“They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.”
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
–Uncle Ben Parker, “The Amazing Spider-Man”
The past year in particular has seen a frenzied debate in the public square, impacting on mating in the United States: street harassment, “Yes Means Yes” laws, the supposed date rape epidemic on the college campus, just to name a few; and all of this comes at a time when marital rates overall in the country are at all-time lows, out of wedlock births are at all-time highs and there are singletons of both sexes than at any other time in American history. Much has been and will continue to be said and written about all of this; but what has been missing from the cacophony are some hard evidence that the tectonic plates that undergird human mating in America have been shifting at a seismic rate. Oh, to be sure, there have been scholars and pundits like Andrew Hacker, Kay Hymowitz, Hanna Rosin and Charles Murray, who’ve all given their takes on the matter; but it wasn’t until “Date-onomics”, written by journalist Jon Birger, that we have an incontrovertible guide to the relations between the sexes in the 21st century.
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I say that because Birger’s book presents the hard truth that for the first time in American history, there are more white women attending and graduating from colleges and universities than white men – something that was foreshadowed in the Black American community for decades – and that this cries out for a reshuffling of the mating dance deck. Birger does give his suggestions as to what upwardly mobile, professional single women can do to improve their lovelorn lot; I leave it to my readers to puruse his proposals and weigh their relative merits for themselves. What I wish to suggest in this article however, is something that neither Birger, nor anyone else as far as I’m aware, has presented to American women to honestly grapple with.
Please allow me to explain.
If you’re anything like me – a GenXer who knew nothing else but strong, career-minded women who were “doing it for themselves” and often reminding anyone within earshot that they didn’t “need no man”, you simply accepted the fact that said women, having the ability and means to care for themselves (and any kids in tow) and that they had as much say as any man in any domestic or relationship arrangement; gone were the days of supposed “one party” patriarchal rule, where the man ruled the roost with the proverbial iron fist. Relationships, which most certainly included marriage, were now to be seen as a true partnership, a coming together of equals, where the men were called upon (read: demanded) to take an equal share of the (indoors) housework and caring of children. At the same time, men were to check their sense of often unearned and unwarranted privilege in their approach to women, in their personal but as well in their social and working lives. And, all available evidence, sans any indeological slant that is, bears out the fact that the ladies have gotten exactly what they’ve wanted – from the highly educated and affluent to the rough hewn salt of the earth working classes, mens’ attitudes about all of these matters have indeed changed greatly, from where they were only a half a century ago.
But what hasn’t changed, are womens’ attitudes. Women, even, most especially, the highly educated and accomplished, still cling to what can only rightly be called outmoded and antiquated notions about mating (and by extension, masculinity itself); and worse, they rigidly expect men to uphold these ossified norms of gender, while at the same time continuing to sup from all the bennies a 21st century life affords them. This is clearly in evidence in my neck of the woods in Black America, for example – “strong, independent” Black women clearly expect the (Black) man to make all the approaches, pay for all the dates and do all the things (Black) men did more than five decades ago – regardless of the fact that, according to the website blackdemographics.com, some 65% of Black women work in the professions verus roughly 45% of Black men, and that while Black men work in the blue collar sector to the tune of 34%, only 8% of Black women do – and despite the fact that it is not at all unusual to find Black womenwho earn twice and sometimes even three times as much as many Black men. Yes, it’s true that there aren’t enough college educated, white collar professional Black men to go around for the Black women who want them; but it’s also true that many Black women of that cohort aren’t willing to make some needed adjustments of their own in sync with the changed world in which we live. Birger’s book chronicles this and other facets of mating in the Black community, and discusses what is now occuring in the white one.
Yet, when these kinds of discussions come up, like the one I recently participated in on the highly popular womens’ only-dating coach Evan Marc Katz’s website, all manner of flimsy and maudlin “reasons” are given for how and why the very same savvy, accomplished women should not make some changes in their own approach toward dating and mating. In another recent discussion on the popular website Hooking Up Smart on the topic of old school chivalry for example, “more reasons” were proffered that, if the reverse were uttered by any man, they’d be pilloried as misogynistic and ran out of town on a rail. Bromides about “women paying a higher cost for sex” (i.e., the naturalistic fallacy) are easily countered by the fact that due to massive and sweeping advances in medical technology, said “costs” have been substantially mitigated (Maternal deaths, a common occurrence here in the USA a mere century ago and the leading cause of death among American women, is extremely rare today; birth control and abortions are both widely available, medically safe and highly effective). There’s this irrational idea that women can and should “have it all” – strong and independent when it suits them, coy and demure (read: passive) when it suits them – in other words, flexible “Plastic Woman”, to use Hanna Rosin’s phrase in her book “The End of Men” – while men remain stiff cardboard cutouts. Women reserve the right to be “flexible” for themselves; but want men to remain frozen in the amber of the past, when it comes to good ole fashioned “courtin'”.
