Have you heard the latest? According to a New York Times analysis of census results, for the first time in US history, there are more single than married women. In the fifties, 35 percent of women were single. Back then, it was not considered a desired state of being. "Spinster" and "old maid" were the labels.
In 2000, the number had jumped to 49 percent. By 2005, it tipped the halfway mark at 51 percent. Being single no longer has bad connotations. I'm afraid, perhaps, that "married" is the status under attack these days.
Although Americans like to think they are first, England and Wales claimed single women to be in the majority in 2004. So what gives? Where did all the "wedded bliss" go? Social scientists point to a number of trends: Hollywood stars flaunt their single status as connoting power and independence. Women live longer and, due to increased financial independence, no longer feel impelled to grab the first available male as their meal ticket. Then, there's the divorce rate — many women walk away from unhappy unions with either no interest in finding another man or preferring just to live together sans the paperwork.
I'm not a social scientist, but I have a theory on what is behind all this. It's the failed social experiment born in the seventies, where men and women were supposed to be more like each other.
Men and women are different. We all accepted this in the fifties. Women still wanted men back then, knowing they were different. But by the seventies, feminism was in full flower. If we could build a different woman — one that was educated, independent and employed — then surely we could build a better man. To accommodate the women who had taken on qualities previously associated with males, we needed men to take on more feminine qualities. The men needed to fill in the gaps at home by helping with laundry and childcare. The men have not been as enthusiastic about morphing themselves as the women have. Go figure.
I went to college in the seventies and I jumped right on the bandwagon. My strong-willed personality was a perfect fit for feminism. Then the kids started coming and my maternal instinct kicked in and I gave in. My strong will did not die, although I've had to smother it a few times — well, actually, a lot. But now, married for twenty-five years with ten kids, I've learned that dying to oneself and living for Christ by serving others is what keeps families together. It's not always easy. Sometimes it has felt like our union was held together by mere paper clips. But, really, it has been prayer that got us through and continues to keep us married. My husband and I are major head-butters, but we are also prayer warriors. We stay together and we stay in love for that reason.
There are lots of other women out there that are far better at this than I, but society is not promoting the role of selfless wife and mother for women like it once did. No; instead, the message for the last thirty years has been "I am woman, hear me roar." Oh, please. No wonder so many are going it alone these days. Women have listened to warped messages that tell them that they are better off alone than putting up with men that don't toe the line.
I do expect my husband to help at home (thus the head-butting), but I accept that he will never meet my dream expectations. Most women have discovered that if they are employed outside the home, they double their workload. Most men (I know this is not true for all) just don't have the domestic knack.
Boys Will Be Boys
Many of today's single women are waiting for a Prince Charming who cooks, cleans and can figure out the front from the back of the kids' pajamas. I know this does not account for all single women, but I bet there's enough in this category that it has pushed the numbers over the halfway point for singles.
In the early sixties, when I grew up, we wanted our girls just the way they came to us. Curls and ruffled slips, patent-leather buckle shoes and lots of pink, pink, pink. In spite of inclinations to climb trees, catch frogs and and jump off swings, most girl were still girls. "Unisex" did not exist then because it made no sense to my generation — that is until we grew out of our pink dresses and buckle shoes. The baby boomers upset the status quo and challenged conventional thinking. Girls were only pink and frilly because parents put them into feminine strait jackets. "Dads, if you would roughhouse and toss your daughters around like you do your sons, they'd be a hardier, stronger group," the psycho-gurus claimed. "And mothers, while you are burning your bras in the sexual revolution, toss in those patent-leather shoes and pink dresses."
Overalls and unisex colors began covering the diaper set as they emerged from the age of Aquarius. In the later seventies, while a college student, my peers and I agreed: raise your daughters more like your sons and the sexes will be more alike — more equal. It was the dawning of a new age. Girls would no longer be treated like the weaker, frillier sex and men would no longer be he-man, Neanderthal types.
Now, let's fast-forward to the twenty-first century. What does your family look like? Have we broken the stereotypical sex mold? Just step into a department store and check out the unisex clothing. There isn't any. There is a boys' department and a girls' department and there is no mistaking which one you are in. And, I venture to say, there has never been more lace, ribbons, patent leather or pink in little girl's clothing since the dawn of civilization.
You Can't Fool Mother Nature
So, what happened to our social experiment? As the mother of eight boys and two girls, I can tell you what happened: the experts of the era were wrong, but Madison Avenue was right, at least in the popular margarine commercial which once correctly stated, "You can't fool mother nature." Sure we've loosened up the sex roles a bit, but not as much as we thought we could.
From the time my little tykes could crawl and hold a plaything, the boys were conquerors, and the girls nurturers. My boys had a nurturing side, but the caveman warrior was there from the start. When a new baby appeared on the scene, my boys were just as quick to want to push the stroller as the girls. But in the hands of boys a stroller becomes a race horse or demolition vehicle car. In the hands of a girl it is a cradle on wheels. Girls mother their baby dolls and stuffed animals. They bathe, dress and feed them, and always want to cut their hair. These sorts of activities never occur to boys. Dressing a toy would involve work just like dressing themselves; the less you do of it, the better.
Several years ago I was helping out with a kids' activity group. The moms took turns coaching and refereeing outdoor games such as kick ball. One afternoon an exhausted mom plopped down into a group of other moms. "Boys are so much easier," the mom lamented. "The girls have to argue every little detail and debate who is doing what, while the boys just want to play."
"Ha, ha," I laughed. "But these simple, nonverbal boys, who are easier to coach than girls, grow up and drive their wives crazy because of their unwillingness or inability to communicate." So by observing the natural inclinations of our children we can see that for the most part, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. If you give a girl a truck, she will give her teddy bear rides in it. If you give a boy a doll, it will never get its clothes changed and it might one day attack all the stuffed animals on the bed — just for fun. You can teach your son to nurture, but if you put him in with a group of boys, things are going to get loud and wild.
Many in my generation convinced themselves that boys were growing up to be more nurturing and communicative. But men did not become just like us because it was not possible. They do not always "get it," for the simple reason that they were never little girls. While we were taking care of the physical needs of our dolls and stuffed animals, those boys did not even notice their toys needed baths. While we girls talked and discussed how the games should be played, the boys just played: no thoughts, no discussion — nothing.
Before the big "sexual revolution," wives were expected to fulfill the same duties they had practiced since girlhood. After the revolution, wives expected men to share in a role they had never practiced for as boys. The women were ready for this "new and improved" man but most the men were not so new and improved. The women changed more than the men did. They earned more degrees, entered new fields and got better-paying jobs. They were different from their mothers and they wanted men different from their fathers. Unfortunately, men did not get the memo. They never had their own sexual revolution. They just grew up to be bigger versions of themselves — the boys who never washed or dressed their toys. The new version of women doesn't want the old version of men. Thus, they are choosing more and more not to marry them. Women are leaving men, they are staying single, they are waiting for men that don't exist, and they are just living with men rather than making it legal.
Look, I know everything was not "Ozzie and Harriet" perfect in the fifties. But is it better today? I know some would say, "Yes, it's better to be single." These women keep their freedom, sort of. In the end, they are alone. Perhaps that is why they roar.