The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

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WHAT, ME MARRY?

In her November cover story, Kate Bolick documented how the relative rise of women in the workplace has affected the “marriage market.” The article received attention from all corners. Sony has optioned “All the Single Ladies” for a scripted TV show that Bolick will co-produce—after she’s done fending off the numerous marriage proposals her story has generated (see “What’s Your Problem,” page 112).

Between 2010’s “The End of Men” and your more recent “All the Single Ladies,” frankly, you’re just really starting to depress me. I don’t dispute either article. I know the statistics and evaluations they report are real (I live them every day, along with my single girlfriends). But now that we’ve identified what’s going on and spoken and written about it ad nauseum, the question is: What do we do about it? I don’t recall reading any solutions proposed for adjusting this recent disparity, nor any responses from men about this. When is the dialogue between men and women going to open about what is going on with the gender-paradigm shifts right now? Are we to believe that men are fine with this change? Are my choices really to (1) accept this situation and be single from here on out, (2) “marry down,” or (3) retire to the single-sex boardinghouse in Amsterdam that Ms. Bolick wrote about? As a woman who still desires to marry (neither up nor down but “just right,” thank you very much), none of these options appeals to me.

Elizabeth Quinn
New York, N.Y.

Bolick’s premise—that women’s success leads to a decline in marriage opportunities—makes for an interesting theory, but is not ultimately supported by the hard statistical evidence. A January 2010 study from the Pew Research Center supports the author’s assertion that the marriage rate is falling. However, it also states unequivocally:

“There is an education component to this change: The decline in marriage rates has been steepest for the least educated, especially men, and smallest for college graduates, especially women. College graduates, the highest earners, are more likely today to be married than are Americans with less education—69% for adults with a college degree versus 56% for those who are not a college graduate. That was not the case in 1970, when all education groups were about equally likely to wed.”

Which is to say, college-educated women are the most likely to be married these days, not the least. I think Bolick wants there to be a societal explanation for her still being single, rather than a personal one; that bias heavily influenced her article.

Catherine Rymer
Concord, Calif.

I have to stop short of joining Bolick in three cheers (or to be fair, maybe she is giving only two cheers) for the widespread decline of marriage. A fair weighing of the pros and cons of marriage would have to include the research showing that marriage is a predictor of greater well-being, social support, and financial stability; lower depression; and better physical health, in addition to the benefits to children that Bolick cites. It’s not just the 19th-century farm that needed two partners—today’s homes benefit greatly from forging a partnership of two incomes, or two supervisors of children, etc. True, we married folks may call our other friends less often, but it’s because we are busy with a fairly important task—supporting and raising the next generation of humans to keep the world going, buy the future Atlantic, and pay your Social Security.

Robert Nohr, Ph.D.
Milwaukee, Wis.

The extinction of marriage would be the best thing to happen to men since the invention of the fishing reel.

John Sack
Del Mar, Calif.

I think [Bolick] is on the cover, and in pictures inside the story, because she is writing about her superior desirability to the men whom she might potentially partner with. And I think that in order to make that possible, she and The Atlantic need to show that she’s attractive. And she is. If there were no pictures of her, that would be the question on most people’s minds: What does she look like?

That, in and of itself, tells you a lot. Bolick can convey socially relevant information about the relative desirability of the men she’s talking about in the article, with words. She can write about education and ambition and drive and money and whatever else, and that says enough to make the point. But Bolick’s desirability can’t be meaningfully conveyed without showing what she looks like. For all the talk of the declining fortunes of men relative to women, and how women are gaining the upper hand in the romantic and sexual marketplace, women’s desirability continues to be largely determined by their physical appearance. I wish Bolick’s accomplishments were enough to convey her desirability, but the cold calculus her editors performed in putting her on the cover says otherwise.

As with Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” this strikes me as an article that superficially details victory for women while the context in which it emerges reminds us of how far we still have to go.

Freddie deBoer
Excerpt from a l’hote.blogspot.com blog post

It’s hard … to watch Occupy Everywhere without thinking about Bolick’s article. Sure, the face painters and zombie-costume wearers seem to be getting the most airplay. But look a little closer and you see a lot of ordinary guys whose currency in the world has been pulled out from under them, who might be considered “unmarriageable” by women who’ve found equality just about everywhere except in a partner.

Maybe Bolick and her single friends should trot their Jimmy Choos down to the rallies and take these men out to dinner (OK, not the ones whose hardworking wives wouldn’t appreciate the gesture). As Bolick points out, the women who are coping best with the new order are those most willing to recalibrate their expectations.

Meghan Daum
Excerpt from an LA Times op-ed

It seems that we may be experiencing a perfect storm of generational inheritance that allows men to get away with way too much. Maybe it’s because American men today have rarely experienced privation or danger. My parents’ generation had World War II. My generation had Vietnam. The risk of the draft gave us a certain amount of urgency about establishing our lives and responsibilities. It could be the well-documented current trend of parental indulgence that is keeping young men from achieving. Decades ago I had firsthand experience of the benefits of feminism. Women came into their own and could live a life not dictated by men. Of late I’ve observed men’s attitudes regressing in their treatment of women, both sexually and culturally, and that is a sad thing.

Brian O’Neil
El Cerrito, Calif.

Historically, we’ve treated marriage as a proxy for the regulation of reproduction and child care. But now that it’s possible for women to support themselves and their children, we may no longer need an institution that gives special rights to men in exchange for the support of their own children. Without marriage, as long as children were well cared for, adults could have whatever relationships they liked. As a society, we would not accredit particular household configurations, any more than we would establish a particular religion. And Kate Bolick would not have to feel uneasy about being single; it would no longer be a meaningful concept.

