November 4th, 2005 | A couple of days ago the Drudge Report featured a picture of NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd wearing black fishnet stockings and red high heeled shoes, sitting on a leopard print bar stool and staring coldly into space. I was intrigued so I clicked on the link, which bought me to a 5,200 word essay titled "What's a Modern Girl to do," by NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd. The essay is an excerpt from Dowd's latest book, the unfortunately titled Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide.

The essay is Dowd's lament about the state of modern feminism. In the last part, I thought that Dowd made many good points. She concludes that feminism really has not advanced us very far. Now more than ever, women still want to be seen as sex objects—as she writes, "they have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it." This in itself is a new form of the suburban slavery that Betty Friedan sought to liberate women from when she wrote The Feminine Mystique.

Yet it seems to me that Dowd seeks to cure those ills with a return to the more aggressive postures of feminism. Although she does not proffer suggestions per se, from reading her article her position seems to be that if we all concentrated on our careers, didn't take our husband's last names, worried about gender politics—we could free ourselves from the prison of our own making.

For example, Dowd bemoans that women have reverted back to wanting to "trap" good men into marriage. Women no longer feel the need to deal forthrightly and honestly with their dates, she argues, instead relying on their feminine wiles to get the man of their dreams. She chides women for no longer picking up their half of the check on the dates, and reproaches them for their "insincerity"when they make a half-hearted dash for their purse before allowing their date to actually pay. She interviews men who tell her that they would prefer a mate who would not use "their critical faculties,"and say that "female power"is a turn off. She quotes a study that says that men would prefer to marry women "in subordinate positions"- i.e, their maid, or their secretary, and writes that men are not looking for "challenging"women when it comes to finding a mate. She worries that with women's increasing disinterest in the workforce, and the growing trend of women being happy to be wives and mothers, and not career professionals, we are imprisoning ourselves in a cosseted box that will control us. A box, moreover, which we won't know how to get out of.

So yes, with all this in mind, what is a modern girl to do?

I found much of Dowd's thinking dispiriting and naïve. She comes across as a Cassandra for the post-feminist era. I don't think her kind of hand-wringing does anything other than make women feel depressed.

Reading her article, one might assume that there is no hope for intelligent women out there. I don't think that is true. I also don't see how the assertiveness Dowd advocates would really make any difference to the trends she bemoans. Her arguments are missing something, and that something I believe is modesty.

It is not a career that will make a woman feel good enough about herself so that she won't feel the need to put her body on display in vulgar and boorish ways, nor is it picking up the tab on a date. Neither one will make a man—or another woman—respect her more, as a person. Neither will make her a more desirable partner or mate. The only thing that is really going to make a difference in the day-to-day gender politics we all face, is when women decide that their true worth is inside of them, not outside, and then behave and dress accordingly.

A modest woman would not be concerned with mock posturing—she won't reach for her purse when she doesn't intend to pay. She also won't date a guy she doesn't like, nor, certainly, sleep around. She doesn't offer herself up as a sexual plaything for her boyfriend's enjoyment. She also realizes that it is not a career that bestows value. She feels confident enough to pursue a good job if she wants to, to travel, to be a successful and contributing citizen— but she never imagines that these things define her. Her self-esteem is permanently etched into her psyche, and not dependent on the whims of her career.

Once women start behaving differently, men will too. Men do the things that Dowd decries because women allow them to. Once women start holding themselves to a higher standard—a standard that has nothing to do with the size of the man's wallet, but rather, how he treats her, men will no longer enjoy nourishment for their crudeness. Also, when a woman behaves modestly, she finds it much easier to find the good guys—the ones who aren't interested in bimbos, the ones who won't discard them for younger models after a few years of marriage. These are the kind of men who value a woman for their intelligence, who will be looking for a real relationship, not a flash-in-the-pan good time.

These good men do exist, but guess what? They want women who are also not superficial, and not caught up in the kind of nonsense that Dowd advocates.

What Dowd and other writers fail to realize is that there is an assertiveness that comes with modesty—but it is a quiet self confidence that allows women to stand firm with who she is. That's more attractive and powerful than any Maxim cover, but it is also something that most modern feminists have ignored.

Finally, I think that Dowd's whole discussion of men "marrying down" reeks of snobbism, as if people should realize that someone like her would be a better catch than a maid. She seems to think that her stellar career creates a kind of myopic vision in men that blinds them to her remarkable spousal qualities.

I fail to see how a certain career makes a person a better spouse.

Certainly being a NY Times columnist is better than being a cleaning lady in terms of career. You make more money, have more prestige in today's society, and you don't have to clean someone else's toilet. But in terms of relationships—which is essentially what Dowd is arguing, that one's occupation determines one's suitability to engage in a meaningful relationship with the opposite sex—why does being a NY Times reporter or a successful Hollywood actress or a top advertising executive make someone more qualified than a maid to have a relationship? Why does that make them more desirable as a partner? A successful relationship or marriage is generally based on a couple's ability to be mutually caring and nurturing—so yes, if the NY Times reporter is nurturing and caring, and the maid is a mean hag, then the NY Times reporter would be better qualified for marriage.

But nobody marries a reporter—they marry a woman, or a man. The fact that he/she may have a great career should really be immaterial to the reason that they married them, or perhaps, it should be a pleasing adjunct, like a cherry on the top of the fact that they are a great person with whom they can build a life. Or perhaps they should appreciate the career because of what it says about the person—i.e perhaps a NY Times reporter is more intelligent, and that is something I admire, but it is not the job I admire, but the intelligence, which could be potentially (but not necessarily) be used for good things.

What Dowd is doing is establishing a hierarchy of professions and using that to say that one group of high income, white collar professionals should be, when it comes to relationships, more desirable to certain people than low income, blue collar professionals. There is an inherent snobbism in this argument, not to mention that it is patently false. A syndicated columnist is not necessarily a better person than a maid, just because she has more income and social status. She won't necessarily make a better partner and she is not necessarily smarter.

Also, I really think that there are enough power couples around to disprove Dowd's thesis. Think of Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell, Tim Russert and Maureen Orth, Michael Kinsley and Patty Stonesifer. . .OK, these are just a few that I could come up with on the top of my head, but I am sure it would really not be that difficult to come up with scores more.

The point is that, not every successful man is looking to marry an unsuccessful woman, and if you think like that you will probably be too hung up about it to find a husband. I honestly don't think that men are intimidated by intelligence or success, although that is something that women tell themselves when they can't find dates or have been rejected. I think that men are more likely put off by other characteristics: naked aggressiveness, honesty that borders on rudeness, attacking people for who they are (as opposed to attacking their ideas) as certain writers have a propensity to do.

Why would someone imagine that people should think you're wonderful just because you have a certain job? It all comes down to an insecure sense of self.

Link to Dowd's article


Gaby Friedman lives with her husband in Phoenix, Arizona, where she works as a freelance writer.




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