Women. They all just can’t wait for a man to “put a ring on it” and commit to starting a family. But men… Men have such a hard time letting go of their beloved bachelor days and putting on that ol’ ball and chain. You know how the story goes. Such is the dominant image of heterosexual relationships.
A recent survey, however, paints a different picture. The survey reveals that men want children more than women. That’s right. It seems men are actually the ones who are eager to settle down and reproduce, while women are hesitant, as discussed in a recent piece by Bryce Covert in New York Magazine’s The Cut.
How can this be?? There are endless books about “How to land a man,” articles advising women to “Snatch him up while you can,” and dating gurus who aid women in finding that supposedly oh-so-elusive man who isn’t a “commitment-phobe.” The idea that men want to start a family even more than women is a complete reversal of conventional wisdom.
Now, what we see here is actually a key function of patriarchy. Patriarchy is an ideology that functions through logical reversals. For example: men don’t rape women. Instead, headlines read: “Woman was raped.” Men don’t use prostitutes. Women offer their “services.” Men don’t murder women. Women are killed when walking alone at night. I mean, what do they expect?
At every juncture of male violence, patriarchal ideology reverses the situation to posit women as the active agents. As women, we’re told to believe that degradation is respect, submission is empowerment, and marriage and children is all her idea.
In reality, marriage is a historical institution of female control. Women become legally bound to a man, losing their autonomy and ability to leave him. The wife becomes the man’s second mother and she is expected to care for and nurture him. She performs all the mundane tasks necessary to keep their day-to-day lives going, so that he can grow and shine. Even in our supposedly progressive, feminist age, women are still expected to do the bulk of the child-rearing and domestic labor, leaving men free to continue to pursue their life-goals and careers, unencumbered. In marriage and reproduction, men are clearly the winners.
This is how it’s been for centuries, since the birth of the institution of marriage. But somehow along the way, the wires got crossed. And for some reason, men treat women as if they are doing them a huge favour when they finally acquiesce to the female demand for matrimony.
Even in childhood, girls are characterized as dreaming of the day when their prince will come. They may fantasize, in passing, about having wild adventures and multiple lovers on a winding, open-ended journey. But it is the terminus — the one — that is their ultimate desire. So much so that, as women, we are portrayed as completely ravenous for a man to claim as our mate.
The single woman is a portrait of desperation, sitting on the ticking time bomb that is her “biological clock.” When a man (finally) proposes, it’s treated as if he’s giving her the greatest gift a woman could ever receive, sometimes even proposing on her birthday because she’s the one who wants it so bad. The wedding day is “her day.” She is a Bridezilla, monstrous in fulfilling the ultimate power of womanhood: ensnaring a man. She is the male fantasy of the “vagina dentata,” luring him in and then closing her teeth around him.
Meanwhile, men who proudly declare they want to be fathers are lauded for being “good guys” — totally unselfish because they want to start a family to love and support. But actually, this is a false characterization of the situation rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of masculinity.
As women, it is particularly difficult for us to understand the male condition, because we operate in a model of energy conservation. We give a little piece of ourselves to everything we’re a part of. We give our time, energy, love, care, help, and good cheer. We only have a finite amount of these things and so do our best to parse them out fairly, according to various moral imperatives, such as: “Make new friends, but don’t neglect the old ones,” “Be a good friend, but don’t spend too much time on them, because family is always the number one priority,” “Make sure your husband feels cared for and nurtured, or he’ll find someone else,” etc. Often we end up giving too much away and don’t leave enough for ourselves, but we take joy in giving and receiving, and so do not mind. When someone else spends time and attention on us, we are inclined to see it as done in a similarly altruistic spirit, by assuming they operate under the same model of energy conservation. But this is not the case for men.
When men take root and spread themselves outward, it is not a matter of a finite amount of energy they have to give. The world was built for them, and so everything they put out is an investment on which they receive a return. For example, with hard work, they are rewarded by excelling in their careers. Their friendships are an invaluable professional network, thanks to the male principle of “the old boys club” in business. The acquisition of a wife and children does not deplete the man of energy. Rather, they are like colonies. He invests little and is rewarded as beneficiary in the end. The woman raises the child and the child becomes yet another resource in adulthood and when the father reaches old age.
So, of course men want children. The world isn’t so vastly overpopulated because all the women used their feminine wiles to trick men into becoming dads. Sure, there are women who desire to be mothers. But this pernicious attitude that men do women a favour by marrying and impregnating them is one cultural myth that feminism must continually root out and dispel.
Follow Susan Cox @Blasfemmey.