Brigid Mullane
Sydney, Australia

When The Atlantic gives a woman writer a cover story, she’s almost always writing about topics that are considered female ones: marriage, romance, feminism, and babies.

Jessica Grose
Excerpt from a Slate DoubleX blog post

Women writers are capable of tackling the kind of “hard” economic, political, and foreign-policy cover topics that tend to go to male writers.

This is pretty clear, and I think [Jessica] Grose covers it pretty well. The flipside is that even though these sex/marriage/babies topics that women writers tend to get assigned are generally less “prestigious” than the old “let’s interview powerful people and write down what they think” kind of stories, family life is actually really important. And roughly half of the people having sex, getting married, and having babies are men. Their perspective is important too! I think part of taking women more seriously has to be assigning more women to write about things like the Iranian nuclear program and Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency. But the other part has to be taking “women’s issues” seriously enough to assign male “star” writers to ponder parenting and family life.

Matthew Yglesias
Excerpt from a ThinkProgress.org blog post

As a 51-year-old gay man in a monogamous relationship for nearly 20 years, I strenuously object to Kate Bolick’s statement that “gay men have traditionally had a more permissive attitude to infidelity.” Her article is chock-full of supporting comments, references, interviews, etc., for virtually every other comment she offers to rationalize her singlehood. And then out of the blue she makes this remark about the “attitude” of gay men! Shame on your editors for letting this slip by in your otherwise usually well-balanced magazine.

Andrew B. Simmons
Chicago, Ill.

I got real lucky and married a wonderful woman, and we have been together for 25 years. That said, with society, marriage laws, and the courts the way they are (anti-male), why would any sane man with means get married today? Just as women have choices, so do men. Men can adopt, have babies through surrogates, etc., all without a wife. The woman holds all the cards in a relationship. She chooses whom she will date, whom she will have sex with, whom she will marry, whom she will have children with, and when she will divorce him (and get a big payday). TV tells a woman she does not need a man. The “it takes a village” crowd tells her she does not need a man. The courts tell her she does not need a man. Until she hears her biological clock loudly ticking in her ears, she does not think she needs a man.

For the past 40 years, women have been making their bed, and now they are starting to worry that men don’t want to sleep in it.

onlyabill
TheAtlantic.com comment

PRESIDENTIAL HINDSIGHT

For The Atlantic’s November issue on Brave Thinkers, James Fallows praised President Barack Obama for saying “Go” despite the risks of tracking down and taking out Osama bin Laden. He compared the situation to the failed Desert One mission to save the American hostages in Iran during the Carter administration.

James Fallows writes: “Jimmy Carter doesn’t put it this way in public, but his view of the 1980 election must come down to this: one more chopper, one more term.”

In fact, on at least one occasion, Jimmy Carter did put it just that way in public. I know because I was there and asked him that very question.

President Carter spoke at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, on September 1, 1989, and asked for questions after his prepared remarks. I was an eager high-school student, and I hustled up to the microphone to ask him what one thing he would have done differently in his presidency. He answered that he would have sent one more helicopter on the Desert One mission, allowing the mission to go forward—exactly as Fallows described. He speculated that a more successful operation would have tipped the balance of the election, which was closer than commonly remembered.

I still remember the hush that fell over the large auditorium, as the crowd considered how an entire presidency could depend upon a single helicopter disabled in a desert halfway around the world. And then he moved on. “Next question, please.”

Jeff Morrill
Milton, Mass.


The Atlantic’s e-mail inbox bulged with reader commentary in 2011, as did TheAtlantic.com’s comments section. Here are last year’s most-responded-to articles:

1. “All the Single Ladies,” by Kate Bolick (November)

2. “The Tragedy of Sarah Palin,” by Joshua Green (June)

3. “The Ally From Hell,” by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder (December)

4. “The Shame of College Sports,” by Taylor Branch (October)

5. “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” by Lori Gottlieb (July/August)


By the Numbers

Hundreds of readers responded to Kate Bolick’s cover story, via e-mails and online comments. The gender breakdown of that response—31 percent female, 69 percent male—was revealing … of what, we’re not sure. (This log does not include readers who didn’t indicate their gender.)

After Kate Bolick appeared on the Today show, NBC polled viewers about whether women can be single and happy. More than 4,000 people responded, and the answer was nearly unanimous: 91 percent said yes and 9 percent said no.


Pick-Up Tweet of the Month

true story: @ThorHighball sent the @TheAtlantic story on single women to a girl and she asked him out. him, “It worked!”

@kayleener


Story Update: The Ally From Hell

In December, Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder reported on the delicate relationship between the United States and its supposed ally, Pakistan, whose government sponsors terrorists who attack American troops, and attempts to hide its growing nuclear arsenal from the U.S. at the cost of keeping that arsenal less than fully secure. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly denounced the story as “pure fiction, baseless and motivated.” In a statement, the ministry said: “The surfacing of such campaigns is not something new. It is orchestrated by quarters that are inimical to Pakistan.”

However, just days after The Atlantic published this story, Pakistan announced that the military is training 8,000 people to protect its nuclear weapons. “Pakistan rarely reveals details about its nuclear program or the security around it,” the Associated Press noted. “The announcement by the Pakistani military … could be seen as a response to the [Atlantic] magazine article.”

CORRECTIONS

“How Walmart Is Changing China” (December) mentioned an essay in Walmart in China by Derek J. Davies. Davies’s first name is David. November’s Brave Thinker profile of Lydia Cacho Ribeiro stated that Cancún is Cacho’s home state. Cancún is a city in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/the-conversation/308847/