Not only is this view hypocritical, it is patently unfair, and, in light of Birger’s excellent work, impractical. While the assumption is that men are simply falling down on the “Manning Up” job, no one has deigned to consider that, like women for the first time in American history, men have also been considering life outside the tightly prescribed social rules and norms that have had a chokehold on them for centuries. Perhaps there are men, like myself, who appreciated working with their hands in an active and dynamic environment instead of being holed up in classrooms and being a captive audience for odd, weird, ideological academics who drone on and on about stuff few outside of the academy care about? Perhaps there are men who actually enjoy women approaching them for once, instead of having to do all the heavy lifting of old fashioned courting? And perhaps there are men who like the idea that there are women out there who like them and enjoy their company independent of anything else, and don’t see them merely as a means to a financial end? The very forces that have brought unprecented freedoms to all women in American life today have freed men up as well, to consider other ways of being. Perhaps men are not attending university and college as much as they did in the past, was because they don’t have to – or want to.
And that raises a lot of very interesting questions for us all to consider moving forward – the most fundamental of which, being the following: that American women, now clearly surpassing men in terms of formal education and incomes, simply cannot also claim demure passivity in the mating dance. The time has come for women to put some skin in the mating game.
It’s only fair.
Adapted from the aforementioned discussion at Evan Marc Katz’s website, is my proposal to the ladies moving forward in our Brave New World of dating and mating:
1. Ladies, you have to choose which path works best for you – the egalitarian route, or the traditional one – and stick to it. No “switching lanes” when it suits you to do so. After all, none of you would be OK with men doing the same; much of the discussion obtaining along these lines earlier indicated in this article are a case in point (In online dating/relationship forums, websites, blogs and the like, discussions abound on the topic of “ethics in dating”, which really means “ethics of MEN in dating”; rarely if ever is the discussion focused on the fairness/unfairness of the ladies in this regard). Indeed, the conceit lo these many years is that the only ones who had any room for improvements along these lines, are menfolk. As mentioned earlier, these concerns have been addressed, with empirical evidence to support the thesis. Now, it’s your turn.
2. If you’re a gal who’s more egalitarian in your outlook; if you like the fact that you can go as far as your talent and ambition can take you; and if you like the independence that your mom and nana could only dream of; you must now bring that egalitarianism to bear in the mating realm as well. You now have to bear equal burdens for the courtship dance – meaning that you now must make concerted efforts to make some “first contact” approaches. You must also pickup the tab for some of those first dates, too. Yes, things can and will, from time to time, not go well – that you will get turned down, or even rudely rejected, by some of the men you’ve worked up the nerve to approach. And true, some of those dates you just shelled out for, won’t work out so well.That, is the price of freedom, ladies – and freedom ain’t free. The notion on the part of some feminists, arguing that it is the responsibility of men to make women approaching them “safe” (i.e., free from rejections, etc.), isn’t empowering to women – it’s in truth, quite patronizing, infantilizing and downright insulting to women. Contrary to urban legend, quite a few men very much welcome a lady making an approach, as well as not having to ante up for every single interaction with one. And, like women, men also can reject an approach if it’s coming from the wrong gal. Such is life. Get over to it.
3. On the other hand, if you consider yourself an old-fashioned lass and like doing things the way mom and dad did it, fair enough – but not so fast. First, remember, mom and dad didn’t roll around in the hookup hay; they waited until married, right? And, since you’re of the view that the man has to approach and ante up for dates and so forth, you have to be brutally honest in answering the following question: what are you offering a man for his old-fashioned dating dollar? After all, while you may not be “that kind of girl”, there are quite a few these days who are; you’re trying to hold on to an idea of dating, relationships and marriage that has pretty much gone by the wayside. But since I for one am all for freedom of choice, I believe that you should have the right to this option. Just be clear that you have to give the fellas what they want: pretty, feminine and yes, submissive, to say nothing of what they think would make a good wife and mother. He who pays the piper calls the tune – and you can’t be mad if what the fellas want may or may not be in line with what you think is an “old fashioned girl”. If any of that bothers you, you should consider being an egalitarian – and Woman Up.
Birger rightly argues that the simple math and facts before us demand a change in how we do things. For the ladies, it means that such changes are long overdue.