I was thinking some more about Jill Filipovic’s post about Feminism + Housewifery. It was a thoughtful post in which she discussed, among other things, the way in which personal choices have societal consequences:
[M]any feminists, unfortunately, are complicit in supporting a choice model over an egalitarian one. While how one individual sets up her family may be private, the aggregate is not; and it’s tough to argue that the housewife model is simply a private choice made within families with no outside influence and no greater consequences.
The greater consequences entail women having less power, and she’s particularly frustrated with men who perpetuate this dynamic:
And we see it – women and men. We end up building our lives around it. I’ve spoken with many of the bright young single men who are on the receiving end of high-level male mentorship. They often express a desire to have kids and a stay-at-home wife, and they ALWAYS couch it in gender-neutral terms — “It’s not that I expect my wife to stay home, it’s that I think one parent needs to stay home with the kids when they’re very young. I don’t want my kids taken care of by strangers.” And when I would say, “Well then why don’t you stay home?” the response was, “Well I would, but at the point when I’m having kids I’m going to be at a crucial point in my career and I can’t just take off a few years, so it’s not about gender, it’s just about the fact that it would be impossible for me.” To which I would say, “Well what if she had a career too, and taking several years off would be damaging to her career?” To which they would say, “Well we would obviously talk about this long before we got married, and I just wouldn’t marry someone who was in that position. It’s not sexist — there are tons of women who would love to quit their jobs and stay home, and it’s their choice, and if both partners agree then how can you say it’s sexist? It’s a private family decision.”
It’s private. I choose my choice. She chooses her choice.
I do in fact reserve most of my anger and vitriol for the men in these scenarios…
What Jill is saying raises a question: To what extent, and in what way, is it acceptable to criticize others for their personal decisions about the partner with whom they want to share a relationship? Because that’s what Jill is doing. She’s angry with bright young high-status men who would prefer a stay-at-home wife. She thinks they’re interested in the “wrong” women, and is not shy about saying so. But this is a double standard. Consider, for example, the imaginary conversation I had with Fake Amanda Marcotte last year, in which I criticized some of the personal relationship decisions made by women:
Amanda Marcotte: But that’s up to her, Miguel. If she wants to make shitty choices in who she dates, and “overvalue” confidence, or “social dominance,” or whatever, that’s her fucking choice.
Steve Buscemi: She’s got a point, Miguel. Her fuckin’ choice.
Amanda Marcotte: And women aren’t obligated to shape their sexual desires to fit your social anxieties.
Miguel: I’m not saying women have that obligation.
Amanda Marcotte: Bullshit. That’s exactly what you’re saying, you just don’t come out and say it explicitly.
But isn’t Jill asking successful men to shape their sexual desires and marry the “right” women? (The “right” women being those who, like Jill, have successful careers.) Frankly, I think it’s hard to reconcile what Jill says about men who want stay-at-home wives with what Fake Amanda Marcotte said about women who want to date assholes. It’s a huge double standard, to which Julia Serano alluded:
I have heard many feminists critique men who prefer women that fulfill the sexual object stereotype. Many of these critiques (rightly, I think) suggest that the man in question must be somewhat shallow or insecure if he’s willing to settle for someone whom he does not view as his intellectual or emotional equal. What I have seen far less of are critiques of women who are attracted to sexually aggressive men. Perhaps this stems in part from the belief that such comments might be misinterpreted as blaming women for enabling the sexual abuse they receive at the hands of men. While I can understand this reluctance, I nevertheless feel that it is a mistake to ignore this issue, given the fact that many men become sexual aggressors primarily, if not solely, to attract the attention of women. In fact, if heterosexual women suddenly decided en masse that “nice guys” are far sexier than “assholes,” it would create a huge shift in the predator/prey dynamic.
– Yes Means Yes, Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti, Seal Press, 2008, p. 237
In other words, what Jill is saying about men marrying stay-at-home moms — how they set up their families may be private, the aggregate effect is not — applies, mutatis mutandis, to women who date assholes. Aggregate effects of personal decisions shape the culture. In fact, many of these bright young men who so aggravate Jill are probably unwilling to damage their careers with the “daddy track” precisely because the aggregate effects of preferences shown by women has convinced them that risking their high-powered careers would be a blindingly stupid move. You can’t make economic success the test of whether someone is a man or a “boy” and then be surprised when men get nervous at the prospect of damaging their careers. In other words, a man isn’t going to give up The Power if he suspects that The Power is the reason you’ve taken notice of him in the first place.