless emptiness.

  33. Jesse 7,

    I don't believe in the myth of the person who lives la vida loca and then suddenly wakes up to realize he or she forgot to get married and it is too late to fix it. People who find themselves unmarried at, say, 40 are usually unmarried for one of two reasons: (1) they couldn't find a willing partner, or (2) they didn't want to get married. Some of these people, though not all, might regret their decision not to marry -- but regrets are a risk of any decision or course of action we take in life. Plenty of people regret waking up at 40 to find out they ARE married!

    As for whether people have an obligation to have babies, let's be honest. We are talking about women. Women take on the physical burden and risk of having babies. And no, I don't think we have a moral oblgiation to do so. The earth is more populated than ever, we are not facing extinction, and no, I don't care if western (do you mean white?) people become outnumbered. Although I may have a child (depends on resolving husband's infertility issues), I have no interest in becoming an instrument in some sort of breeding war.

    Besides, the radical individualism in western culture is the very thing I prize about it. So hectoring or forcing women to take on some moral obligation to have lots of babies would be counter to the whole reason I care about my culture. I

  34. Liesel,

    You may be miscontruing my idea of going with the flow.

    To me, hinging your entire self-worth from childhood onwards on the dream of marrying and having a number of children is a mistake. I have met people who have done this. Then it turns out that no one will marry them! Or it turns out that they can't have children! And then they are devastated. Or they marry someone just for the sake of getting married and find themselves miserably joined to an incompatible partner.

    It seems far more sensible to just wait and see what happens without pushing too hard for a particular result or pinning all one's hopes or sense of self-worth on a particular result.

    "Going with the flow" does not mean living a life of meaningless hedonism. I don't believe in God, but I do believe we have an obligation to work hard, to care for our neighbors, and to do whatever we can to make the world better than we found it. Of course, you and I will surely disagree on what "better" looks like, but c'est la vie.

  35. Maggie allright,

    "1) they couldn't find a willing partner, or (2) they didn't want to get married"

    There is a couple more, (3) They couldn't find a partner on THEIR terms (which is a big distinction if the terms are close to unreasonable or impractical) (4) They do want to get married and have babies but are fundamentally confused about how to go about it in todays world (with its strong individual focus) and instead throw their hands up and say its all too hard and then distract themselves as best they can with activities and excitement.

    When I mean Western, yes I do mean white (sorry), predominantly, but certainly not exclusively. The individualism of the Western world is great but if we don't have babies *poof* its gone. Do you seriously think you can have an ever declining white population, import increasing numbers of immigrants, to the point were they're a colossal majority, and still keep society "Western"?

    On the overpopulation of the world thing, this is the biggest embarrassing cop out ever. You know what? You're actually doing a social service by not having babies, having all those trips, living from dinner party to dinner party, etc. The western world is only overpopulated if we bring in endless immigrants. Lets set our house in order first before saying the planet is about to die. Otherwise you may be unpleasantly surprised if the planet doesn't die.

    If it turns out that a woman or man can't have babies, obviously that's a fact of life and obviously that's noones fault (and you can adopt). However, if you leave babies so late in the day that biologically it gets harder, then that certainly isn't random chance but poor planning.

    "We are talking about women. Women take on the physical burden and risk of having babies."

    Women and men. Babies is not a women only thing, and these days I think you'd have to back your chances in surviving childbirth.

    "Besides, the radical individualism in western culture is the very thing I prize about it. So hectoring or forcing women to take on some moral obligation to have lots of babies would be counter to the whole reason I care about my culture."

    Radical individualism. Why does it have to be radical? Can't you just have individualism? Well individually can't you bring yourself to have a baby? (That is a rhetorical question and not directed at you). We're for the most part talking about 2 children here, that's hardly lots. Nobodies interested in hectoring anyone. The point of this discussion is to show the VALUE of having kids, and this is not merely a personal value. Having kids is a big deal and consequently if its going to take place it must be prioritised within the individual and society. "I'd like to but I guess we'll see", means its not being prioritised and then you're 40. Lets be frank about this, there's "plenty" of stuff you can do in the modern western world untill you're 40, (its not like you're starved of choice and only have babies because everyone else is), and so children have to be a much more deliberate choice and can't be paid off to chance.

    "I have no interest in becoming an instrument in some sort of breeding war."

    Oh come on Maggie, we need babies for the Fatherland. Hardly, if we could just manage replacement rate (and incidentally that wouldn't be enough to win in a "breeding war") that would be a huge advance. Like I said you're part of this Western culture you prize so highly, well having babies ensures its survival, beyond you.

    Incidentally, honestly thanks for the post and your point of view.

  36. Hi Jesse,

    I think you are right that some people don't marry because they can't find a partner on "their" terms and "their" terms may be too hard to meet. (If a woman decides not to marry unless her partner is as good looking as Brad Pitt, there is a good chance she will remain single.) Of course, I don't see a problem with saying, "I will only marry in certain circumstances that may never take place."

    I also think you are correct that some people would like to have babies but don't because societal conditions are not conducive to reproduction. I would even put myself in that category.

