No One Makes Passes at Girls Wearing Glasses

Sunday morning, Steve and I were drinking coffee and reading the Times. I put down the house porn in the Real Estate Section and grabbed the Week in Review away from Steve, when I spotted the headline "The M.R.S. and the Ph.D." I thought the article was going to be about all the women Ph.D.s actually finding tenure track jobs. Ha! I spent too much time last week talking to over educated, under employed friends last week. 

Stephanie Coontz writes a column, disputing Kate Bolick, who wrote that American women face “a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be ‘marriageable’ men — those who are better educated and earn more than they do.”

Coontz looks at surveys of men in 1939 and in 2008 and finds that the Modern Man places higher importance on "education" and "favorable social status" than did the Old Fogey Man. Sadly, Modern Man also places more importance on looks, so he's not really all that evolved. Old Fogey Man wanted a woman who had good health and could cook. You couldn't send out for Chinese Food in the old days, and antibiotics were hard to come by. 

I'm not sure what to say about the Coontz article. She conflates intelligence, education, and income, which was terribly confusing. Also, it's weird to compare a guy from 1939 and 2008, without considering the larger context. 

I did like her concluding idea: 

For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it’s no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful. The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse.

Being 16 years away from the dating world, I'm not the best person to give dating advice. OK, I'll give marriage advice.  Based on an unscientific review of my friends and family, it seems that in the marriages that work, the couple has to have something in common. It might be education, or maybe it's a similar culture or values. I guess there are guys who are intimidated by a spouse with higher income, but in those few cases, income-envy is part of a larger problem of general assholicness. 

There are people who are intimidated by high status professions or prestigious degrees. And there are people are people who look down on lower status professions and the lack of prestigious degrees. These prejudices not only affect dating prospects, but also friendships. To avoid these uncomfortable situations, we sort ourselves out into separate circles, which is a bad, bad thing. Or we end up "playing dumb" to avoid seeming snobby — also a bad, bad thing. 

The issues of "marrying down" or "marrying up" is really part of a bigger problem. We're not "friending down" or "friending up" either. I wish we could get past this whole thing. 

25 thoughts on “No One Makes Passes at Girls Wearing Glasses

  1. “Coontz looks at surveys of men in 1939 and in 2008 and finds that the Modern Man places higher importance on “education” and “favorable social status” than did the Old Fogey Man.”
    I wonder whether the Old Fogey Man wasn’t a historical blip. If you look at Jane Austen novels, an upper class woman’s wealth, education (i.e. “accomplishments”–foreign languages, handiwork, musical ability, skill at painting),” and “favorable social status” were make-or-break issues in the romantic arena. In our era, a college education (particularly one that comes without student loan debt) is essentially the equivalent of a dowry. (Those early 19th century “accomplishments” look a bit pointless to us today, but they would be pretty good markers of general intelligence, willingness to persevere through difficulty, teachability and fine motor skills, all of which are a pretty big deal.)
    “The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care.”
    Do you really have to choose either between being able to respect your husband and emotional sensitivity/helpfulness? A husband can always be just a bit more or less helpful, but losing his wife’s respect is pretty much the end. Once you lose respect, there’s little or no motivation to salvage the relationship.
    I also think that the achiever/slacker dichotomy misses out on the unfortunate fact that there’s a large chunk of the male population that is neither high-achieving nor helpful nor sensitive.

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  2. “Do you really have to choose either between being able to respect your husband and emotional sensitivity/helpfulness?”
    No, but they’re orthogonal, and if you can’t have a man who treats you well, none of the rest of it matters. My daughter and I talk about this whenever girls swoon after “bad boys” (that, of course, they’re going to reform) in teen flicks: the first non-negotiable about a boy is how he treats you.
    I’m not seeing an assumption of trade-off in Laura’s original post. There might be a bit of one, but indeed there’s no question that there are a fair number of slackers who also treat women badly (the bad boys might be the star of the football team but them might also be the jerk smoking pot behind the gym).

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  3. “My daughter and I talk about this whenever girls swoon after “bad boys” (that, of course, they’re going to reform) in teen flicks: the first non-negotiable about a boy is how he treats you.”
    Respect should also be non-negotiable. My husband is the smartest guy I know (and a lot of people think the same of him) and is very good at what he does and that fact certainly makes it easier to deal with any minor lapses.
    I also think that girls do not in fact respect “bad boys.” The whole point of the allure of the “bad boy” is that he’s a fixer and if you manage to turn him into a showplace, it’s a feather in your cap. That model is as deeply disrespectful as Pygmalion.

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  4. Who fills out surveys? If you’re filling out a survey, you’re likely to have attended a good college, and you know what the right answers are in such a situation.
    I have a hard time envisioning Bella and Edward filling out surveys. And yet, Twilight has been very popular. I don’t think the romance genre will take off with a bunch of low-key guy, even if the LKG would be the sensible choice.
    It’s odd Stephanie Coontz chooses these divisions: ” Of women who graduated from college before 1900, more than three-quarters remained single. As late as 1950, one-third of white female college graduates ages 55 to 59 had never married, compared with only 7 percent of their counterparts without college degrees.”
    Well, before 1900, around 2-3% of the female population attended college, so they’d be likely to be outliers in many respects. Likewise, the college graduates who were 55 to 59 in 1950 were a very small group, compared to their contemporaries. I would hope that the women with college degrees could support themselves through employment. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0112596.html

