Daily Archives: January 4, 2006

Career women, downwardly mobile men, and … misogyny?

John Tierney’s latest column about women, men, higher education, and marriage (sadly, a prisoner of Times Select) is raising some hackles. Echidne of the Snakes, the feminist blogger who just the other day made mincemeat of a much-trumpeted new study of gender differences in Internet usage, accuses Tierney of nothing less than misogyny — though she says this harsh judgment is also based on some earlier columns of his. She even urges readers to stop subscribing to the Times in protest against the “woman-bashing” dished out by Tierney and David Brooks, who the other day rhapsodized about the power and fulfillment enjoyed by stay-at-home moms.

At Salon.com’s Broadsheet blog, Lori Leibovich is equally unimpressed.

So, what is this horrible thing John Tierney said?

Here are some excerpts from his column, titled “Male Pride and Female Prejudice”:

When there are three women for every two men graduating from college, whom will the third woman marry?

This is not an academic question. Women, who were a minority on campuses a quarter-century ago, today make up 57 percent of undergraduates, and the gender gap is projected to reach a 60-40 ratio within a few years. So more women, especially black and Hispanic women, will be in a position to get better-paying, more prestigious jobs than their husbands…

Tierney notes that while some men are reluctant to marry a higher-earning woman out of masculine pride, such attitudes seem to be dwindling:

In 1996, for the first time, college men rated a potential mate’s financial prospects as more important than her skills as a cook or a housekeeper.

In the National Survey of Families and Households conducted during the early 1990’s, the average single man under 35 said he was quite willing to marry someone earning much more than he did. He wasn’t as interested in marrying someone making much less than he did, and he was especially reluctant to marry a woman who was unlikely to hold a steady job.

Those findings jibe with what I’ve seen. I can’t think of any friend who refused to date a woman because she made more money than he did. When friends have married women with bigger paychecks, the only financial complaints I’ve heard from them have come when a wife later decided to pursue a more meaningful – i.e., less lucrative – career.

Nor can I recall hearing guys insult a man, to his face or behind his back, for making less than his wife. The only snide comments I’ve heard have come from women talking about their friends’ husbands. I’ve heard just a couple of hardened Manhattanites do that, but I wouldn’t dismiss them as isolated reactionaries because you can see this prejudice in that national survey of singles under 35.

The women surveyed were less willing to marry down – marry someone with much lower earnings or less education – than the men were to marry up. …

You may think that women’s attitudes are changing as they get more college degrees and financial independence. A woman who’s an executive can afford to marry a struggling musician. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to. Studies by David Buss of the University of Texas and others have shown that women with higher incomes, far from relaxing their standards, put more emphasis on a mate’s financial resources.


“Of course, some women marry for love and find a man’s resources irrelevant,” Buss says. “It’s just that the men women tend to fall in love with, on average, happen to have more resources.”

Which means that, on average, college-educated women and high-school-educated men will have a harder time finding partners as long as educators keep ignoring the gender gap that starts long before college. Advocates for women have been so effective politically that high schools and colleges are still focusing on supposed discrimination against women: the shortage of women in science classes and on sports teams rather than the shortage of men, period. You could think of this as a victory for women’s rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone.

Tierney’s conclusion is a bit snide and smacks of the “uppity women will end up as old maids” cliché. But is he really, as Echidne claims, warning of “the dangers that women face if they veer away from the path traditionalists hold as the ideal one for women”? Nowhere in his column is there a suggestion that men are likely to shun successful, ambitious, high-earning women — quite the opposite! Nor is he saying that it would be a good idea for women to avoid a higher education because it might harm their marriage prospects. Rather, the main point of his column is that in celebrating female achievement, we should not disregard male underachievement. Echidne claims that Tierney is calling for “affirmative action for men in college admissions,” but he’s not. He specifically says that educators must tackle the male/female gap in academic proficiency long before college. (His column is a response to the recent Weekly Standard article by Melana Zyla Vickers, “Where the Boys Aren’t: The gender gap on college campuses.”)

What’s so outrageous here? The problem of the partner shortage faced by college-educated black women due to the huge gender gap in college attendance among African-Americans (among black college graduates in recent years, women outnumber men two to one) has been a subject of a great deal of discussion, certainly not just among conservatives.

Echidne seems particularly put off by the suggestion that women marry for money. In a separate post, she writes:

One quote in Tierney’s column struck me with unusual vividity. It is by an evolutionary psychologist David Buss:

“Of course, some women marry for love and find a man’s resources irrelevant,” Buss says.