    I happen to love kids and, in a vacuum, there is no question that I would have tried to have kids 10 -15 years ago. My reluctance has stemmed from our culture's poor treatment of mothers. Working mothers are regularly vilified in the press. Stay-at-home mothers are condescended to. Mothers of all stripes are expected to do the vast bulk of the work of childcare, while it is socially acceptable in some quarters for men to brag that they don't change diapers. And trying to take on all that and remain competitive in the workplace is extremely difficult.

    So I have waited until I am at a position where I am essentially "the boss" in my company (or, more accurately, in a particular part of my company). Because I set my own hours and don't have to answer to anyone as long as the work gets done, I am now finally able to contemplate motherhood. Sure, I will still be trashed for being a working mother, but I am in a position where I can have a child and still be competitive and powerful in my career. Of course, I am approaching the end of the line for having my own biological kid, but I had to wait until now in order to have a child AND remain an equal citizen and colleague. But I am one of the lucky ones.

    It seems to me that if getting western women to have more babies is important (which I still doubt), the way to go about it is not to reduce women's independence or ability to make choices. I also highly doubt that exhorting women through religious or cultural pressure to stop being so selfish is gonna work. The way to get women to stop being so reluctant to have kids is to create a society where women are not penalized so harshly for doing so.

    I also think immigration and assimilation are ways to increase the population that shares western values. Two generations ago, my own family were backwards villagers just off the boat who treated women more crappily than their new country. Within 50 years, their line is now full of thoroughly Anglicized (in the U.S. sense) Enlightenment feminist thinkers such as myself.

  37. The feminist blog Feministe is taking on the issue of Australian women's supposed obligation to reproduce here:

  38. Maggie, there's an interesting comment attached to the Sydney Morning Herald column that the Feministe article discusses.

    It's from a woman named Victoria:

    "The indignant young woman in me agrees with every word you say. The 37 year old that's now battling infertility isn't so sure.

    "Rudd's comments were clearly crass and inappropriate, however, as someone who's watched her friends pursue their career/travel/education dreams then get to their 30s only to find the fertility door resolutely bolted, I do worry the women following in our footsteps haven't learned some valuable lessons.

    "If you see children as part of your distant future that's all well and good, but you need to be prepared for the fact that biology and time may have other ideas."

    Victoria has stated succinctly what I have labored to communicate in these posts of mine.

  39. Maggie,

    I don't think berating women for being selfish is going to do much good either. For the simple reason that that's not the key to the problem.

    You yourself reveal what the problem is. Women have bought into the liberal idea that the key good in life is individual autonomy.

    Once you accept autonomy as the overriding aim, then certain things follow.

    First, a commitment to marriage and motherhood is likely to be deferred in favour of a single lifestyle based on travel, socialising, casual relationships, pursuit of educational gaols and so on.

    That's because the single lifestyle is the more autonomous one.

    Or there is a focus on the pursuit of money, status and power through careerism. This is thought to increase the autonomy (the independence) of women vis a vis men.

    The instincts to marry and have children are still there but they get deferred to some distant, last minute moment in time.

    You won't raise the status of motherhood in our culture whilst autonomy continues to be seen as the sole, overriding good.

    After all, in what way is a stay at home mother advancing her autonomy? She is making a definite commitment, tying herself to the service of another person, her child. She is putting the value of motherhood above the value of enhancing her personal autonomy.

  40. Maggie,

    Just on the point of immigration if I may, I'm presumptively guessing your family might have come from Eastern Europe or the Mediterranean? Which is obviously well and truly within the Western tradition.

    The immigration option seems like a hail mary pass. We can't seem to get fertility right so I sure hope the immigrants can do it for us.

    I entirely agree that raising children, whether in a working environment or a stay at home environment should be elevated within our society. A bit more than “should” actually.

    One thing about work. If work is a bit of a cut throat environment where every advantage that can be seized upon is, then clearly taking time out to have children may be looked down upon. However, work as the only mechanism for advancement in society is clearly a liberal individualist concept. You might say "No that's actually a male environment issue". There is some truth to that. However, the number of women in the workplace is clearly growing so its not entirely a male thing.

  41. Mark,

    Well, sure, age-related infertility exists among a significant minority of women in their late 30s. But it doesn't folllow that women should take some "lesson" from this that we should have babies in our 20s.

    It seems weird to me to tell women they might regret postponing their childbearing. It is not like women have no idea there is a biological clock. We are bombarded with scare stories about it every two minutes! We make our choices knowingly.

    And it seems weird to organize our entire lives around the possibility that we might be among those women dealing with age-related infertility in our late 30s. Most women are, in fact, still fertile even at 39. I am about to turn 39 and the fertility doctor we are consulting due to my husband's infertility laughed when I mentioned a concern about my age!

    Every woman as to make her own calculation of what she wants out of life, and what risks she is willing to take. The risk of regret is inherent in any choice we make about marriage and childbearine. This goes for men too.

  42. Mark,

    You are right that autonomy is seens as an important good and that is a big motivator. But I don't think telling women that autonomy is bad is going to help much.

