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Are we entering a post-feminist world? Posted on 04/23/2002.

BusinessWeek offers up a book review of Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, a book on how professional women are far less likely to have children than professional men. The book reviewer points out what she finds to be the most illuminating statistic:

A primary reason so many career women don't have children is that they don't have spouses. Only 57% of the high-achieving women over 40 in corporate jobs are married, compared with 83% of male achievers. Overall, high-achieving women either marry early or not at all. Just 10% of the women surveyed got married for the first time after age 30, and 1% after age 35.
This is summed up in a quote from a participant: "The hard fact is that most successful men are not interested in acquiring a peer as a partner."
One of the things I wonder is to what degree is this a generational issue, and the product of moving from a pre-feminist to a post-feminist world. In my experience, I've often dated older independent professional women. And many of them commented on how hard it was for them to date men their age, usually for reasons having to do with the man not accepting them being successful and independent. One ex told me that she "intimidated" her ex-boyfriends, which surprised me because she was the sweetest, least threatening person. But she had a good job with good pay, and her ex-es often couldn't handle dating a woman who made more money than they did.
Now, none of that would have been any problem for me. I seem to have made it a habit of dating only very independent headstrong professionally-minded women. And I don't think I'm alone in my age group. And I wonder if it's because I was pretty much raised in a "post-feminist" world. My mom made the bulk of the money in our household. I was not raised to pay too much attention to issues of "femininity" and "masculinity." I would be totally comfortable as a "stay-at-home-dad" (as long as I could get some work done, there, too!).
So I wonder if men born after 1970 are going to have the same issues as those that are discussed in the book. Not to say that all men after 1970 are "post-feminist" and comfortable with successful women, but I suspect that we're trending in that direction.

16 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Wisdom of the ages."
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As a woman born after 70's, heading in a career path where men are more dominant, from experience I say we are at the footsteps of the pos-feminist era. The truth is that even men closer to my age group have been intimidated by my intelligence and career achievements. Many have told me that. One of my girlfriends suggested that I act a bit less smart and more like a bimbo, if I wanted to keep a relationship. No need to tell you how that suggestion was taken. Majority -some- of men are not necessarily looking for a partner that is potentially smarter than them. As soon as they realize that, they are not so interested in a relationship. In fact, I noticed that most sucessful men choose partners that are not in the same career, stay home, or choose them for their easy goingness vs. god-forbid an intelligent/ thought provoking conversation. All and all I think there are all sorts of people, whether we are in a post-feminist era or not, we will always have the mix. And as long as there are macho men strutting around, carrer women will have these issues!
Posted by bebe @ 04/23/2002 08:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

We're not entering a post-feminist world. Quite the opposite: it's clear that we continue to live in a world where feminism is still relevant. Why? Because (see your anecdotes) there is still resistance to women as high-achievers in the business world, and to women taking a less traditional role in relationships. Which is why it really burns me when people talk about feminism not being relevant, current, whatever. Women still have a long way to go to achieve equality.
Posted by Anne @ 04/23/2002 09:15 AM PST [link to this comment]

I don't disagree, but you're not addressing the fullness of my point. The older women I know seem to have been subjected to this inequitable sensibility, but I wonder if it's as true for folks born after 1970.

But I agree, that feminism and issues of equality are very much worth talking about and quite relevant.
Posted by peterme @ 04/23/2002 11:50 AM PST [link to this comment]

I can't speak for Peter, but generally when I think of or use the term 'post-feminist' I'm not implying a lack of feminism, rather a more current, varied, and variable incarnation of feminism that dispenses with some of the essentialism and socioeconomic specificity of "first-" and "second-wave" feminism. The language of feminism is a tricky thing, nowadays.
Posted by Stacy @ 04/23/2002 12:24 PM PST [link to this comment]

Agreed. I think that the "-wave" terminology came about when people wanted to distance themselves from so-called feminist doctrine (i.e. act and live a certain way or you aren't a feminist), while still agreeing with the basic philosophy.

By the way, Peter - I have definitely seen the same issues crop up for women in their early 20s, at least in relationships. I think inequality in business hits when women enter their 30s, and are competing at a management level.
Posted by Anne @ 04/23/2002 01:10 PM PST [link to this comment]

Career men *are* getting married, but selecting a supportive role for their mate. Career women are not however taking that option, and somehow that is the fault of men? There are *lots* of unmarried men, why is it that these career women won't deign to select them ... just because they don't have a pot full of gold or a fascination for board room machiavelliations?
Posted by Miss O'Gnist @ 04/23/2002 06:24 PM PST [link to this comment]

Get over your -isms.

The individual is not the politic.

You think a few decades of bra-burning and intellectual fervor is going to subvert eons of evolution and social tradition? I think not.

It's a sad thing when the needs of the "cause" overshadow the needs of the individual.

Even Gloria Steinem figured it out. She got married.

What's my point?

