Riding on the wings of Cupid this Valentine’s day, my mind kept on circling back to an article by Stephanie Coontz that appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times, about women and education.
60% of Americans who graduate with a bachelor’s degree are women, as well as over 50% of those who pursue a master’s degree. Nothing to be surprised about – we knew that female education has made enormous strides in the last 60 years. This figure roughly translates into the argument that, soon, more educated women than men will be walking around this country. And taking this assumption a step further, it will become harder for women to marry up. I am loosely quoting the article, not stating my opinion.
Sixty years ago, low literacy in women was deemed to be a marriageable asset. Men didn’t want to marry women who were too smart or, at least, smarter than they believed to be. In the ’50s, from the gilded screen to the common folks, “bimbos” abounded – some were not airheads at all but were happy to go along with the myth that a chirpy and rather vapid attitude would land them a husband. These days, men are more than happy to marry well-educated and smart women even if some of these women express worry at being unable to find men they “can look up to”, as if a degree in itself were a sign of marriage compatibility.
The underlining argument of the article is that the majority of women still want to get married, that finding a husband is still perceived as a milestone in a woman’s life. I find that offensive. If we are so well-educated and smart, shouldn’t we be navigating life with more pressing and interesting concerns that tying the knot or attending to our childbearing organs? How is it that marriage trumps the card of career, multiple relationships, “singlehood”, extended family and everything else that is packed in the average (and longer) span of a woman’s life? Marriage might or might not be a part of it but I can’t help getting the impression that many women don’t feel as if their life is complete without that coveted ring. And society’s expectations don’t help.
There is so much to life – and yes, at times it’s nice to go through the rough patches with someone we love but where is it written that it has to be a husband until death do us part? We might draw happiness from a number of meaningful relationships over the course of many decades, from being alone for long periods of time – the point is, too often is the female perception of “happiness” equated with a walk down the aisle.
Marriage is wonderful and maddening and hard and sweet just as many other experiences – and that’s what it is – a stepping stone over the course of (hopefully) a long and rewarding life. Let’s not dress it up as the trump card that will change our lives. That might have been true up to a few decades ago. Mercifully, we have reached the stage now where we have many options.