By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, July 30, 2015
Spinster: Making A Life Of One’s Own by Kate Bolick is a fantastic book for men who want to understand modern women. Kate Bolick, an editor at The Atlantic, has written something that is part memoir, part literary history, and part feminist declaration of independence. Bolick interweaves her personal memories of growing up and choosing not to marry with the history of other women who made the same decision. By using five women from different time periods Bolick creates an evolutionary chronicle of women who chose to swim against the social current and found personal freedom. Bolick’s inspiration came from:
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)
- Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
- Neith Boyce (1872-1951)
- Edna St. Vincent Millary (1892-1950)
- Maeve Brennan (1917-1993)
In essence, Bolick asks why should women be a slave to biology, society and men. Bolick explores no new feminist territory, but she has written the latest dispatch from the front, and she’s written her story in a very engaging and compelling way. I highly recommend Spinster.
The heart of Bolick’s tale is to ask why should women marry. Her book is personal, but it could also be a sociological study. The reasons why women today can decide not to marry is because of all the changes in society over the last two hundred years. Bolick’s five muses are five advanced explorers in feminist history. They represent the choice between wife and all the other possible roles women can chose from.
We can examine that history easily enough by asking what compels women to marry:
- Family and children
- Financial security
- Peer pressure
- Cultural brainwashing
Young girls don’t decide to go boy crazy in their teens, but hormones drive them to seek out the perfect mate. Peers and society put a cultural spin on that impulse that we rationalize is a choice, but it’s not. In recent centuries society has created the story of love to cover over biology, but in earlier times women were married off for economic reasons. They had zero choice. Love gave them one choice. Even after the invention of romantic love most women felt compelled to make a good match for financial security. Men were seen as providers and protectors. Everything in church, school, pop culture and society pushed girls to believe marriage was their true goal in life. It’s amazing that any women broke free of this programming. They now have an infinity of choices.
The marriage myth started to break down when women began to earning their own living. Society still favors the man economically, so most women still choose to marry, but that’s changing. Even some of the women Bolick profiled eventually married, giving them economic freedom, and sometimes wealth.
What’s really changed things has been sexual freedom. When women discovered they could have romance and sex without becoming a household slave is probably the beginning of the breakdown of marriage. If all women become financially independent, finding romantic partners without cultural guilt, what reasons are left to marry?
Having children remains the strongest incentive to bond in pairs. Children are a lot of work, and a huge commitment, and having two people dedicated to the task makes it much easier. Because men are often not equal partners, many women have learned that being single moms is possible. Any women who grow up not wanting children and has the ability to financially provide for herself has little reason to marry.
Because most women go through a series of love affairs they quickly learn that passion does not last, and servicing men’s incessant unromantic desires puts the kibosh on wanting them around full-time. Many modern women prefer to have a series of romantic relationships; ditching the man when he becomes too troublesome. Some women have gone from casual sex to anonymous sex to maintain maximum free time and reduce distracting obligations from her growing ambitions.
For us men, we need to ask: Why do women need us? Because culture continues to sell the storybook concept of perfect love for life, many women remain disciples of Miss Austen, and we can still hope to play Mr. Darcy to our fantasy dream girl even if that’s not her fantasy. But that segment of the population is in decline. Because religion teaches that family and children are the highest purpose in life, many believers, both male and female, keep marriage and family thriving. Luckily, biology compels a large percentage of the population to raise the next generation of humans. So being a potentially great Dad will always be in demand.
What about friendship and companionship? I think society is changing here too. Many women love male friends as long as they don’t have to sexual service them. Modern women are learning to separate chemistry from friendship. Of course that means hot guys get lots of sex and average guys get to be just friends.
The experiences and decisions Bolick makes in Spinster are the same ones that millions of young women are making today. Just look at this chart of the percentage of women getting married over the last 50 years.
The end of the 1960s was when the women’s movement started, but also when more women started working. Bolick’s story is a personal one that back these statistics. I know many women who chose not to marry, and not to have children. I have to ask though: Was this huge social change because of the freedom to pursue careers or the freedom not be be chained to men?
Some demographers claim those who marry today are from the economically better off segments of society because marriage preserves wealth. If you want to be rich, successful and have beautiful kids, it really helps to combine two incomes, and have the support of successful grandparents as mentors. In other words, the future of marriage might be those who are well-to-do. For woman, that might mean finding mates that are 50-50 partners. In other words, marriage might go from being a male dominated kingdom to a egalitarian corporation. Which is kind of pre-romantic love retro if you think about it.