Love in the Post-Romantic Age
by Pamela Haag.
….Maybe we get less out of marriage because we expect less.
I didn’t think about marriage much even as a young girl, but when I did, regrettably having been schooled by television commercials, I thought I’d be the Enjoli perfume woman and Have It All. Like Enjoli’s slinky, silver-gowned model, I’d be bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan after my day of triumphs in an Office, of some sort, where I pursued my Big Career, of some sort. I’d wear the glass slipper to kick in the glass ceiling and shatter it. I had no idea what “never letting him forget he was a man” was all about, but it sounded doable. I imagined myself, when I imagined marriage at all, as one half of a dual-career power couple.
Other women imagined likewise. In 1970, a national survey found that among the “best-educated” women, almost half still thought that a woman’s major role was “wife and mother.” Just thirteen years later, in 1983, as my friends and I were just graduating from high school, a stunning 85 percent of college women in one survey aspired to have it all, to be “married career women with children.” For these women, being a wife and mother without a career had devolved, with remarkable speed, from the apotheosis of middle-class womanhood to a mark of failure and mediocrity.
By the time I dutifully completed college, checked off my education and career milestones, and got married, the Having It All dream had fallen on hard times. It had been beaten into ill-repute by an accidental coalition of antifeminist conservatives and exhausted, bitterly overworked spouses, including wives who felt less like the glamorous Enjoli woman and more like bow-backed Boxer the horse in Animal Farm, who vows always to “work harder.”
That dream is sadly tattered today. Having It All, which sounds like a gift and a triumph, devolved into Doing It All, which sounds like a burden, and a chore. Shirin, my unmarried informant, summarizes, “Women are conflicted in ten different directions. They know you cannot have it all. You cannot have the career, the travel, the friendships, the time alone, and the family as well. Nor do many men I know really do fifty percent of anything in the house.” “Everyone” knows that the dream of Having It All just makes us unhappy.
However, it’s worth noting that Friedan made a crucial distinction that’s so often missed in the contemporary polemics: Feminism sought equal opportunities and responsibilities for women to be full participants in life, whether or not those things inclined them toward greater personal “happiness.” Friedan conceded[CE1] that there might be “many women in America who are happy at the moment as housewives. . . . But happiness is not the same thing as the aliveness of being fully used.”
In any case, I don’t entirely share the pessimistic view. John and I bring home the bacon and fry it up reasonably well. As for never letting him forget he’s a man . . . well, never mind….