Tuesday, October 27, 2009

There's More to Life Than Marriage

I was very disappointed in the coverage of The Shriver Report, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress’ massive investigation in the status of women today. Despite having a cover in Time and a daily segment all last week on the NBC Nightly News, not to mention all the other reports, I didn’t find anything said to be remotely unexpected or even all that interesting (though the charts in Time were cool). Most of it was known, if you looked. I was more intrigued by the reports, both recently and in the spring, on women’s happiness; that was where the real issues came to light, in trying to theorize and explain the results.

Today, I watched a segment from Good Morning America featuring Meghan McCain and Maria Shriver discussing the Women’s Conference and by extension, the report. Normally I would not bother, since I tend to dislike daytime television in general, and despite the banner for the GMA website proclaiming the show has won the Daytime Emmy for Best Morning Broadcast three years in a row, I was not convinced that I was going to be seeing anything that spectacular. But I was mildly interested, mainly because I like both Meghan McCain and Maria Shriver.

Both women were as expected, Meghan earnest and excited, the First Lady of California very professional, but the piece was unremarkable. Until Diane Sawyer (future World News anchor!) had to ask the dumbest question of all, following Maria Shriver’s comments on choices:
Can you have a completely fulfilled life without marrying, just as a career woman?
She then points out Meghan’s age, 25, and then says the average age of marriage (first time, for women) is 25-26, implicitly implying that Meghan, who as far as the public knows is not heading down the aisle any time soon, is facing that possibility.

What an incredibly stupid and insulting question.

Of course the answer is of course, which is what Meghan gave—and to her credit, answered it directly, though with a stone face.

Why is this question still being asked? Why is it only asked of women? I have never once heard someone ask this question to a male. We ask, “Do you think you’ll get married?”, or “Would you like to get married someday?”, or “When do you think you’ll get married?”, always implying there’s an option. But for women, it is an either/or question. Why is the assumption made that all women want marriage, that it’s a good thing for a particular individual, that that is the only right choice—and that “career woman”, that 1950s term, is the only alternative? Or that you can’t be both? The whole point that Maria Shriver made 15 seconds before was that women can make different choices and that they should not be demonized for their decisions!

Some marriages are terrible. Some people don’t want to get married. Some people shouldn’t get married. People can live their lives the way they want to, and they shouldn’t be forced to conform to a set of outdated standards that supposedly promise fulfillment. Asking this question, no matter how it is answered, only reaffirms the outdated thinking behind it. If the whole point of A Woman’s Nation was to spotlight how women actually think, what they want and how they live, they can start by asking some new ones.


John said...

It tends to be taken as a certainty that men will get married. After all, they have that default life-plan checklist that is used to measure their worth at each key stage of life: Go to school, fall in love, get a job, get married, get promoted, have a kid, buy a house in the suburbs, have another kid, get a dog, have another .3 kids, get a riding lawnmower.

If a man doesn't plan to get married at all, it means he's one of two things: Intensely desirable and unwilling to give up his revolving-door bedroom (and/or half of his vast fortune,) or intensely undesirable and unable to attract a wife.

mikhailbakunin said...

Yeah. In my experience, if a guy responds negatively when he's asked whether he'll get married, the inevitable response is, "Oh, don't be silly. Of course you will."

It's usually taken for granted that guys will get married. In fact, when an older man isn't wearing a wedding ring, people often immediately assume that he's gay.

I think most of us are probably guilty of this kind of stereotying. When you reach a certain age, everyone just seems to think there's something wrong with you if you haven't "settled down" with another person.

Emily said...

I think the point of the Shriver Report was more to tell business and government to wake the hell up already and get moving on making lives easier for families. It's not news to you and me that 49.9% of women work and married women with families are stressed the hell out, because we see it everyday. The way I saw it was Shriver and CAP got together to put together something "official" so the powers that be will actually do something about it- like flex time, subsidized child care, and national child care standards.

You're right- the marriage question would never come up to a man. Can you imagine if Arnold did this report and was on with Sawyer? "So, Governator, do you think that men can be fulfilled with just a career, and not a wife?" Please.

Anyway, I am surprisingly optimistic about this report. None of it was news (women do the majority of the housework? You don't say!) but I am hopeful that someone- Obama, the Top Ten CEO's- will read it and say, "well maybe we should help these families out a bit, huh? Sounds like they are having a shitty time out there."