Color me naive but I assumed that most people in the western world who marry do so at least believing that it is for love. Am I totally mistaken in this? Is it true that only “some women” marry for love and that the others, presumably, marry for money? I don’t know a single case of anybody, man or woman, marrying for money amongst my acquaintances but perhaps my acquaintances are atypical?

Leibovcih, quoting Echidne, repeats the same point. But they are both quoting a truncated version of the Buss quote. The second half is:

“It’s just that the men women tend to fall in love with, on average, happen to have more resources.”

Or, to quote the old saw: “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.”

Now, I’m not David Buss’s biggest fan. I read a lot of his articles while researching my book, Ceasefire (which has a chapter on sex differences), and I think he often tends to “spin” his findings in a way that magnifies male-female differences. But come on, folks. Is anyone going to seriously argue that a man’s resources — income, power, status — are generally irrelevant to women’s preferences in the mating game in modern-day American culture? That doesn’t mean most women are calculating golddigers (as some men’s rights folks like to depict them), but yes, women generally prefer not to “marry down,” and not just in terms of money but also in terms of prestige, education and intelligence, for which a college degree is considered a marker. To deny this fact is, shall we say, not very reality-based. Unlike many conservatives, I’m not saying that this is the way it should be or the way it always will be. But for now, such a trend is definitely there.

Leibovich’s reaction is especially puzzling because her magazine, Salon.com, has published several interesting articles by Ann Marlowe dealing with this very problem. In a passage particularly relevant to this discussion, Marlowe writes:

Yes, there are plenty of young women who decry marrying for money, but how many of them would marry a man they knew would never make as much money as they do? Money is too tied to power, and hence to our perceptions of sexiness, to be removed from the marital equation.

In another article, Marlowe notes:

We rarely examine the values implied by the kinds of remarks we let slip constantly — “She married badly,” “He’s a meal ticket,” “She’s too high-maintenance.” Very few women would react well if a man asked their price, but many will casually boast of their boyfriend’s expensive presents or recent promotion, or imply that a lover’s income offsets other less stellar qualities.

Marlowe, it should be noted, is a feminist who strongly believes that women can break these patterns. I personally think that she overstates her case somewhat and draws too stark a picture, and tends, not unlike the conservatives, to overgeneralize about women and men. But, in broad terms, she is certainly on to something. Another feminist who has addressed this is writer Peggy Orenstein, whose 2000 book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World, based on interviews with about 200 women in their twenties and thirties, makes it clear that most young women — including ones with professed feminist values and aspirations — place a very conscious value on a prospective husband’s earning potential and ambition.

However, once again, it’s not just about money. It’s about status, intelligence, personal growth, if you will. A friend who teaches at a state university told me that she has noticed a pattern among female students from a working-class background: having gotten a college degree, or even some college education, they dump their boyfriends or husbands who have not continued their eudcation beyond high school, mainly because they feel that they have “outgrown” these men. I would add that, today, most college-educated men would probably not see a woman without a college degree as a suitable marriage partner — whether or not her degree enhances her earnings.

So yes, the gender gap in college attendance is very likely to create a skewed marriage market (pardon the utilitarian terminology) in which educated, career-oriented women will face a shortage of marriageable men. It’s hardly anti-feminist to acknowledge this fact.

By the way, Leibovich’s post is followed by some very interesting reader comments discussing these issues.


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Domestic violence and male victims

Following up on my VAWA post: there has been a lot of heated debate about the issue of men as victims of abuse in heterosexual relationships. I don’t think that domestic violence is a 50/50 problem, as some men’s activists have claimed. Men are bigger and stronger than women, though I think that their advantage in size and muscle is often neutralized by the societal taboo against using violence toward women. British psychologist John Archer’s meta-analysis shows that more than more than a third of people sustaining injuries from domestic violence are men. Whether the ratio of abused men to abused women is 3:2, 2:1, or even 4:1 for that matter, the bottom line is that the problem is serious enough to warrant attention (as is female aggression in mutually violent couples). And it’s not just an issue of concern for male victims (or children). It’s an issue of respect for women as adult human beings fully accountable for their actions.

For an interesting example of both female-to-male violence and societal attitudes toward it, see yesterday’s advice column by Cary Tennis in Salon.com. (‘fraid you’ll have to watch an ad, first.) The letter-writer said that while he was sulking after an argument and refusing to talk to his fiancee about what had happened, his fiancee physically attacked him.

