Marriage has a lot of benefits, mostly for men. Married men earn more, have fewer heart attacks, and live longer than bachelors, widowers, and divorced men. Meanwhile women who divorce in their twenties are healthier in middle age than their peers who stayed wedded. Marriage is associated with decreased earnings, more chores, and a shortened lifespan for women.
Despite the prevalent cultural myth that only young women desire marriage, and unwilling grooms must be dragged up the aisle, never married young men and women are equally interested in marrying someday. Yet those imbalanced benefits of matrimony may explain why wives are twice as likely as husbands to petition for divorce, and why divorced women are half as likely as divorced men to want to give marriage another go.
That hard sell is looking suspicious now. I think the reason cultural message bearers – from Disney movies to FOX News to pop songs – so aggressively push the idea that women want (monogamous, heterosexual, fruitful) marriage is because the institution doesn’t sell itself. We have to tell girls this is their happy ending to get them to agree to it.
Historically (and still in much of the world today), it was easy to coerce women into this questionable situation. Her father might sell her or arrange her marriage. Independence might have been legally barred. Careers and schools were closed to women, and being unmarried meant being vulnerable to certain forms of predation. One way the institution of marriage has been preserved is through external limitations on women’s independence through the use of harassment and violence.
When schools use dress codes to signal that boys’ education matters more than girls’, when boys media promotes adventure while girls media promotes marriage, when sexual harassment in the workplace is treated as an individual issue rather than a cultural crisis, we keep patriarchy alive and give men the freedom to be lazy.
When men catcall women, they aren’t trying to get a date. They’re trying to impose those outside pressures that keep women from seeking independence; it’s why they so aggressively target teen and preteen girls, those young enough to still be cowed into obedience to patriarchy. Those men are striving to preserve a world where a woman will bear his children, cook his dinner, and pick up his dirty socks. A world where that’s a woman’s only destiny.
Sometimes getting out of your fair share of work looks obvious. Sometimes it looks like a widespread culture of sexism.
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