Kate Bolick, Marriage & Feminism

Kate Bolick’s article on Marriage in the Atlantic is apparently producing quite a bit of buzz. One of her central claims is that “If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new “dating gap,” where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players.” 

Here’s what she had to say in this interview for the Guardian, when asked what Feminism means in 2011…

“In essence, the old-school feminist principles such as equal pay, equal rights, a woman’s right to be in control of her own body and her own life – these things still hold true today for everyone. But because of the way the arguments are sometimes framed, there is a lot of misperception of what feminism is now. People say they’re not feminists but then if you ask them if they agree with equal pay they’ll say yes. I wanted to discuss these ideas in a way that was open and accessible. A lot of feminist discourse can be alienating because it is more polemic.”

I plan to read the article this evening (it’s long), and would love to hear what FP readers think.


9 thoughts on “Kate Bolick, Marriage & Feminism

  1. I think the original Atlantic article over-applied the trend she saw. After all about 60% of 25-34 year olds in the US do not have college degrees. Social norms also vary; there was at least one comment piece outlining the pressure to wed in the Southern US. She’s also glossing over co-habitation – 10% of households iirc.

    All the same, I think she is highlighting some interesting trends. She acknowledges that the shortage is of men *who fit the old criteria*, older, richer, more successful. But if marriage is a partnership, are these relevant? It’s also important to highlight how marriage has changed in the past – in some respects the changes are more a return than a departure.

    I think it would be positive for women to view themselves as single rather than not-yet-married (as I suspect men do, and for both sexes to see themselves as part of a web of relationships, rather than hunting for one other to complete them. Maintaining such webs makes life as a married person and/or a mother easier too.

    Forgive my disjointed comments btw, didn’t get much sleep last night.

  2. I found some of her discussion of “male decline” – particularly when framed as being caused by the increasing success of women – particularly annoying. For starters, this a frustrating way to conceptualize women’s progress (“Look what you’ve done now, ladies! You’ve taken away success from men!”). But more importantly, it’s also very misleading.



  3. It seems to me that the point is to find people or a person with whom you can feel comfortable, share things and construct life projects.

    It matters little whether it’s marriage or a romantic friendship or a not-so-romantic friendship, a twosome or a threesome.

    As long as people try to live up to one fixed norm in life, in this case, that of marriage, they are going to have problems or rather to imagine that they have problems.

    Flexibility and creativity in relationships make life a lot easier, richer and more pleasant.

  4. I find many of her assumptions concerning, particularly the over-focus on middle and upper middle class (white) women and the lack of complexity (some data suggest women are on the rise, others that we still have a long way to go). Having said that, I’m intrigued by her focus on conscious living within a network of relationships (woman based or otherwise) as a satisfying and functional way to navigate the complicated modern world. That’s a conversation that can and should be had without a focus on binary gender as well.

  5. Women are “increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players” because men have found that we can have sex with women by being deadbeats or players. in the past you’d need to marry a woman to have sex with her (that’s an exaggeration, but too much of one). but why get married when you can have sex for free?

  6. I hated the article. First she downplays economic differences, sighing that studies on pay have not controlled for hours worked (some have, and to see that you need look no further than wikipedia[fallible, but a good jumping off point]). She also says that women “choose” less lucrative positions, placing the blame on women and completely sidestepping the fact that what positions are lucrative change when the gender proportion changes in these professions.

    Then she pretty much proclaims that marriage is dead, overlooking the fact that there are still concrete benefits to marriage, especially for women, both social capital and monetary(for many reasons, not just taxes and two incomes). Of course there are very large drawbacks to marriage for women, but declaring it a “dead” institution is not very useful. In my circles, at least, marriage is considered the norm. Even most of the many polyamorous folks I know get married, they just maintain relationships with multiple people. I have no problem with her statistics for marriage; those I appreciate hearing. It was the early-on “why are we interested in such a fleeing fad” attitude that broiled me.

