It's Called Feminism

[Content Note: Misogyny; racism; heterocentrism; classism.]

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat used his New York Times column this past Sunday to explore the causes of the "the social crisis among America's poor and working class—the collapse of the two-parent family, the weakening of communal ties." He wonders whether this alleged crisis is "best understood as a problem of economics or of culture," and notes:
[T]he basic point is this: In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.

So however much money matters, something else is clearly going on.
He followed that up with a blog post titled "Men, Money and the Marriage Crisis," because of course:
The first counterargument is about men: It concedes that there is a modest upward post-'60s trend in household income, rather than a steep decline, but it argues that focusing on the general trend ignores a collapse in earnings for low-skilled men, which — since it takes two to tango, and marry — suffices to explain why it's become harder for working class males to successfully fill the roles of husband and father … especially since, with women entering the workforce, they aren't as economically dependent on men as they once were and don't need to settle for a guy whose wages keep on falling.

As I said in the column, a modest version of this argument makes sense to me. Less-educated men haven't seen the same gains as their female peers in recent decades, male-dominated sectors of the economy have declined relative to the female-friendly sectors, and so some lower-income men clearly do look relatively less appealing as partners, less "marriagable" in strictly economic terms than they would have in 1960.
Note the juxtaposition in these two paragraphs: Women "aren't as economically dependent on men as they once were," and lower-income men look "less 'marriagable' in strictly economic terms."

The most basic scrutiny makes these two back-to-back observations look utterly absurd. If women—and let us be honest that the hand-wringing about "the social crisis," especially around marriage, is about straight, white, cis women, except when it's about pathologizing black women—are more financially independent, then men's economic fortunes have less relevance is terms of their "marriagability."

This is a true thing that I see playing out in my own life and the lives of women all around me. If a woman can provide for herself, and doesn't need a man to provide for her, then a man's earning potential becomes vastly less important in terms of evaluating a partner.

Which makes lower-income men more desirable, not less so.

That is, providing those men are offering other things that are valuable to potential partners.

Again, this is a dynamic I see with many of my friends (women of all races, but economic statuses at least working poor or above), but I will speak only to my own experience: When I met Iain, I made significantly more money than he did, and just generally had my professional shit together more than he did—which is for a few reasons, including the fact that I'm two years older.

But his income was of little concern to me, because I made enough money to look after myself and sustain a household. I didn't need a partner to take care of me, because I could take care of myself.

Which means that I could prioritize other things in a partner. I didn't have to compromise on kindness, ethics, intelligence, humor, looks, loyalty, lifestyle, sexual compatibility, or any other quality I value in big or small ways.

What happens when women who want to partner with men have opportunities to provide for themselves is that men can't rely on their earning potential to be enough to be "marriagable." They have to be decent human beings.

If I have the choice between being alone, and being married to some misogyfuck who treats women like shit, that isn't a tough choice.

(All of which is to say nothing about the fact that a lot of this "marriage crisis" bullshit is centered around an increasingly antiquated idea that "marriage" is the only legitimate family structure. It isn't. And there are plenty of different-sex couples living together and parenting together—and looking a hell of a lot like conservatives' much-vaunted "traditional" families—who just don't feel inclined to be legally married.)

Iain and I joke that the only thing for which I need him is to reach things on high shelves, and the only thing for which he needs me is to edge the baseboards when we paint a room. The punchline is not that we need each other for other things; the punchline is that I own a stepladder and he can lean over.

We don't need each other to survive. And that is a good thing. Unless you're a conservative man with retrofuck ideas about needing to contribute nothing to a relationship except a paycheck, in exchange for sex, hot meals, and maid service.

So, yeah, the "social crisis" is, at least among people who are privileged enough to earn a living wage in our garbage economy, in part a "cultural problem." That cultural problem is called feminism, and men who want to be marriagable to women who can take care of ourselves might want to check it out.

Douthat says that economically independent women who want to partner with a man "don't need to settle for a guy whose wages keep on falling." I guess. But, more importantly, we don't need to settle for a guy who's got nothing to offer us besides his wages.

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