Thursday, February 11, 2010

Men are marrying up. Increasing numbers of men are marrying women with more education and a bigger paycheck than they have. Women had best forget looking for a knight on a white horse. They may not like it - and many don’t - but the knight errant probably is trying to run away on a gray mule.

That might be a wee overstatement, but the Pew Research Center reports that the number of wives with greater incomes than their husbands rose from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2007. In almost a third of marriages in 2007, the wife had more education than her husband, up from 20 percent in 1970 to 28 percent. The number of years of formal education doesn’t mean smarter or wiser, but it does indicate the likelihood of a better job for the wives, who then tend to be the primary breadwinners.

The stories beyond the statistics are dramatic and sad. For a long time, feminists complained about fairy tales peopled with Prince Charming; they imagined that such stories prevented little girls from asserting themselves. The new Walt Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” turns on its head the ancient tale of the little girl who kisses a frog and turns it into a prince; she kisses the frog and turns into a frog herself, at least temporarily. The next version probably will keep the little boy a frog forever. That’s hardly something to croak about, satisfying only the girl frogs who long ago resigned themselves to taking an ugly green guy, warts and all.

Not all women are buying the new scenario, and sad corollaries abound. I’ve met women who wanted good fathers for their children but spurned less “qualified” prospects for a date with a laboratory sperm just out of the deep freeze. Over the past three decades, more women with college educations have been choosing to have children without husbands. According to the Pew survey, their less-educated sisters are only half as likely to make this choice. Anecdotal evidence is sadder still. I once gave a party for an eligible college-educated bachelor and invited several attractive, successful single women in their late 30s to meet him. All the women said they had expected to have children with a husband by then. My attempt at playing Cupid failed, too. The bachelor saw his possibilities as endless, and the women, all self-sufficient, were by this time unwilling to “settle.” Picky, picky.

Certain college administrators, afraid of hitting a tipping point where qualified women vastly outnumber men on campus, have begun to discriminate against qualified women to keep the sex ratio fairly even. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is looking into this as a variation on reverse discrimination.

The woman who has become something of a version of the man she once wanted to marry can support herself now without a guy, but her child will have no daddy to sit at the bedside to read “Goodnight Moon” to her son or daughter. The house husband, much praised by feminists in the early stages of liberation, never arrived. Now, late but not necessarily better, he’s more likely to appear by default during recessionary times. Seventy percent of the recent layoffs are in male-dominated occupations.

Hugh Hefner matched Gloria Steinem with contributions to the sexual revolution that liberated both sexes to enjoy sex without guilt, stigma or the seal of a marriage license, and he’s an octogenarian roue now. The men he tutored in playboyhood have become dapper metrosexuals and are now something the hipper than thou call the urban caveman. The caveman imitates his Paleolithic brother by eating large quantities of meat (stored in his freezer) while focusing, as the New York Times describes it, on “sprinting and jumping to replicate how a prehistoric person might have fled from a mastodon.”

The fashion flourishes in America and Europe among lean, muscled, physically fit males with a taste for running bare-chested in bare feet, often in frigid weather. (One presumes they’re insured by little green geckos, also coldblooded.) These hunters manque may not woo a gatherer mate, but because they eat most of their meat raw, there’s not a lot to do in the kitchen.

Such caricatures of male aggressiveness tell us little about the significant biological differences between men and women, but the unintended consequences of the sexual revolution, for all of its enabling advantages for women, also enable men to be boys for a long time, if not forever. Girls must put off womanhood whether they like it or not. Courtship is coarsened, and babies still need daddies. Alas, there’s no modern fairy tale about the woman who breaks the glass ceiling with the spike heel of a glass slipper, the gift of a princely man.

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.

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