    Just my personal opinion, but I think that autonomy (and equal citizenship) are crucial for human happiness. These are basic human needs that people don't easily give up. People, in my experience, are not generally happy in a position of dependence and subordination. Even the most conservative religious women I have known struggle with the command to submit to their husbands.

    Admittedly, you (not you personally but social conservatives in general) do have some effective tools in your toolkit to try to get women to give up autonomy. One is religion. One is culture and social shaming of women who are "too" independent. But these tools have been losing their power over the last few decades.

    I think the solution is to make it easier for women to have that autonomy within a context of motherhood. Stop villifying working mothers. Support more flexibility in the work place. Expect fathers to pull their weight.

    I think that improving women's status in the professions and providing more cultural support to women's autonomy is helpful to stay-at-home-moms as well. The fact that SAHMs today have a choice to not be SAHMs means that their efforts are less taken for granted by social conservatives. In my mother's era, she did not get any special kudos for being a SAHM, because it was simply taken for granted that that is what women did.

  43. Jesse,

    I don't see immigration as a hail mary, but I guess we will have to wait and see. There is no question that raising the numbers in places like Australia and the U.S. would be easy. Everyone in the world wants to come to our countries. The issue is whether these immigrants can cope with our laws and values. I think the vast majority do just fine. I am concerned about radicalized Islamic immigrant communities.

    As a U.S. citizen, I would be perfectly happy if the majority of our citizenry are not white someday. To me, what matters are the principles on which our country is founded and my experience has been that some of the immigrant groups are the most enthusiastic promoters of those principles (the Cuban community in Florida comes to mind). At the risk of seeming U.S.-centric, I imagine that Australia has national values that immigrant groups can adopt as their own and a cultural pride that would encourage that assimilation.

    With regard to work, it is weird, but I think that family life and cut-throat competition can coexist. It is amazing to me how acceptable it has become for people (including men) to work from home to care for a sick kid or take a call from the kid's teacher, etc. My field is extremely competitive, but family obligations are also respected. That is the kind of change that encourages someone like me to have a child!

  44. What about tomorrow, are you perfectly happy to see it tomorrow?

    "I don't see immigration as a hail mary, but I guess we will have to wait and see."

    Well I guess according to your theory we will have to wait and see, because we have no choice in the matter, its just kinda happening.

    "The issue is whether these immigrants can cope with our laws and values."

    Why should they bother to "cope" with anything. They'll be the majority soon, and then you'll be the one "coping".

    "And it seems weird to organize our entire lives around the possibility that we might be among those women dealing with age-related infertility in our late 30s. Most women are, in fact, still fertile even at 39. I am about to turn 39 and the fertility doctor we are consulting due to my husband's infertility laughed when I mentioned a concern about my age!"

    Is this the case? Did I miss something here? I thought it was established that when you hit your 30's your fertility starts to decline? We'd certainly "like" to be fertile in our 30's, 40's and possibly 50's. Whether we are or not is another matter. Mark has allready made the point several times about the advantages of having kids while you're still younger and not putting it off to the end of your list of things to do.

    "Every woman has to make her own calculation of what she wants out of life, and what risks she is willing to take. The risk of regret is inherent in any choice we make about marriage and childbearing. This goes for men too."

    We're in choice theory here. The idea that we can do ANYTHING we chose to is a liberal notion. The idea that some things are easier, more achievable or realistic is a conservative one. I'm not saying don't shoot high, but live in the world. Some things are more achievable than others and there are other factors which affect choice. Its not good enough to say, "Oh you had your choice and you blew it".

    "Just my personal opinion, but I think that autonomy (and equal citizenship) are crucial for human happiness."

    On autonomy the issue is, is it an end in itself or is it a means to an end (along with other means). I think you can figure out what that means.

  45. Additionally,

    The point was raised that Conservatives shame and bully women. I don't think that setting or suggesting "guidelines" necessary qualifies as that. Either way if a man acts like a goon he will get a bollocking on sites like this as well as in society at large. If a woman does every choice or action she makes will likely be defended, applauded, or excused in non conservative circles, and I believe that that is the reason women get a strong focus here.

    You've done well in your business and I think that that's great. You've contributed to society. Children on the other hand matter too and not just in a personal sense.

  46. MAggie
    To me, hinging your entire self-worth from childhood onwards on the dream of marrying and having a number of children is a mistake.
    I would disagree that it has anything to do with the popular notion of "self worth." Marriage and children are a biological drive for most women.

    Really, all humans have a strong desire to bond and form groups, based on both survival and personal fulfillment. Outcasts generaly died. Even the "rugged individuals" of the Wild West settled inot groups and towns and banded togehter for protections and socializing. Liberal autonomy philosophy stands in opposition to natural forces that drive humans to bond and be accepted by thte group.

    I am also confused about what I perceive as a contradiction between your notions of going with the flow and radical individualism. These seem like eopposite concepts to me. I guess I am still misunderstnading your use of going with the flow. I thought you meant just accepting the zeitgeist? Or are you saying just try to be happy with whatever comes your way?