The death of courtship, the end of men, female sexual agency

14 Aug

Please be aware that this post is basically a hodgepodge of thoughts that may not hold together with the clearest logic. These are the musings of 47 year old divorced woman with two adult children (20 and 25 as I type)

On March 29th of this year, a college paper published a letter to the editor1, in which an alumna of the college gave current female students at her alma mater advice on relationships. I find most of the text in that letter to be problematic, for a number of reasons.

For example, from one question a student asked about her 40 year long friendship with another woman, the letter writer concludes “At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing. A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.” I’m not sure about you, but going from a question about long time friends to the need for husbands, seems like an awful big jump in pseudo-logic to me.

And things like, “For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry.” Someone clearly hasn’t heard about the divorce rates in this country, or the rate of single mothers of all kinds, class and socioeconomic levels around the world since forever—let alone understood the fact that depending on someone else to make you happy is a pretty sure way to make certain you aren’t.

There is a lot more—for a letter so short, is amazing how much I find there that rings my personal WTAFF?2 bell—but other than shaking my head at the retrograde thinking, I let it go. People have the right to think and say pretty much whatever off the wall idea they may have—as long as they don’t try to make laws forcing me to live my life their way3, I’m content.

Then, this past July, an online friend posted a link to another article4, this one on The New York Times, about female college students’ views on sex and romantic relationships. There is a lot in the article about drinking and, seems to me, an implication that sex without relationship only happens when these young women are drinking, and that men took advantage of these misguided and often impaired targets5.

A different viewpoint is that these women, and many if not most college men, consider college a time which should be dedicated to self development, particularly as it applies to professions and careers, and that relationships—particularly important relationships—require time and effort that, at that stage of their lives, is already committed to earning degrees and getting decent jobs in their chosen field.

At any rate, my friend posted a poll about the article at MyMedia-Forum6 and got a number of interesting, if heated, responses. The gist of the poll—titled The Death of Courtship—is that my online friend found something vaguely sad about the notion of women point blank avoiding relationships during their college years.

You can imagine how that went down with me, right?

A fairly lively back and forth ensued, with people chiming in one way and the other. Here I quote my contributions to the thread, along with the bits I’m responding to7.

Me:

Well, I don’t know. Let me take a stab at this.

So what exactly is sad about women NOT going to college with the express purpose of getting married and, instead, going to college with the express purpose of, oh I don’t know…graduating and having a career?

Does this necessarily mean that if they meet the person they cannot live without, while in college, that they would stupidly reject it?

Hardly.

Isn’t that, after all, what men have always done?

Go to college to get a degree and have a career?

And don’t men get married?

What this means that more women have become aware that they can only completely rely on themselves, that being married–even happily–does not necessarily mean that your spouse will always be there to take care of you, that having the credentials to be self-reliant is much better than to rely and someone else and then find yourself out in the cold–and even worse, when you have children to support–and that there is nothing wrong with that.

So forgive me if I see the whole conversation as inane.

LV:

You know what?

You’re right! That is what men do. I think that is exactly what bugs me. Women have been holding up society and convention all these years and now they are finally giving up. They are joining the man ranks. That is exactly what this article is basically saying.

Me:

What the hell is wrong with that?

And I ask because I’m one of the women who married young, didn’t finish college because my then-husband’s career necessitated an out of country move…and then another…and with young children…and then found myself divorced with no degree, no steady history of employment and in the hole.

My case is not rare–in fact, if you look around you, you’ll see more women in dire financial straits for this very reason than for any other. (“This very reason” meaning, because they trusted someone else to support them.)

ETA: And what if the husband dies suddenly or is otherwise incapacitated? Because best intentions aside, life does happen to everyone, and this is not unheard of either.

So what exactly is wrong with a majority of women saying, “not me, not my children”?

LV:

I am not at all saying that I think women should go to college to snare a man. In fact, when I learned that anyone actually did this I was shocked beyond belief. It seemed like anyone who does this marginalizes their own worth simply by their intent.

That is not what “saddened” me about this story.

It’s the fact that so many young women, apparently, view it this way at all. As if you could plan romance and love. As if you had some kind of control over all that. I think the real trend here is that these girls feel there is no room in their life for a mate. That is what I found depressing.

So, you can superimpose whatever issues you have with men on me, and hate me and poke fun and run away in laughter. Have at it. I will know that I merely expressed revulsion to this article and my only crime was sharing. … What deeply bothered me about this article was that these girls were basically saying, no thanks. They don’t even want to put themselves out there for the possibility of a relationship because college was “their time”.

College is many things. But the world is a lonely place. There is something to the concept that college brings together all there people of the same age and similar direction. Almost everyone is single. Almost everyone has very little baggage. To me, it is a good place to find a mate. I see now that younger people are starting to have a different thought about that. I am not saying it’s wrong or that the world will die out (not seriously) but I am saying that the concept bothers me.

Yeah, men have acted that way for eons. Now the ladies are too. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it sucks when men do it, but I always thought girls had the higher moral ground when it came to sex and marriage. They should, as the courts often place the kids with them when things go bad. But the girls in this article aren’t even worrying about babies or men. Again, that is not something I think is wrong, or bad, or anything else you might want to misquote me about. I just am sad about the way things are going.

Me:

“I think the real trend here is that these girls feel there is no room in their life for a mate. That is what I found depressing.”

That may be what the article is trying to convey, but I find it a faulty narrative.

