Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman
by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
A review by Caitlin Flanagan
We're forty years this side of The
Feminine Mystique, but at this point it has become impossible to figure out
which group of American females is in the biggest funk. The binging/purging, self-mutilating
early adolescents of Reviving
Ophelia? The harried and exhausted working mothers of a thousand earnest tomes
on "work/life balance"? Or as one might conclude after reading Barbara
Dafoe Whitehead's new book the hotshot young career women who can't manage
to coax eligible men into the honeymoon suite?
The book gets off to an unpromising start: Whitehead's research centers on
her interviews with a group of sixty women, most of whom are white, many of
whom attended elite prep schools, half of whom attended highly selective colleges
(and the rest "good private colleges and public universities"), a
few of whom hold graduate degrees, all of whom are pursuing glamorous careers.
As we first meet these hothouse flowers, whining about their romantic blunders
"over plates of mushroom ragout in a trendy Washington restaurant,"
trotting along the most fashionable streets of various American cities in "a
brilliant alliance: an aspiring Alpha female hooked up with an Alpha city,"
it's all we can do not to side with the canny men who managed to steer clear
of them. But once Whitehead moves beyond these particular women and discusses
the roots of their shared problem, which, she believes, lie in the radical changes
in the way girls in this country are reared and educated, the book becomes interesting
and even moving. She describes a national "Girl Project" that began
to take hold in America in the early seventies. I missed being part of this
movement by only a few years, yet the differences between my girlhood and that
of the generations that followed are stark. The modern girl has played competitive
team sports since her earliest childhood; has attended schools that are highly
concerned with girls' academic success, particularly in math and science; has
attended college in a time when female students outnumber males; has emerged
into a job market in which the traditional male jobs are increasingly held by
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead discusses the urgent need to end America's "divorce
culture." Whitehead, a social conservative who wrote the controversial book The
Divorce Culture, is hugely admiring of these changes, yet she indicates
precisely how they have served to disadvantage young career women in the marriage
market. Such women no longer find husbands in college, where the pool of available,
like-minded men is large, but rather start looking for a permanent mate about
ten years after graduation, when there is no formal "courtship system"
in place, no pump room or fraternity formal or Dolly Levi to nudge an appropriate
match along. Further, at this point they have joined a pool of prospective brides
that includes younger women, women less dedicated to their own careers and therefore
often more attractive to "career primary" men, and divorced women
of all ages. Whitehead accurately points out that many of the sexual liberties
that modern women have insisted on in the name of parity are in fact "nicely
adapted to men's sexual and romantic self-interests."
Unfortunately, the book sputters out in an inanely optimistic conclusion. Whitehead's
remedy for this complicated stew of social change and romantic disappointment?
Internet dating! Also for-profit introduction services, better time management,
and pre-engagement rings from Shreve, Crump & Low. What Whitehead fails
to concede (perhaps because she is the mother of two unmarried daughters in
their thirties) is that the situation does not lend itself to such easy fixes.
She describes one interviewee who is not "looking for someone to take care
of her," another who is consistently "driven by the best projects"
at work, a third who insists she will only marry a man who will share equally
in child-rearing. We are reminded that "today, the woman is free to make
the first phone call, to suggest a first date, and to propose sex." These
are perhaps laudable advances, but that such women would imagine that they would
also elicit a formal, old-fashioned proposal seems naive. The national Boy Project
may have taught America's young men to treat women with new respect in the classroom
and the boardroom, and it has certainly prepared them for an unprecedented amount
of no-strings nooky; what it has not impelled them to do is to make a bride
of every hard-charging woman who suddenly and fleetingly wants to play
fifties girl with a diamond solitaire and a box full of Tiffany invitations.
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