Now here’s the thing: I’m a man who stands well in excess of 6 feet, and I outweigh my fiancée by 100 pounds. It’s unlikely she could injure me. She was punching me as hard as she could, but even so, it only took me a few seconds to get hold of her wrists to stop her from hitting.

Once so restrained, she kicked me a couple of times in the shins and tried to knee me in the groin, but I was also able to easily parry that, and only had to hold on to her tightly for a minute until she calmed down. But still, it bothers me a lot that she resorted to violence, even if it was ultimately not injurious.

When we talked about it later, she was sorry. She was emotionally abused as a child and this has left its scars, including apparently this tendency to lose control and hit. But in the end she basically blamed it on me. She told me that if I hadn’t been stubborn, she wouldn’t have been driven to the point of loss of control. Now, I’ve been taught since childhood that resorting to violence against another, and particularly against your significant other, is NEVER justified. I know that were the genders reversed, many would advise me to get out of the relationship. But I love this woman. She is so good for me in so many ways. This has happened only three times in the two years we’ve been together, and as I said, she can’t actually hurt me. Is this a deal breaker?

In response, Cary Tennis basically advises the man to learn to communicate better and stop avoiding emotional confrontations. He does say that the girlfriend also needs to learn to express herself non-violently, but he clearly sympathizes with the girlfriend’s plight:

You shut her out, and she feels herself cease to exist, so she leaps over and tries to punch through the jail of your ribs; she tries to make a dent in you; she tries to prove to you that she is there.

If, in writing of a male batterer, I were to entertain notions of what legitimate emotional needs he might be meeting by battering his wife, if I were to suggest any objective other than the satisfaction of his rage and her subjection to his will, if I were to even hint that it might also be, for him, a form of connection, I would be scorned, and perhaps rightly so, because the idea is fundamentally abhorrent.

It is abhorrent to the extent that it serves to exonerate the batterer. And yet in the case of this woman, though we edge perilously close to the taboo, might we ask this: Is she expressing certain needs in this way — needs that, if she could learn to articulate them without violence, might be met to the great satisfaction of you both? That is, it is possible that she is seeking not so much to kill you or injure you but to force you to feel her presence?

To their credit, a lot of the readers at Salon (including women) have lambasted Cary Tennis for his double standard. His attitude, though, is a fairly typical one. And it makes very little sense. Most male batterers don’t seek to “kill or injure,” either. As for the notion that a woman cannot cause any real damage to a bigger and stronger man, it is substantially inaccurate. In one well-documented case which I discuss in my book Ceasefire, and which has also been featured on ABC News’ 20/20, a man built like a football player ended up sustaining several injuries requiring medical intervention at the hands of his rather petite wife. On one occasion, she slammed the door of a hot stove on his arm while he was getting something out of the oven; on another, she tripped him on the stairs and pushed him down, breaking his arm; and, when their divorce was already complete and he was taking away some of his possessions, she hit him in the face with a framed picture and broke his nose. (The judge who heard the divorce case decided that domestic violence should not be used as a factor against the wife in determining custody because the husband’s “psychological abuse” — such as joking in front of the children about the wife”acting crazy” — was just as bad.)

I think that men are inclined to minimize and deny the harm a woman’s violence can pose to them because, well, it’s not very masculine to admit that a woman could hurt you. A lot of these dismissals exhibit a kind of macho condescension toward the “little woman” that feminists, of all people, should not be supporting.

And there is another risk factor that is ignored by both Cary Tennis and his letter-writer. His fiancee’s violence could put him at risk of arrest and prosecution for fending off her attacks. I am familiar with several cases in which men were prosecuted for assault for restraining their wives or girlfriends a little too forcefully while being attacked (and no, I’m not talking about a “she slaps his face and he breaks her arm” scenario but cases in which the woman may have been slightly bruised).

Overall, in general, domestic violence by women toward men is not as dangerous as the reverse. But that doesn’t mean it should be neglected or dismissed, or that discussions of domestic violence should be based on assumption of male wickedness and female innocence.

“There is no excuse for domestic violence” should not be qualified by, “… unless you’re a woman.”


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The new VAWA

In other end-of-2005 gender news, the Violence Against Women Act has been re-authorized, with new language that pleases men’s rights advocates. Here it is:

In this part, and in any other Act of Congress, unless the context unequivocally requires otherwise, a provision authorizing or requiring the Department of Justice to make grants, or to carry out other activities, for assistance to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, or trafficking in persons, shall be construed to cover grants that provide assistance to female victims, male victims, or both.

