Saturday, April 27, 2002

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good career must be in want of a wife. Ask Maureen Dowd, who urges men to be more submissive (imitating "bonobo society, [where] the females are dominant"), and find themselves a successful career woman to bake cookies for. Michelle Cottle, in The New Republic, goes further; she wants society to "put a little more heat on Daddy" to get him to "make stark, painful lifestyle choices"--that is, to be more willing to give up his career, stay home and take care of the kids.

Now, I can certainly understand why successful career women might yearn for the same arrangement that successful career men have enjoyed for millenia. And I also strongly suspect that there is a far greater supply of gentlemen willing to settle into a life of ratrace-free househusbandhood than either of these hard-charging feminist journalists realizes. (Hint to women seeking one: a cutthroat big-city newsroom is probably not the best place to look.)

But as I've noted before, efforts to re-engineer social conventions for the explicit benefit of intelligent, ambitious career women, though they may get excellent press (for obvious reasons), can't necessarily be said to benefit womankind as a whole. In the sexual sphere, for example, the virtual obliteration of the traditional conventions of sexual propriety may have greatly expanded the options available to strong, smart, attractive, assertive women, but it has also left their less gifted counterparts defenseless against the consequences of unbridled competition for men--in particular, overwhelming pressure on them to yield unstintingly to male sexual demands. Now successful women are asking that the socially favored division of domestic labor, as well, be tailored to their own needs, at the expense of those who, finances permitting, would prefer to devote at least the early years of their children's lives to caring for them. Surely it's difficult enough these days for mothers to get the fathers of their children to bear the burden of financial support; the propagation of a "bonobo ethic" of kept men and Mr. Moms can hardly be expected to encourage greater male accountability on that score.

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