The Third International after Lenin

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March is Women's History Month: Sexism and media

"Settling for Mr Good Enough" a slap in the face to women

Sarah Garnham

02 March 2010

The mainstream media has a long history of promoting sexism and repressive gender roles, but the flurry of reactionary reviews and commentary following the release of Marry him: The case for Settling for Mr Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb has been particularly galling.

“Every woman – no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure – feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.”

In just this passage, Gottlieb assumes that every woman wants a heterosexual relationship and that every woman wants a marriage. This is just a taste of the reactionary assertions that pile up throughout the book.

You have to pinch yourself to check that you have not been teleported back to the 1950s. But in fact, Gottlieb is very much aware of the way things have shifted since the 50s. This is precisely her point.

Alongside a general decrease in marriage rates and an increase in divorce rates, women these days are getting married later. Seemingly unbeknownst to the many women who have benefited enormously from the liberalisation of marriage and other oppressive strictures that have bound them in the past, they are in a state of “panic” and “desperation”. Gottlieb’s book is an analytical and advisory polemic aimed at treating this condition.

The source of the problem, she explains, is our over inflated sense of “entitlement”, which has meant that we’re all a bit “too picky”.

The solution is to settle for any old slob; someone that doesn’t tick all the boxes and doesn’t fulfil any of our needs. What we supposedly need is someone that will be able to help “put the infrastructure in place” to start a family; someone who will be a “good father and a good provider”.

Her model for this vision of marriage is the pre-70s period, when “our mothers didn’t expect that their husbands would constantly want to please them, be attracted to them”. Instead, they stoically accepted abusive and loveless relationships based on “co-operation and hardship and boredom”.

That such relationships are superior to economic independence, sexual freedom and equality must not have been pointed out to the millions of women around the world who participated in the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. Those who fought to break free of the stultifying stereotypes that women should not be “picky” – should endure without complaint their role as wife and mother – were, according to Gottlieb, misguided.

Basically, her argument is that the women’s liberation movement was a bad thing, because it has left women with far too much of a taste of our self worth. Now it’s time that for us to pick up the Good Wife Guide and rediscover our “place” in society.

To add insult to injury, Gottlieb not only rejects the liberationist ideas established as a result of the women’s liberation movement, but asserts that they are delusional fantasies:

“To the ­outside world, we still call ourselves feminists and insist that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family.”

Gottlieb is particularly blunt, but the argument that women should crave toward a traditional family is neither new nor rare. Despite the material and ideological gains that were made by the women’s liberation movement, women still feel the pressure of these arguments, and there are still many willing to prosecute them.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Gottlieb’s trashy and rather obnoxious book is that excerpts from it have been published in most Western newspapers. Not to be scorned, mind you, but as an example of a serious analysis of modern social behaviour.

Even when the themes of the book have been criticised, writers have done so on the basis of a sappy defence of romantic love, rather than a rejection of the notion that women can only find fulfilment in heterosexual, marital unions.

Gottlieb’s report is a worthy addition to the enormous catalogue of books, magazines, advertisements and films informing women that in order to fulfil our natural role in life we must subordinate our own interests and turn instead to the task of finding a husband and building a family.

According to Gottlieb, this basic formula is every woman’s secret desire even if we don’t admit it. Thankfully, she’s totally wrong.

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