FoxNews.com's op-ed on modern dating forces women to take sides. I'm standing my (middle) ground.
An op-ed on FoxNews.com — a publication I do not make a habit of reading — sent the internet into a tailspin. Its author, Suzanne Venker, is a woman with whom I’m certain I have next to nothing in common. She's a wife, a mother and a conservative. I'm single, liberal and have no children. She believes mothers shouldn't work. I feel women can (and should) have a family and a career.
Venker’s essay on the negative influence of feminism on relationships and marriage was pummeled by Jezebel, Refinery29 and The Awl — three sites I respect thoroughly and read on the regular. When I finally followed the trail back to Venker’s original piece, I fully expected my head to explode from rage. Instead, something worse happened. Something that caused me much more distress.
I kind of related to what Venker said. (Well, not all of it.)
In the piece, Venker — rather obnoxiously — posits that women of childbearing age are to blame for the current shortage of good men (read: men who are "marriage material"). Why? Because, she suggests, we insist on being so damn independent. Or, in her words, “women aren’t women anymore.” Barf, ugh and all that. I know. Before I’m forced to relinquish my feminist card, allow me to first explain what it is I don’t relate to in this piece.
I don't agree with the awful parts, like Venker's idea that women should "surrender to their nature and femininity." The idea that I — a woman in the year 2012 — should "surrender" to anything is both insulting and counterintuitive. The whole point of being alive right now is that I’m not a victim of circumstance, right? I didn’t spend all this time establishing a career and a comfortable, independent life so I could be told I’m "doing it wrong." Venker even suggests women "look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played" in the dearth of "marriageable men." It’s condescending at best, and slut-shaming at worst.
But Venker also talks about traditional gender roles — specifically, men’s biological imperative to "provide and protect." Sure, the way in which she makes her point, with oppressive statements like “the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off,” and “men want to love women, not compete with them” makes her argument about as palatable as a tweet from Chris Brown. But when I look (way) past the fact that this argument is coming from a person who supports Michelle Bachmann and writes for Fox News, I actually find basic truths that resonate with me. And of course, that makes me feel guilty. Like I’m a bad feminist.
The truth is, I do believe that there are certain instincts that are hardwired in men, and others that are hardwired in women, and that many men (perhaps subconsciously) are put off by a woman who asserts her independence too severely. I'm suggesting that when Venker urges us to embrace our "femininity," she isn’t implying that we should back down like scared animals and morph into 1950s sitcom wives. It's okay for women to sometimes exhibit stereotypically gendered behaviors — like nurturing or flirtatiousness — and for men to likewise indulge theirs — chivalry or machismo, for instance. It doesn’t mean we’re compromising our values if we engage in that dance. We’re still equal. We’re just... different. And that’s okay.
Trust me, I didn’t always feel this way. I can tell you there have been many times when I've practically breathed fire in the face of my old-fashioned mother for suggesting that I refrain from coming across as "too independent," because, you know, the men I date might believe me and move on to women who do need them. Can you think of anything more offensive to say to an ambitious young woman?!
But, as time passed — and my 20s became my 30s — I began to realize that when I told men I was independent and didn’t "need anyone," many eventually backed off. That's not to say I believe I should have been a damsel in distress to get my knight in shining armor. That's just ridiculous, and it's the other extreme. The point is, I was determined to be equal, and my 25-year-old self found even the most remote sign of needing a man to be a weakness; I wouldn’t let myself go there.
In my 30s, my approach to dating has changed. I've become even stronger and more independent, in large part because I’m no longer faking it. That freedom has given way to a sense of vulnerability. Traditional, antiquated acts of chivalry like holding a door open, paying on the first date and letting him walk on the outside of the pavement (yes, this is a thing) are welcome now. I don't feel those things lower me in any way, but rather, they make me feel protected and cared for. I don’t feel weak allowing that because I only date men who I know, right off the bat, hold me in high regard and consider me their equal. So there are no sensitive implications to being treated "like a woman." I don't feel I have a chip on my shoulder, and I’m no longer defensive.
So am I trying to defend Venker by saying that some of her ideas resonate with me? To quote my 11-year-old niece, "LetMeThinkAboutThatNO." Instead, I’m playing devil's advocate. In scenarios like this, it seems there are only two sides: agree and disagree. I'm simply suggesting that it's possible to be a little bit of both.
And that's not me backing down.
How you feel about Venker's essay and the backlash that ensued? Let us know in the comments.