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  5. I’m seeing a whole lot of solutions in search of a problem.
    Coontz’s concluding thoughts were fine, but seemed to run counter to her article, which mostly said that women were marrying less educated men already, and were fine with it.
    Bolick is 39 and single, and hasn’t found the right guy yet, and seems to think that there aren’t any good options for her.
    Maybe everybody is right. Maybe every woman decides what she values, and if adding a man in general, or this man in particular, adds to those values.
    The “problem,” to the extent it is a problem, is that many men are not worthy of marrying, but it is only a problem if women aren’t happy being single when the best available guy is below her personal cutoff.
    Coontz says: Certainly, some guys are still threatened by a woman’s achievements. But scaring these types off might be a good thing. The men most likely to feel emotional and physical distress when their wives have a higher status or income tend to be those who are more invested in their identity as breadwinners than as partners and who define success in materialistic ways.
    The problem is that there are too many men like that. The good news is that the women who don’t choose them are doing just fine, while the poor shlub men are not. So, if the men clean up their act and provide a new type of value to replace the kind they lost, then that’s great; otherwise it is mostly the men who are losing out. The only real mistake here is to identify the issue as a problem for women.

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  6. “For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation”
    ARGH!!!! Such an oversimplification of a complex genre that complex people read for complex reasons.
    /card carrying member of IASPR
    “Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful.”
    Ha! As if I ever believed that crap. I think people with healthy self-esteems don’t crave having someone who is “better” (in whatever value of better they believe in) than them. I want to be with someone who makes *me* better (not my status–*me*). That person for me is my husband. The end.

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  7. “ARGH!!!! Such an oversimplification of a complex genre that complex people read for complex reasons.”
    Yeah. Especially when the real problem is those boys who read lots of science fiction and then won’t date a girl who doesn’t own a laser rifle.

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  8. I don’t foresee a wave of college educated women who can’t find a mate due to their degree. For the kids finishing college today, a degree may be a certificate for a certain job track, but it doesn’t set them apart from the great unwashed.
    A religious studies major marries an HVAC technician. Which one is marrying down? A successful salesperson marries an elementary teacher. Who is marrying up?
    I think of several marriages in my small circle of family and friends, in which one partner had a 4 year college degree, and the other partner didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal. Or, at any rate, if it had been a big deal, it would have had more to do with internal doubts, than the transformative nature of a college degree.

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  9. There was an article in the NYT about how during the current downturn, women are disproportionately going back to school:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/29/business/young-women-go-back-to-school-instead-of-work.html
    “Workers are dropping out of the labor force in droves, and they are mostly women. In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives to get more education. There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.”
    The caption under the main photo is “Laura Baker left her job at a Starbucks this fall to pursue a master’s degree in strategic communications at the University of Denver.”
    I wonder how that’s going to work out for her.

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  10. For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; . . .The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is . . . how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care.
    I’ve got a million dollar idea for a new line of romance novels! My first plot will be ripped straight from the headlines.
    “Police: Man breaks into South Bend home, vacuums and folds laundry”
    http://www.wsbt.com/news/wsbt-police-man-breaks-into-south-bend-home-vacuums-and-folds-laundry-20120209,0,346307.story
    “While intimidated by the ease of his breaking and entering, she couldn’t help but admire how the vacuum lines on the plush carpet were all as parallel as the rippling musculature of Keith’s washboard abs . . .”

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  11. Historical or contemporary or paranormal?
    Woman-centered or man-centered? (Different authors find the women vs the men the fascinating parts of the romance)
    Small-town/quirky vs urban/glamorous?
    Apparently, the controversial romance du jour is 50 Shades of Gray, which is BDSM erotica.

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  12. You know, the title/name of the hero might weird you out, and personally this was a wallbanger for me for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, but The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie is a historical romance that features a hero with Asperger Syndrome.
    It was a wallbanger for me because I have little patience for the family series books. There are 4 MacKenzie brothers, and they are all So Tortured and So Wonderful and So Hot and So Powerful. And each has his own book. Feh. And yet I did like Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons.
    Recs:
    Historical:
    Julia Quinn, start with Duke and I or Romancing Mister Bridgerton.
    Eloisa James
    Sherry Thomas
    There’s a new book called A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant that got rave reviews. I read it and liked it quite a bit, too.
    Contemporary:
    Jennifer Crusie – women-centered, almost like women’s fiction/chick lit, except less shopping
    Suzanne Brockmann – her heroes are usually military (Navy SEALs)
    Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    If you can find it on the shelves of CVS, it’s probably your stereotypical idea of a romance, and not that good.
    I can’t stand paranormal romance, so someone else would have to give you advice on that. Except Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke was pretty good (it’s steampunk). I also have a soft spot for Meg Cabot of Princess Diaries fame. I like her Heather Wells books and her Boy series.
    I will talk your ear off about romance fiction given half a chance.

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  13. “There are 4 MacKenzie brothers, and they are all So Tortured and So Wonderful and So Hot and So Powerful. And each has his own book.”
    How do you tell them apart?

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  14. One is a PAINTER. One is a FINANCIAL GENIUS. One is a HORSEMAN. Of the apocalypse? I don’t know. Seriously, I have no patience with the Larger Than Life characters.

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  15. Some other good romance novels are:
    Faking It – Jennifer Crusie
    Agnes and the Hitman – Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer
    Smooth Talking Stranger – Lisa Kleypas
    Bet Me – Jennifer Crusie
    Any book ever written by Edith Layton (if you at all interested in historicals/regencies)

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  16. My sister-in-law teaches middle school science. She LOVED Hunger Games. I’m on the waiting list at the public library for the first book, there are 61 people ahead of me. I may need to download it to my Kindle…

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