Over the past several decades, America has witnessed a profound change in the way women view men and marriage. It began with the baby boomer adage “never depend on a man.”
This message resulted in a generation of women who turned their attention away from the home and onto the workforce. They did what their mothers told them to do: they became financially independent so they’d never have to rely on a husband.
In time, “never depend on a man” turned into the full-blown belief that men are superfluous. In 2010 Jennifer Aniston claimed women needn’t “fiddle with a man” to have a child.
This may strike you as an isolated case of stupidity, but Aniston’s willingness to put it out there speaks volumes about modern cultural attitudes. No actress would have said such a thing in the 70s, 80s, or even early 90s.
Fortunately, most women come to the realization that they do, in fact, need a man—at least if they want a family.
Financial independence is a great thing, but you can’t take your paycheck to bed with you. And there’s nothing empowering about being beholden to an employer when what you really want is to have a baby. That’s dependency of a different sort.
This is the conclusion to which most women have come. Research shows that what women want more than anything else is not to work full-time and year-round but to live balanced lives.
How will they do it? That’s the number-one conversation among women today.
‘Round and ’round we go, asking how women can gain more control over their lives. How can they spend more time with their children? How can they make time for exercise or even a social life? How can they keep their houses in order and still have time to cook? The answer is obvious.
Lean on your husband.
According to Pew Research, “Dads are much more likely than moms to say they want to work full time. And when it comes to what they value most in a job, working fathers place more importance on having a high-paying job, while working mothers are more concerned with having a flexible schedule.”
That women prefer part-time work is simply irrefutable. It was true back in 2007, and it’s even true among Ivy League graduates! Study after study, both here and abroad (the majority of women in the UK, Spain and other countries seek some combination of paid work and family work) shows women as a whole (the Sheryl Sandbergs notwithstanding) want multifaceted lives. They want balance.
And there’s only one way to get it: rely on a man’s more linear career goals. Unlike women, a man’s identity is inextricably linked to his paycheck. That’s how most men feel a sense of purpose. Indeed, research shows men see it as their duty to support their families even when their wives make as much money (or more) as they do!
Perhaps that’s because men can’t produce life the way women can—let’s face it: those are some serious shoes to fill—but they can produce the means to make a child’s life secure. As a nation, we dismiss this integral part of masculinity. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
So why not let husbands bring home the bulk of the bacon so women can have the balanced lives they seek? There’s no way to be a wife, a mother and a full-time employee and still create balance. But you can have balance by depending on a husband who works full-time and year-round.
I know what you’re going to say. Where are these husbands on whom women can depend? And you’re right: there are fewer men these days who seem eager to be primary breadwinners.
But ask yourself why, and I bet you know the answer.
Suzanne Venker is an author, a cultural critic. She tackles a range of subjects surrounding marriage and the family, including the infamous gender wars. Her most recent book is "The Two-Income Trap: Why Parents Are Choosing to Stay Home." To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website. Follow her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.com.