    (While I’m at it, can I complain about the breathless wide-eyed “society page” style of her descriptions? “What would these sexual buccaneers be like? Bold and provocative? Worn-out and embittered?When Walsh opened the door, I could immediately see why young women find her so easy to talk to; her brunette bob frames bright green eyes and a warm, easy smile. Once everyone had arrived—five recent college graduates, all of them white and upper middle class, some employed and some still looking for work, all unmarried—we sat down to a dinner of chicken and salad in Walsh’s high-ceilinged, wood-paneled dining room to weigh in on one of the evening’s topics: man whores. “) Ugh. Get me a barf bag.

    And she glosses quickly over the age problem. She does admit she has a harder time attracting men her age as she ages, but she makes that a one-sentence throw-away.

    But her description of availability driving commitment in men is very, very, very true. Also true that social mores, regardless of availability also drive interactions. It has been shown that people need community, and that they’re happier for it. In our society there is no real option for people who aren’t coupled. I’m 37, and I’ve tried having roommates, and I’ve tried posting ads asking for people who want community or would like to form a house together, and I’m still alone and lonely. I’m a serious introvert, so I love my alone time, but because I’m an introvert it’s harder for me to socialize, and that much more important that I have a close, more intimate, and stable circile at home. I tried polyamory for six or seven years, both personally and as a community, and found it profoundly unhappy, unstable and unsatisfying, and one-sided. For a while even when I was polyamorous I wouldn’t date married people, because I was aware they they were claiming the privileges of being married while reducing the amount of time and energy I had for seeking a bond with similar commitment and strength.

    But if I want to date men in my current city, Seattle, at my age, I’ve found that I have to not only be willing to both lower my standards drastically, but also be “open” to the idea of polyamory. And if not polyamory, then at least close off the idea of any kind of commitment, no matter how small. You know, my standards aren’t unrealistically high. In fact, I have exactly zero standards on looks (people are skeptical, but a look through pictures of old lovers bears this out), or the amount of income someone makes. I don’t demand that our interests are 100% in sync, just that we have a few and enjoy spending time together. I strongly prefer other introverts, and I have high standards with regards to personal hygiene and intelligence, and I want commitment someday. The standards I’ve had to relax, and relax by not just a little, but a lot, are commitment and intelligence. If I’d held to those standards I wouldn’t have had so much as a single date in the last five or six years. The problem grows exponentially with each year.

    So it’s impossible for me to read this without having strong personal feelings. I think she’s done a good job of identifying some of the problems, but for such a long article I would have liked to have seen her taken any of them more seriously. It felt glossy, and feel-good. Like she identified problems and then back-pedaled. Maybe it’s a sense of personal ambivalence on her part, or maybe it’s pandering. It’s hard to tell.

  7. I’ve skimmed the article (the first page at least, faaaaaar too long). I agree with several of the comments on the approach Bolick has made. I’d also mention that overall marriage as an ideal and one of the epitomes of adult life and achievement in society is still privileged. Given that, any kind of conscious creation of other living communities is difficult, largely done in some sense of isolation and figuring it out as they go along.

    I’m fortunate enough to be watching two such conscious experiments with social living and supported community come about. In both circumstances, the needs of introverted members are strongly considered, social aspects are supported and created in a flexible opt-in yet consistently inclusive manner.

    None of them see any particular virtue in marriage for it’s own sake, though all speak strongly to supporting equal marriage. They’ve created more meaningful connections and opportunities for ongoing support and commitment that work *for* them, their desires for independence and for building something important of a community naature. Subverting the system and social expectation in a way that works for them. Networked relationships with varying levels of intimacy and romantic involvement.

    I am interested to see how they experience this into the future. For now it’s all just beginning and shiny, still in heavy negotiation phase. But I’m pleased to be able to witness it happening.

    I find marriage overall to be a difficult thing to come to terms with. I don’t know that these articles really examine that on a cultural level as deeply as I’d like. Maybe that’s too much of an ask, but I’m a little bit over the way in which the happy lives of women include marriage, or coupledom, meaning that anyone who isn’t interested in, or struggles to find satisfaction within these bounds is constantly confronted with the substance of their apparent failure, it’s social pressure at it’s most insidious.

    I’d be very interested to see more mainstream news pieces discussing mechanisms for evaluating relationship success outside of a lifetime commitment and overall longevity.

    (apologies for any typing that is wrong, using old IE browser at work and it’s playing havoc, may also affect coherency of statements!)

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