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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Join that Hezbollah dating service now!

Michael Noer of Forbes has apparently unleashed quite a feminist shitstorm in the blogosphere with his aren't-I-clever Web article on what social researchers have discovered about what being a "career woman" does to a dude's chances of a happy marriage. Noer makes his case here:

To be clear, we're not talking about a high-school dropout minding a cash register. For our purposes, a "career girl" has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).

He goes on to talk about why researchers (particularly economists) think this is so: Because when both household adults work, the "non-market labor" -- traditionally done by stay-at-home women -- simply doesn't get done. Somebody has to keep the toilets clean, this thinking goes, and when women go to work, they stop cleaning toilets (or keep cleaning them, on top of their 10-hour days in the office). Presto: Instant grounds for cranky women, and, by extension, unhappy men.

In response to Noer's article, Slate's Jack Shafer points out here that most of the research being cited is, in fact, applicable to both men and women who meet the affluent, career-oriented criteria. Shafer (whose column is always interesting, if frequently needlessly provocative) makes the case that the article, leaving out the headline and a few minor points, isn't actually insulting to women -- its crime, he says, is in shamelessly using the don't-marry-a-career-girl premise as a way to hook readers, a la the infamous Newsweek story that told women they were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married after age 40. Shafer invites women to "bore me with your fury" and tell him what we find irritating about the piece.

Well, Jack, here goes.

Noer's premise is insulting to all women because it implies that those toilets can (and should) be cleaned only by women -- and that, if a two-career couple is having trouble keeping up with all of those little chores and errands of everyday life, it's the woman's job to figure out how to restore the happiness equilibrium by either applying a little more elbow grease or cutting back on her hours. As Shafer points out, the research Noer cites doesn't support his bias towards blaming women. But he continues to do it. Instead of examining reasons why an increase in a woman's work hours might increase the peril to her marriage much more than an uptick in her husband's (and I can think of several anecdotal possibilities right off the top of my head), Noer simply advises men not to marry that ambitious MBA, no matter how interesting she might be now.

Whether Noer's motive was to intentionally mislead or simply to grab readers with a startling premise is irrelevant. Stories such as this one wind up in the lexicon of the culture-gender-class wars, trotted out every time some commentator suggests women should liven up their marriages by taking a pole-dancing aerobics class.

Better advice for Ms. MBA, in fact, might be to avoid getting involved with a man who thinks that mops are best used for Halloween costumes -- or, if she's going to make more money than her husband, to put that extra cash toward a good cleaning crew. Cancelling that Forbes subscription might also be in order.


Blogger aGreatNotion said...

Awesome post.

8/24/2006 6:11 PM  
Blogger Biomed Tim said...

It's always occurred to me that men haven't been provided with enough incentives to change, and that's how the onus falls upon you MBA girls to work 14 hour days AND do the housechoirs when you come home.

The girls complain but they're the ones who dated us..they're the ones that fell in love with us...and they're the ones that married us.

Stop putting up with the sexist slobs like us, then maybe you'll induce us to assume a more equal partnership.

Until then, the traditional gender roles will remain and guys like me will be on the couch, reading my Forbes.

10/10/2006 2:53 AM  

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