(a) Study Required- The Comptroller General shall conduct a study to establish the extent to which men, women, youth, and children are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and the availability to all victims of shelter, counseling, legal representation, and other services commonly provided to victims of domestic violence.
(b) Activities Under Study- In conducting the study, the following shall apply:
(1) CRIME STATISTICS- The Comptroller General shall not rely only on crime statistics, but may also use existing research available, including public health studies and academic studies.
(2) SURVEY- The Comptroller General shall survey the Department of Justice, as well as any recipients of Federal funding for any purpose or an appropriate sampling of recipients, to determine–
(A) what services are provided to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking;
(B) whether those services are made available to youth, child, female, and male victims; and
(C) the number, age, and gender of victims receiving each available service.
(c) Report- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General shall submit to Congress a report on the activities carried out under this section.

I think this is a good start — though gender-neutral family violence/sexual violence legislation should have had a gender-neutral name. The very existence of legislation called the Violence Against Women Act perpetuates the idea that violence against women is a problem deserving special consideration and special attention (an idea embraced by some VAWA backers for feminist reasons, by others for chivalrous ones).

But there are other problems as well. I will quote something I wrote in a paper on domestic violence commissioned by the Independent Women’s Forum and published in September 2005. (In the eyes of some of you, the fact that I wrote a paper for the IWF will no doubt boost my anti-feminist rep. There are things on which I disagree with the IWF, and over which I have criticized them. However, I was able to write a position paper that said exactly what I wanted to say, with no attempt to influence or modify my views. If I got a similar offer from the National Organization for Women, I’d have done it for them, but that’s not very likely.)

So, here’s what I wrote that relates to VAWA:

The battered women’s advocates greatest triumph came in 1994 with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Co-sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the bill had broad bipartisan support when it was passed, and most of its backers undoubtedly saw it as a practical measure and a moral imperative rather than an ideological crusade. VAWA and its successor, the Violence Against Women Act of 2000, contained many positive practical measures in the area of victim services and criminal justice – for instance, making restraining orders issued in one state enforceable in another, or making it possible to bring federal charges against abusers who cross state lines to stalk or assault their victims. It also encouraged some solid research on domestic violence, sexual assault, victim services, and related issues.

However, VAWA has also helped enshrine the dogmatic and one-sided approach to domestic violence described in this report: the unrealistic assumption that in every domestic violence situation there is a clear-cut and usually gender-based distinction between abuser and victim, the almost exclusive reliance on criminal justice measures, the substitution of dogmatic feminist “reeducation” for interventions that address the specific problems of individuals and families. Another troubling aspect of VAWA is that it creates a symbiotic relationship between the federal government and the battered women’s advocacy movement, which is dominated or at least heavily influenced by radical feminist ideology. (Such a nexus also exists on the state level.) The state coalitions against domestic violence, which formally require their member organizations to embrace the feminist analysis of abuse as sexist coercion, play a vital role in the allocation of VAWA grants and in overseeing the implementation of VAWA-based programs and policies. At a 1998 symposium on VAWA at the New York Bar Association, Andrea Williams, a staff attorney with the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund, proudly declared that “VAWA is the advocates’ bill.”

The evolving understanding of domestic violence, based on 30 years of research and policy experiments, should incorporate aspects of the feminist analysis but also embrace a broader and more nuanced view of the realities of family violence. This new vision is already being advanced by a growing number of women and men, from researchers to shelter workers, law enforcement representatives, and mental health or social work professionals who are moving beyond simplistic slogans and gender polarization. The orthodoxy of the battered women’s movement is on its way to becoming outmoded – yet at the moment, much of it is entrenched in American public policy.

Here are some of the steps that could move us forward from this point.

  1. Arrest and prosecution: Appropriately, our society now views domestic violence as a crime, not a private matter. However, if in the past battering was often treated as a family squabble, current law often treats every family squabble as battering. Instead of a blanket one-size-fits all approach, there needs to be more differentiation between serious and potentially dangerous cases, and one in which one spouse grabs the other’s arm during an argument. More studies are needed on the enforcement and the consequences of mandatory or presumptive arrest policies. Anti-dual-arrest clauses, which often serve as vehicles for gender bias, should be repealed and it should be left to the discretion of the police officers (as it already is in stranger assault cases) to decide whether there is one primary aggressor, or both parties are at fault. Unless the victim is in danger or has suffered serious injury, her or his wishes not to prosecute should be respected.

