In the old days, before the feminist movement, before women competed with men for high level careers, before women wanted more for themselves than being an arm ornament and caretaker of the home for their husband, we lived in a Noah’s Ark mentality. We lived in a coupled society. You were nobody if you had never been married, and even less than a nobody if you hadn’t had at least one child born of that marriage.
I groan when I think of the role women played in those days. They were told that they had to look pretty for their husband but they shouldn’t worry their pretty little head with important decisions. One of the old jokes told with tongue in cheek during the Cold War is the one where the husband asks his wife, “What do you think of Red China?” and she answers, “I think it would go well with a grey or white tablecloth.”
Women were told that they wouldn’t be able to understand the mechanics of politics so they should vote the way their husband did and not try to comprehend the way things worked in Washington. And, of course, there were no women in elected positions in Washington.
They were told that their purpose in life was to marry and procreate and God help those who couldn’t find someone to marry them and, even worse, who didn’t want or couldn’t have children. They were the ones to be pitied and gossiped about.
In those days, and for many decades after, women didn’t go to restaurants by themselves and, if they did, they were seated in the back near the kitchen. It was unheard of for a woman to want to sit alone at a table and eat dinner that she had ordered all by herself without a man ordering for her.
No matter how old a woman was, her status in society was attached to her husband. She didn’t aspire to go to medical school; instead, she aspired to be Mrs. Doctor. She didn’t dream of being a lawyer and arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Instead, she dreamed of being Mrs. Lawyer. In those days there were very few female doctors and female attorneys and those who were in those fields were regarded as oddities.
Women, if they loved the medical field, trained to be nurses or technicians and, if they were drawn to the law, they were trained to be legal secretaries. They usually didn’t see themselves going to school and qualifying for those careers; they were always the appendages of the men who had their medical degree or their Juris Doctor degree.
Society has definitely gone through a metamorphosis. Women still aren’t dominating the workforce, nor are they getting equal pay for equal work, regardless of the new laws. They still aren’t able to break through the glass ceiling in many places of business and they are still being subjected to the good ‘ol boy network and attitudes that make advancement in many fields almost impossible to breach.
But most of all, the thing that has gone through the most societal changes in America is the attitude that women have today of marriage.
I remember when Jackie Kennedy made the comment, “The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” It was a novel thought for women who didn’t think that marriage could be broken down into those categories and who didn’t plan beyond their first marriage.
European marriages have always had more options than American marriages. Even in the good old days when American women were filled with angst at the thought of having a child out of wedlock, European women often lived with their lover and had children with him without benefit of marriage. In today’s society, Americans are fast catching up with their European counterparts and living with a Significant Other and having children with him without suffering the stigma of having illegitimate offspring.
But I think the most important change has come in the attitude of so many women that they don’t want the strictures of marriage because they want to pursue satisfying careers and aren’t ready to start a family. Many of them are opting out of having children altogether; they want the same freedoms that men have always taken for granted.
It’s interesting that so many women would prefer to live with a lover than marry him, especially if that woman is divorced. If she has a good career, money in the bank, and owns a house, she doesn’t feel the necessity of having to get married so that a man will “take care” of her. She prefers her independence and wants to be free to come and go without asking for permission or seeking consent.
The older a divorced woman is and the more time she has spent as a single woman, the less inclined she may be to reenter the dating game or to remarry. She may prefer to live with a man, have separate bank accounts, and handle her own investment portfolio. She may want to pursue her own interests instead of those of her lover.
Times are definitely changing. The Noah’s Ark mentality is slowly but surely disappearing; women are no longer satisfied to be second in command at work or at home. More and more, women want to be the CEO of their company and they want their mate to share every aspect of their homelife. They want their Significant Other to share the cleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping, and the raising of their children. They are looking for equality in their relationships and if they can’t have that, they would rather live alone.