In summing up the essential dilemma for today's woman as she contemplates -- while being handicapped as non-equal partners with males in the workplace (females are paid less than men for the same work) -- either using her reproductive ability or launching a career, McWilliams offers this succinct verity: "They have the worst of both worlds: the burdens of limitations and the hazards of opportunity" (30).
Are Women Eschewing Marriage because of the Impact of Feminism?
or is the lessening of the value of marriage due to other dynamics?
McWilliams, a psychoanalyst / therapist by profession, is not saying that feminism has taken a toll on the institution of marriage. Quite the contrary, McWilliams simply points out the truth as to what choices women are obliged to face. Many bright, forward-thinking women (in particular younger adult women) keep"…all involvements with men" at "arm's length" because they do not wish to be "…dominated, controlled, exploited, patronized, or ultimately rejected" (McWilliams, 31). Is that a description of feminism or simply women's intuition and female pragmatism? On page 32 McWilliams points to a universal truth about American society: while in their 20s and 30s men put "identity issues before concerns with intimacy" but women, on the other hand, put "intimacy before identity." Again, there is nothing in McWilliams' narrative that puts the blame for women's reticence to marry on the shoulders of feminism.
Andrew Cherlin, professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University, presents an objective and enlightening picture of marriage (and divorce) in the 21st century in his book the Marriage-Go-Round. Cherlin picks on Arkansas, a southern state with the third-highest rate of marriage per capita and the second-highest divorce rate in America -- and which also happens to be "…above average in church membership" -- to show that having a "socially conservative electorate does not insulate a state from divorce" (Cherlin, 2009, 14). The author is quick to point out that Arkansas is not unique in America at all; indeed, in the U.S. people marry younger, and after divorce "…find a new partner quicker" than any other Western nation.
Because Americans enter and exit intimate partnerships "faster" than any other nation, there is legitimate concern among scholars that the future of the family is in great doubt (Cherlin, 15). Given that eighty-four percent of U.S. women marry by the time they turn 40 it is telling and appalling to the moral senses to realize that after "…only five years, more than one-fifth of Americans who had married had separated or divorced" (Cherlin, 17). In other Western nations, half or less than half of that number seek divorce after just five years.
Taking the cheerless details further, children born to married or cohabitating American parents are "…more likely to see their parents' partnership break up" than children anywhere else in the world. Indeed, about 40% of American children witness a break-up of their parents by age 15; and about half of those children who experienced the breakup of their parents' union "…saw the entry of another partner into their household within three years," a far higher proportion than in Sweden (where one-third see a new partner in the household in three years), or West Germany (29%), or France (23%) or Italy (8%) (Cherlin, 18)
Additionally, Cherlin notes that women in the U.S. are more likely to become sole parents -- and at an earlier age -- then women in other Western countries; and by age 30, a third of American women have already spent years as "lone mothers" (18). These data are relevant to the society because children whose lives have been marked by "…a series of transitions" in their families appear to experience: a) more difficulties in general than other children; b) sexual intercourse at a younger age; c) the birth of the first child outside the bonds of marriage (Cherlin, 20).
Moreover, in looking at the outcomes for children from broken families, researchers followed more than a thousand American children from nine U.S. states from their births up until first grade; the results of this empirical investigation show that: a) the more family transitions a child goes through the more likely he is to demonstrate "…behavior problems in first grade; b) children that are products of family transitions "are more likely to be disruptive with teachers" and are more likely to ignore teachers' requests (Cherlin, 20). Ironically, the research also showed that children born to single parents showed "…fewer problems in first grade if their parents had remained single than if their parents had started (and sometimes ended) new partnerships" (Cherlin, 20).
One explanation for the above-mentioned school-related problems is that when a stepparent is introduced into the family the mother (the biological parent) spends quality time focusing on her new intimate relationship and on refereeing the conflicts that are inevitable between her children and the stepparent. Hence, to the mind of the child, his mother's attention is not where it should be -- on him and on his needs (Cherlin, 22).
So, given these data on failed marriages and the aftermath in those contexts vis-a-vis the children, what or who is to blame -- and why? Cherlin doesn't dip into feminism at all but rather he spends the majority of his narrative on the facts of failed marriages. For example he reports that 76% of Americans agree with the statement that marriage should "…last forever." And he alludes to a journalist's interview with sixty divorced Americans (whose marriages lasted less than five years) which revealed the not-so-surprising fact that all sixty said they had expected their marriage to "…last forever" (25). In addition, Cherlin reports that only 10% of Americans agreed with the statement that "Marriage is an outdated institution," far fewer than in France (36%), England (26%), Canada (22%) or Sweden (20%) (28).
The question then is this: given that Americans have a higher divorce rate than other Western countries -- and that Americans who divorce are quicker to get back into another relationship than couples in other Western societies -- how does that fact mesh with the reality that only 10% of Americans say marriage is an outdated institution? And where does feminism as it is understood today enter into the picture?
What is Feminism and what accusations against Feminism are valid?
The late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a respected historian and women's studies scholar, is what philosophy professor Amy R. Baehr refers to as a "conservative feminist" (Baehr, 2009, 101). In her article -- published in the peer-reviewed journal Hypatia -- Baehr first dips into the way in which feminism is described in the scholarly community. Baehr points out that many philosophers refer to feminist viewpoints as opposed to "…conventional social forms, like traditional marriage, motherhood, and sexual morality"; and that since those social forms entail "gender hierarchy" they must be "criticized and transformed" according to the feminist milieu (Baehr, 102).
Fox-Genovese, meanwhile, who considered herself a feminist -- and "…temperamentally and culturally conservative" at the same time -- believes there is a threat to social roles in America because feminism champions individualism. Yes, feminism has stood for providing "…protection" to women "from harm and abuse"; and feminism has helped liberate women from "unchosen obligations" (Baehr, 108). However, because individualism places freedom of the person as the "highest value" -- higher than other roles that women have played (family, well-being, and child-rearing) -- Fox Genovese believed that the more extreme forms of feminism "…threatens human well-being including women's well-being" (Baehr, 108).
That said, Fox-Genovese also believes that there are other things in society that are incompatible women women's well-being, so she is not putting all her conservative eggs in the anti-individualist basket. Indeed Fox-Genovese believes the part of feminism that is most relevant to women's status today is that "…women [should] be able to support themselves and develop their talents" (Baehr, 110). Moreover, Fox-Genovese cemented her legacy as a feminist -- her conservatism notwithstanding -- by arguing in favor of: a) national / universal health insurance; b) a woman's right to an "early abortion" (and public funds should be available for women in poverty to have abortions); c) the state making it possible for women to "forgo paid employment to care for young children" through "universal child allowances"; d) day care in the home and welfare for poor women; and e) women being respected as "competent workers even as they continue to enjoy the pleasures of femininity…and of their independence even as they want binding ties to a man and children" (Baehr, 111).
Fox-Genovese on Feminism and Marriage
Easy access to divorce has contributed to a "…reduced personal and economic security for women," Baehr continues, paraphrasing Fox-Genovese. Fox-Genovese believes that marriage does indeed function as "the foundation for personal and economic security" and that the gains that woman have achieved in paid employment have not "…made up for the losses caused by…