  1. Restraining orders/orders of protection: Restraining orders seem to be of some use in protecting people from non-violent harassment. However, their issuance and enforcement has troubling implications for civil liberties, and more steps need to be taken to ensure that restraining orders are not used a weapon in divorce/child custody cases. One solution would be an expedited evidentiary hearing soon after a restraining order is issued. Furthermore, domestic violence victims need to be educated about the fact that a restraining order is unlikely to stop a truly dangerous batterer. In extreme cases, criminologist Lawrence Sherman has suggested the equivalent of the “witness protection program” – state-subsidized relocation and resettlement under a new name – for victims who fear for their lives once the abuser is released from jail. Another possibility that should be considered is civil detention for some abusers after they have served a jail or prison sentence (akin to the current practice of civil detention for dangerous sex offenders), if a review determines that they pose a danger to their victims. However, if such a remedy is introduced, it should be used very cautiously and sparingly because of obvious potential civil rights problems.

  1. Batterer treatment and victim counseling. A major review and overhaul of state guidelines for batterer treatment programs is in order. Political orthodoxy should not be allowed to dictate appropriate methods of counseling, nor can a single counseling model be appropriate for everyone. Thus, for some batterers, violent behavior may well be an outgrowth of the patriarchal belief that a husband should not allow his wife to “get out of line” – but many others do not fit that profile. Court-certified abusers’ programs should rely on a variety of approaches including anger management, substance abuse and mental health treatments, couples counseling, and individual counseling that avoids the confrontational ideological approach of the strict feminist model. Advocacy groups should not have a central role in determining and enforcing the standards for batterers’ programs; instead, in trying to find the best approach, states should draw on a diverse community of scholars, mental health professionals, social workers, family counselors, and activists.

  1. The relationship between the government and advocacy groups. The close relationship between the federal government (and state governments) and state domestic violence coalitions and other politically militant advocacy groups raises troubling questions about the state subsidizing radical ideologies. The advocacy groups should obviously have a say in shaping domestic violence policy, but not an exclusive one. The next version of the Violence Against Women Act should direct each state to create a domestic violence board on which no more than a quarter or a third of the seats can be filled by members of battered women’s advocacy groups. The rest should be filled by scholars, mental health professionals, community activists, etc. These boards should take over the present functions of state domestic violence coalitions in adding their input to domestic violence programs.

Trudy Schuett, a leading advocate of an inclusive approach to domestic violence, is also highly critical of the reworked VAWA. Says she:

In a lot of ways it reminds me, though, of people selling a house who glue newspaper over holes in walls, then add paint to match over the whole mess, in hopes nobody will notice the real problem.

Trudy’s post is extremely critical of people working in the battered women’s movement and in the shelter system. I’m sure there are many fine and dedicated people working in the shelters, people who have nothing but sincere concern with helping victims. But from my own fairly extensive research and interviews, I believe that there are far too many people working in the system who are inclined to demonize men, deny the reality of male victimization and female aggression, and place ideology over the needs of actual people. It’s an ideology to which many adhere with a quasi-religious zeal, and in this case, the state happens to be entangled with this particular religion. Other voices are urgently needed in the field.

Trudy quotes this statement from the website of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

As long as we as a culture accept the principle and privilege of male dominance, men will continue to be abusive. As long as we as a culture accept and tolerate violence against women, men will continue to be abusive.

All men benefit from the violence of batterers. There is no man who has not enjoyed the male privilege resulting from male domination reinforced by the use of physical violence . . . All women suffer as a consequence of men’s violence. Battering by individual men keeps all women in line.

I agree with Trudy: this is hateful stuff. Is this the kind of ideology that should be federally subsidized? Are these the kinds of people who should play a leading role in shaping domestic violence policy?

By the way, Trudy Schuett’s post contains another remarkable piece of information. She assails “the premise that 3 equals 120,” and explains:

The 120 figure represents the length in days of a domestic violence shelter program offered to unemployed women without male children over the age of 12. This is a residential program featuring round the clock security, access to counseling and group activities, divorce assistance, and some rudimentary job training assistance.

The 3 represents the program they offer to everybody else – three days in a fleabag motel, and maybe some meal vouchers. Some off-site counseling may or may not be provided. And that’s it.

“Everybody else” includes the overwhelming majority of those likely to seek assistance – women with jobs, women with boys, and men.

I don’t know if the “no male children over 12” policy is universal at shelters, though I know it’s fairly common. So it’s not only that men are discriminated against; so are women who, in a regrettable lapse from sisterhood, have had a male child. (Since shelters for the homeless routinely accommodate families without regard to gender, I assume this is not a logistical problem of mixed quarters.) Why is this rampant gender bias being subsidized with our tax dollars?

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