Women are defined by who they are connected to. Meeting new people, you’ll hear these questions – “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” Both questions seek to define the woman by who and how she is related to others. Women are rarely seen as valid citizens, much less as people, if they are not connected. A woman who tries to define herself on her own merit and ability is in for a hard time.
Romance novels teach women an overwhelmingly unrealistic life goal of finding and keeping a spouse. Men don’t get this script. Ever. Men don’t fill themselves with a diet of definition by relationship to others. Men read about adventure, and superheros, and strength. The characters, their role models, are strong and independent. Women read about being swept off their feet. Men are active, and women are passive. Women’s lives are things that happen to them, acted on by others.
There are countless books for women and young girls about how to find and keep a mate – whether it is a boyfriend or a husband. There are specialized ones if the woman is over 35, where it is seen as more difficult to land a choice selection. The books are framed in the language of strategy and the hunt. Women have to seek out men, because otherwise they will be left out, and left wanting.
There are no books for men like this, and there are no books telling women how to live a happy life without a spouse, thank you very much. If you are single you are seen lesser-than. “Spinster” is not equal to “bachelor”. It should be. Being single, of either gender, needs to be viewed as a valid life choice, and not a failure. It is better to be single and happy than married and miserable.
Single women who wish to remain that way often go into nursing, teaching, or library services. All of these jobs pay enough money that a woman doesn’t have to have a spouse to support her. Yet all of these jobs are nurturing jobs. They involve taking care of and helping other people. So a woman is still defined by her relationship to others, whether she is single or not.
It wasn’t that long ago that women who got married lost their names. They were described as Mrs. John Smith – never as Mrs. Jane Smith. It was as if John suddenly developed a female alternate persona. It was never that the woman gained status, it was as if she just disappeared. By removing her first name and differentiating her by just her title of Mrs., she lost her identity as a unique person.
How often are women who have children referred to by the children’s names? She is “Sally’s Mom” – Sally is never seen as Jane’s daughter.
I bring these points up because sometimes you have to see injustice and imbalance before you can fix it. There is nothing wrong with being married, or having children. There is everything wrong with making those choices no longer choices, but mandatory. There is everything wrong with overt and covert social pressure to make women define themselves by getting married and having children. These are not life events that should be entered into lightly. These choices will affect a woman’s entire life. Women should marry or have children out of choice, not coercion, and know that they will be accepted if they choose not to do either of these things.