From where I stand, the reality is that most women’s focus is shifting from “your husband will take care of you/your children, so whether or not you finish college/have a career is secondary to finding said husband” to “it’s important that I am able to support myself—if and when I find my partner in life, good and dandy, but I will never be helpless.”

“What deeply bothered me about this article was that these girls were basically saying, no thanks. They don’t even want to put themselves out there for the possibility of a relationship because college was “their time”.”

It’s four years, maybe six, for most people—what is so tragic about saying, “I have dreams and goals and this is my priority” for those years?

The article is probably a lot more drastic—“if you don’t snare a man now, your chances plummet!”—but the reality does not support the “end of courtship” narrative. The reality is that people waiting a few years longer to make a “permanent” commitment to each other is more likely to mean (for the majority of couples) that it will stick and actually be, you know, permanent.

No, I am not saying this is true for all couples and I don’t have handy percentages and links to studies to show you, but I’m willing to bet that plenty (if not a major slice) of the couples who marry very young break up ten years later or so.

I am not saying it’s wrong or that the world will die out (not seriously) but I am saying that the concept bothers me.”

I confess that I’m sad, that it saddens me that this bothers you, because I see this phenomenon through a completely different lens.

I do not man-hate, and I don’t believe that every man who thinks differently than I do is a misogynist. I do believe, though, that their point of view is colored by a society in which women should be pure and moral and responsible for keeping family (aka, the cornerstone of society) together, yet not expected to take the time to actually gain the skills necessary to do so when their world crumbles about their ears.

It is very limiting to feel, to internalize, that you are a full human being when this is widely held opinion:

“I always thought girls had the higher moral ground when it came to sex and marriage. They should, as the courts often place the kids with them when things go bad.”

The kids get placed with the mothers, and there are plenty of cases when this shouldn’t be so (tip of the hat to <handle withheld to protect his privacy>), but how about the many cases where the women are indeed on the high moral ground and the father simply drops off from the picture entirely? Dead beat parents anyone? Fathers hiding assets so that they pay a pittance/coupla hundred dollars a month while they pull a six digits salary a year? All the morality in the world didn’t prepare these women—and won’t help feed and house these children. That system is broken, and has been broken in every country in the world for centuries.

“But the girls in this article aren’t even worrying about babies or men. Again, that is not something I think is wrong, or bad, or anything else you might want to misquote me about. I just am sad about the way things are going.” (emphasis mine)

Girls—these young women are indeed barely out of their teenage years. And yet a majority of society still expects them to concern themselves with husband, children, family—before they have established their own adult personalities.

Many of us who believe that our expectations of humans should not be predicated on their gender (or sexual identities, color, etc.) find the a priori expectation that women should first think of reproduction and then think of themselves as individuals sad—and insulting and rage-inducing at times.

The woman who wrote that book, exhorting young female college students to snag a husband before graduation? Yes, she is buying into that construct too, and her opinion is supernova-hot red-rage inducing.

I am not making fun of you, LV, and I am not hating you. I am trying to express an opposing point of view and hoping you’ll be able to see it.

This is the world our daughters are growing up into.

I want a better world for them, is all.

~ * ~

One of the things I’ve found most troublesome about the New York Times article was the emphasis on women drinking and how it related to the hook-up culture. It seems to me that there are two points here: that female college students drink to relax and de-stress from their demanding academic lives, and that this places them—consciously or unconsciously—in danger from sexual predators.

My main issue is, once again, with the double standard. Just because women drink and go to parties, doesn’t mean that they agree to any sort of sexual behavior, and doesn’t negate their right to say no at any stage of the proceedings. I agree with the article’s implication that by going to these dancing and drinking parties, these young women are putting themselves in dangerous situations—but what makes them dangerous is  not the drinking, it’s the assumption that women are to blame for the actions of men.

It’s the men who expect women to put out and who claim it’s fair to expect a woman they’ve bought drinks for to perform fellatio on them, who are dangerous, and a society which always excuses the rapist and blames the victims is deeply wrong.

~ * ~

1 Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had

2 What the actual fucking fuck?

3 For those who will start with the whole, “but they are making laws to force me to life my life their way” and pointing to DOMA and Prop 8 being struck down, I say: you need lessons in logic. DOMA and Prop 8 being struck down mean that consenting adults are free to marry whom they love, it doesn’t mean that you will be forced to marry someone you don’t love.

4 Sex on Campus, She Can Play That Game Too

5 Which reminds me: don’t be that guy.

6 You can read the entire thing here.

7 Quoting LV with his permission; please note that he was also responding to other comments, not just mine.

2 Responses to “The death of courtship, the end of men, female sexual agency”

  1. Lori 14/08/2013 at 12:51 PM #

    Two days ago my 12 year old and I were talking and she stated that she was going to remain a virgin her entire life and never get married. I told her that I hoped she’d change her mind one day. My inexact words were ‘I hope you find someone you love enough that you want to share everything, including the delights of your body. And I hope that person, whoever he or she is, appreciates it.’

    It’s so strange to think that we were raised at a time when we were planning on marriage from birth and now we have daughters who see their lives, not as an extension of someone else, but as their own.

    I want this for my daughter.

    I want her to go to college and become who she wants to be. I hope she falls in love and finds someone (or someones) she loves and shares herself with. I hope she feels fulfillment in her life and I hope she’ll always be the person who defines what that fulfillment is.

    By the way AZ, it scares me how much I agree with you. I’m starting to fear that you might be my sister from another mister or something.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Assorted weirdness | Her Hands, My Hands - 24/09/2013

    […] forum member (you know him from this post) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: