Feminism’s Terrible Blunder
Feminism’s Terrible Blunder, or
Want to “Have It All”? Then Don’t Do It Backwards
By John Ross
There’s been a fair amount of discussion on “career women,” and the value of educating our daughters so that they can succeed in the fields that were once populated only by men. I don’t fall into the “Women should just stay home and have babies” camp, because a woman shouldn’t do that if she doesn’t want to. I have no problem at all with women who want to climb the corporate ladder, pursue careers in traditionally male fields, etc.
I also agree with something a woman friend said in a discussion of men and women, that an intelligent and educated woman is a better choice for a wife, both for the genes that she splits with her husband and passes along to their children, as well as being a more interesting mate to talk to and be with.
What I see as the fundamental problem with women pursuing careers is the near-universal assumption these women make: That they will be able to “pencil in” a suitable husband at whatever point that they decide it’s time to marry and have kids. That is a very dangerous assumption, because it’s seldom true, and I’ll explain why.
Some time ago (15 years?) the Wall Street Journal had one of those human interest stories they run regularly. I wish I could dig it up to get the details exactly right, but I well remember the salient points:
The story was about a woman, never married, who had risen to the top of some fairly big company. As I recall, it wasn’t Fortune 500 size, but it was big and she had done a great job at directing the company’s growth and making it successful. In the process, she herself had amassed a seven-figure net worth, with an annual income of a half-million or so.
She was 46, as I recall, and couldn’t find a suitable man to date and marry. The article chronicled her attempts to rectify this situation, including her hiring an expensive service in NYC that specialized in matching up busy executives with suitable mates.
The service matched her up with some men, but none were much interested. This woman seemed amazed (and despondent) that the male executives the service fixed her up with (and that she was attracted to) weren’t much interested in seeing her a second time. There had been a couple of men that wanted to see her again, but their incomes were a small fraction of hers and she didn’t want much to do with them as she viewed them as not being successful.
The lady theorized that the men who weren’t interested were “intimidated by a strong woman,” and lamented that male executives had fragile egos, and needed doormats for mates, etc. It was a fairly detailed article.
Shortly thereafter, the letters section printed reader’s responses to this article, and one guy nailed the situation dead-center.
He said the woman was failing to see the basic economic principle of comparative advantage, on which all successful trade, commerce, and business is based. He wrote that he was surprised such a financially savvy person was apparently oblivious to what was so obvious to him.
Comparative advantage means you are most valuable to someone who needs what you have, because without you, they can’t have it. Florida can sell oranges and orange juice at a profit to people here in Missouri, even after paying shipping costs, because orange trees won’t grow here, and so if we want orange juice with breakfast, we have to get it from them.
Comparative advantage also says that you should concentrate your time and energy on that which rewards you the most highly, to the point of hiring others to do work that you may even be better at than they are.
Example: A neurosurgeon who happens to be a world-record typist that can type 200 words per minute is still better off hiring a 60 wpm stenographer to transcribe his notes, because there are lots of stenographers who’ll work for less than $20 an hour, and his time is better spent doing more neurosurgeries which pay hundreds of times that rate.
The letter-writer’s point was that the woman executive in the article was failing to grasp this economic fact. The male executives weren’t “afraid of strong women,” they weren’t interested because this woman didn’t offer them anything they didn’t already have. They already had lots of money. They already had financial and business success.
The letter-writer pointed out that the men who had shown interest were the ones that were younger and hadn’t had the business success that she had. They were attracted to her because she offered what they didn’t have. Unfortunately, the woman executive didn’t grasp this, and for some reason didn’t see that her situation made her much more attractive to pool boys than to Lee Iacocca.
This is the great tragedy of feminism: The so-called women’s movement has encouraged women to get specialized education and pursue careers right out of school. Feminists have said over and over that women can succeed at any business endeavor a man can. THIS IS TRUE. But what makes this message so damaging: Saying it over and over to young women has distracted them from remembering (or realizing) that they have a tremendous comparative advantage over men. This comparative advantage is their ability to have children, and it exists for only part of their lives.
If a woman doesn’t particularly want to bear children, fine. But almost all of the young women I meet do have a strong maternal instinct and say they definitely want kids. Why don’t they realize that their youth and ability to bear children are expiring assets? Why are they doing what you can do at any time (work in a business) during the only time they possess those valuable assets?
What if a recent college graduate who was the star pitcher for his college baseball team told you that he intended to play Major League professional baseball, but not until after he’d gotten his law degree and had established a successful law practice? You’d think he was crazy, yet women do the equivalent every day.
Here’s a radical idea for the women who want to “have it all”: Do it in the logical order, which is the reverse of what you’ve been doing.
Whether or not a woman’s youth and fertility are her most valuable assets, they are inarguably expiring assets. They are like a $200 voucher for a private eating establishment that declines by $10 every month you don’t use it. If you don’t ever want to eat at that place, fine, let the voucher expire.
But if one of your life’s goals is to fully experience that eating establishment, use your voucher early.
There are women I know personally who do “have it all,” in both my and their opinion. In all cases, these women married and had their children early, i.e. youngest child born when the mother was 25 or younger. Once all the children were in school, these women entered the work force, at least part-time. When the kids were old enough to start looking out for themselves, i.e. in college or at least driving, the mothers became serious about a career.
In one case, the woman went to law school and is now a successful lawyer. Because she had her kids early, her body recovered easily, and at age 49 she has two grandchildren and looks like one of those hot 30-year-old woman lawyers on a TV series. Getting her law degree at a later age didn’t hurt her skill level or ability to find work: she was my lawyer in my divorce and she couldn’t have been better. I think her husband is one of the luckiest men alive.
Another woman had her first child at age 19 and then twins two or three years later. When the kids were all in school, she started working part-time. At one point she worked in a consignment shop, and felt the owner was making some bad business decisions. At around age 45, with the kids out of college, she opened her own consignment shop. Now, a little over a decade later, she’s making almost $200,000 a year and looks great.
A third had two children by age 24. After they were in high school, when she was 38 or so, she got her real estate agent’s license. Now she’s about 55 or so and making well over $100,000 a year. Do I need to tell you she is great-looking?
Which of the career paths listed below makes more sense?:
1. Focus on career right out of school, have recreational sex with pleasant male companions your own age, be on the success track for 10-15 years, then panic when you realize you want children but you don’t want to derail your career, your looks are starting to fade compared to the twentysomethings, there aren’t any men that seem interested in marrying you, and in any event, you’re running out of time,
2. After high school or during college, focus on finding a man about 10 years older who has established himself in the last decade and who wants a family. Use your youth, looks, and fertility to find the best possible man for the role of Husband and Father. Have children at a young age, soon after you finish your schooling, while you have lots of energy and your body will recover quickly. Be there for the kids when they need you, and let your husband do the financial lifting. Be good to both the kids and your husband, and be thinking about what your career dreams are while caring for your family. Talk to your husband about these dreams. Tell him you don’t want to just sit around the house at age 40-45. Then go after your dream, once the kids are of majority age. You’ve still got a few good decades left, plenty of time for career success.
Many women who pursue careers find they don’t like it nearly as much as they expected. Far fewer women have children and then wish they hadn’t. Why not do the kid thing first, while your body is primed for it, and start a career later in life?
You can start a new business at any age. I started a new venture at age 46–I set up a shooting school. Now, two years later, it’s very successful and continues to grow, showing every indication of becoming the major force in my regional market.
Think a shooting school doesn’t count, because it’s not going to be big enough to be a real “career”? Then try this one: A 65-year-old man living on Social Security with a used car and a love of cooking drove around the Southeast in the 1950s, cooking samples of food to persuade restaurant owners to buy his special blend of seasonings. When he made enough money from spice sales and found a financial backer, he opened his own little restaurant, selling one kind of food made with his blend of seasonings. It was successful, so he licensed others to open similar establishments. When he died 25 years later at age 90, Colonel Harlan Sanders left behind his legacy: Kentucky Fried Chicken, now KFC.
A man who wants a family can’t have it without a woman. He would prefer a young, fertile one. She will have the energy to keep up with kids, and her body will recover quickly from pregnancy and childbirth. Men know that a woman’s sex drive and looks decline. We’d like to start with one where the decline hasn’t already gone on for a couple decades.
A woman who wants both a career and children faces a number of problems if she gets on the career track first, and intends to marry and have kids later. First, since men are good at earning money, we don’t much care about your income level–that old comparative advantage thing. We want your youth, looks, and fertility–we’ve already got the money thing covered. Get to be 35 and still single and you’ll find that the men who want to get married want to do so because they want to have kids. Thus, they want someone in the peak of her reproductive years, not the end of them. Second, if you do find a husband, becoming a mother around age 40 means being an old woman for most of your children’s adult life. When your kids grow up, wouldn’t it be nice to be young enough to still do active things with them for a decade or two? And what if after 12-15 years of the career track, you realize you’re burnt out? Now what? Quit work to get married? What sane man wants a 35-year-old woman who has decided she doesn’t like working?
Last of all, if you marry a man 10-15 years older, and start your career after the kids are grown or at least able to drive, your husband is likely to be very supportive of your dreams. Men are very loyal to those who are good to us. If you’ve been a great wife and mother, we are going to applaud your wanting to get out of the house and bring in some income. We’re going to be thrilled if you replace some or all of the family savings that were drained when the tuition bills came due. We’re going to be proud of you making a financial success of yourself, so that you now truly “have it all.” We’d love to retire and play golf or whatever, and admire your success.
And if you decide the career track isn’t for you after a few years (or a decade), we won’t be upset. You can quit at age 45 or 50 and do something part-time and your husband will never have any complaints. You let him have a wonderful family, were a great wife, and a wonderful mother to his children.
But going the career track first is very dangerous in that it completely wastes much or all of a woman’s major asset of fertility and youth.
Angela Fiori put it succinctly in her excellent piece Feminism’s Third Wave:
Feminism proclaimed that for women to be fulfilled, they had to adopt the career ambitions of workaholic men, the sexual promiscuity of John F. Kennedy, and the cynicism of Gloria Steinem (the pre-married one, that is).
Can you think of any demographic group other than women who would have bought into this prescription for complete disaster and then cried “victim” when the Bunker Buster of Inevitable Biology crashed through the roof and blew up in their faces? Think Wile E. Coyote. No, think of someone much dumber.
It’s obviously too late for any childless career women out there in their 30s. The people that need to understand are today’s high school- and college-age women who want a career and a family.
If you have multiple goals, and achieving one of them requires that you do it before a certain expiration date, work on that one first. Duh.
John Ross 8/30/2005
One question: what advice would you give to your high-school aged daughter (if you have or had one) regarding this issue in terms of career selection?
Good question. She’s 12 now and obviously doesn’t know what area interests her most.
My advice is usually generic. For example, make life choices that DON’T close important doors. Make choices that create future opportunities.
The more specialized one’s knowledge, the more limited one’s earning opportunities. A man who is good with his hands and has a good set of tools can get work anywhere. A lawyer who specializes in a particular area of the tax code may have a much higher income, but I guarantee that he has massively higher overhead, or his employer does, and that means he either is trapped being a wage slave, or in danger of being replaced by a harder worker.
I would urge my daughter to do things that will create opportunities and safety nets for her. One such example might be to get a teaching credential along with her college education. Public schools in Missouri pay well and have GREAT retirement benefits, but you need the piece of paper.
I will encourage her to think like a small business owner: How can I keep my overhead down and maximize my ability to take advantage of opportunities? How can I use my talents?
I personally have always been uncomfortable having all my income come from a single source. What if it goes away? Wouldn’t it be better if only some of it could stop at any given moment? Wouldn’t it be nice if one venture marketed the others? Students who like my shooting school and readers who like my writing often decide they like the way my mind works and thus want to do business with my investment firm.
I won’t specifically advise my daughter to marry and have kids early, I will instead get her thinking about the issue and understand the logical implications and consequences of whatever choices she makes.
Another man asked:
Outside of sex and being a mother for the kids, what would an older man have in common with a 20 year old? I would have to believe that a large part of a successful relationship, (i.e. “an interesting mate to talk and be with”) relies on common interests, intellect, and respect. Without those, the marriage will also likely fail. Another thought, if you marry her when she’s 20, and you’re 35, when she’s 35, you will be 50. Women are sexually shallow too, it’s a bad match, and she will probably cheat on you for something younger.
I think you’re falling into what I call the “soul mate myth” thinking trap. We imagine a woman that shares all our interests, knowledge areas, and dreams.
That generally doesn’t exist.
A more productive path would be to focus on finding a young woman with similar values, i.e. saver vs spender. Core values are usually instilled in childhood, and don’t change.
Perhaps it is men that should start thinking of women as raw material. We know they’re going to change, so get a young one and help her intellect and worldview change for the better.
Would I marry a 20-year-old? Not now, at 48. I’m done having kids, and kids are the only reason for a successful man to get married. But 15 years ago, at 33? If she had a decent IQ, was a saver and not a spender, and was a voracious reader, I’d likely still be happily married. Now she’d be 35. Cheat on me at age 35 because I was too old, at 48? Where have you been living? 35-year-old single women are desperate. A 35-year-old married one with a 48-year-old husband and kids in high school, thinking about what her career was going to be in a few years, would be smiling at me every day.
This whole thing of women waiting longer to have kids has been an overall downer for them and a big part of the problem. They wake up in their 30s childless, and they see their options disappearing. No wonder they’re so unpleasant.
I know a few women who married VERY young, 14 and 15. The 14-year-old married the owner of a local Dog ‘n’ Suds where she had a part-time job. The 15-year-old married a 23-year-old man who owns a gun store and is a talented gunsmith. Both marriages have lasted over 35 years. The women are both over 50, and both have income-producing businesses they run out of their houses. When I see these women with their husbands, both genders are always smiling.
I think both these women may have woken up one morning in their late 30s and thought something like, “Hey, the kids are going to be out of the house soon, and I’m not even 40 yet! I’ve got a lot of good years left, and I don’t want to just watch soaps and get fat. I think I’ll talk to my husband about that catering business I’ve always dreamed of starting.”
I have carried on recent conversations with college girls, and if they’re well-read, they’re much more interesting to talk to than women my age who don’t like to read. Easier on the eyes, too…
And a woman asked:
What’s to prevent the man from “trading up,” and leaving you a single mom? In the marry-young-and-pop-’em-out scenario, now the woman is left with less work experience, less education=less opportunities to take care of herself.
Also, how are these young girls going to find the older men? They wouldn’t really travel in the same circles, or have the same interests.
A successful 30-year-old man probably became successful by sticking to his word. Women don’t understand what breaking our word feels like to most men.
Yes, him dumping her for a “better model” could happen, but it’s not likely. Why? She IS the better model–she’s young, and she’s the mother of his children! Since men initiate divorce only a third as often as women, this fear is misplaced. More likely, she would use the divorce laws to cash out, and he should be worried about that. And I don’t advocate cutting the young woman’s education short, education is very important for her.
And lastly, men will meet younger women where we’ve always met them: Everywhere. And if more high school and college women read this article, decided it made sense, and started thinking this way, they’d start putting themselves in positions to meet men about ten years older. They’d tell their older brothers, cousins, and other family members that they wanted a career path that would give them a family first, when their bodies and energy levels were best able to take it, and careers starting when the kids were almost old enough to vote. Boys their own age may not be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of heading a family, but men a decade older who have never married and have established themselves, have.
Copyright 2005 by John Ross. Electronic reproduction of this article freely permitted provided it is reproduced in its entirety with attribution given