People need to get over themselves. Actually, you know what, they need to look at themselves. Stop hiding behind and blaming social constructs like "feminism" and "first wave" this and "tsunami" that. Own up to the fact that you want it all, but you can't have it all. That's life. All that other hooey about being a super-success and having a great family? It ain't anyone's birthright (that's the bill of goods that was sold by the feminism movement and Madison Ave). It's tough even when it works, and it's a job like anything else.
Posted by contrarian @ 04/23/2002 09:39 PM PST [link to this comment]

For a longer discussion of the book's arguments, see Salon's review of the book:
Posted by Celia Romaniuk @ 04/23/2002 11:48 PM PST [link to this comment]

For a longer discussion of the book's arguments, see Salon's review of the book:
Posted by Celia Romaniuk @ 04/23/2002 11:48 PM PST [link to this comment]

Females pick their lovers and choose their mates, though they usually accomplish this by making the male of the species think that he, with all his posing, preening and propositioning is doing the choosing. Why some human females choose well and others don't has long been a curiosity to me.

The swings and sways of gender politics, however, are like waves that lap and splash on sea and shore compared to the force of the currents and tides that really rule the waters. No one will ever understand women through measuring either their incomes or their breast measurements.
Posted by BJMe @ 04/24/2002 10:48 AM PST [link to this comment]

Speaking only for myself (a thirty-something single male), I'm looking primarily for a woman who is about as smart as I am and who earns about as much as I do. I do not want to be in a situation where someone else is too dependent on me, or vice versa. Call me an idealist, but you should enter into a relationship because you want to be with the other person, not because you need to in order to survive (from the lower-income side of things) or because you need something (e.g. sex) and are willing to provide most of the financial support in order to get it. Equality in a relationship eliminates issues of trust, such as "is she only with me for my money?" and allows you to participate on a more equal footing in anything you do together. I don't mind showing the woman in my life something new but I hope she has something new to show me, too -- I don't want to be in the process of "teaching" or "bringing up" a mate into my image of what I think they should be.
Posted by Jerry Kindall @ 04/24/2002 01:13 PM PST [link to this comment]

I was a teenager in the 50s, rebelled against those values in college, and married someone who seemed to accept me as an equal. That is, until I got pregnant immediately; then I was expected to become the wife/mother/homemaker. He made it impossible for me to pursue a career, but after we divorced, I had no problem doing that successfully and raising my kids myself as well. I have found that, in my generation, husbands often made it very difficult for their wives to have a careers while raising children. The husband worked outside the home only; but if the woman did so, she was also expected to do the work inside the home as well. It's much different for my pregnant 30-something daughter, whose husband has shared homemaking with her from the beginning. He also intends to share the child care. While they haven't yet worked out how they will share the bread-winning, he is open to doing whatever will work best for the family -- from one of them staying home with the child, to their each working part-time. That kind of equality of responsibility was rare in my generation. Perhaps many of us "feminist" women who struggled so hard have it all and realized that we couldn't, have raised sons who are aware that having it all means sharing it all.
Posted by Elaine @ 04/24/2002 07:26 PM PST [link to this comment]

Used to be that professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and MBA types made their bones by putting in extraordinary hours (when they were young and energetic). As they climbed the power hierarchy, they maintained reputations/salaries/power bases by being available for customers, bosses, and partners whenever they needed to be. Now that's the norm in most professions. And people are working more, not less.

Most people are passionate about their children. With luck, you're passionate about your career. It is very, very difficult for one person to devote the time to sustain two competing passions, every day, year after year.

So you 20- and 30-something guys who say you want a woman who is your equal and are willing to share work and hard choices, yay! Maybe you can make the changes that many generations of strong, smart, hard-working women have not been able to.

(BTW, 10 or 15 years ago, a similar study posited that a woman who had never been married by age 35 was far more likely to be killed in an earthquake (or struck by lightning, or something) than to ever get married.)
Posted by -pc @ 04/25/2002 12:14 PM PST [link to this comment]

All this nonsense abt. women, feminism and marriage, partners....lalalalllllaaa...

Proof is in front of our faces "The Bachelor" show. Need I say more...

I for one am looking forward to increase the ratings of a show called "The Bachelorette".
Posted by bebe @ 04/26/2002 11:43 AM PST [link to this comment]

Well, I'm a successful profession woman, 30 years old. My partner, who's 41, is also successful, and unfortunately he's in the same field as I am. Though he in most ways is completely non-sexist, he is completely unable to be enthusiastic when I do well professionally. I think he feels threatened when I do well - it's as though he thinks of us as rivals, and if I do well, it reflects badly on him. One of my exes was my own age, and in a lower-paying job than I, and had absolutely no problems with my success. So based on this highly anecdotal evidence, I'd agree with you, Peter.
Posted by anonymous in case he reads it... @ 04/26/2002 06:02 PM PST [link to this comment]

I think Elaine brought up a very important point: many women don't have children because their careers, and ultimately our society, won't fully allow it.

That said and getting back to peter's post, I think that the post-1970 generation is largely more accepting of all people - including women - because we've seen positive changes in that realm. I also believe, however, that those changes have stopped short of being deep ones; women are still shunned for stopping their careers to have children, for instance. Instead of reshaping the system to work with the reality that is the female human body, we've chosen to hang on to the established system. This, despite the majority of people being women. I don't think it'll change, truly change, for some time.

Our generation has made very good strides. But until women are paid equally and are truly given equal opportunities, we'll be working in the same outmoded framework.
Posted by Paul @ 04/27/2002 10:58 PM PST [link to this comment]

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