No, Women Aren't the New Men Dr.Peggy Drexler

When the news broke — or, more specifically, when the paparazzi broke the news — that actress Kristen Stewart had cheated on her longtime boyfriend, Twilight co-star Rob Pattinson, many in the media pointed to her total failure as a “role model to women.” Good girls, the argument seemed to go — or, at least, girls lucky enough to land a “good” guy — owe it not just to their partner but also to society as a whole not to mess it up. Men, on the other hand — well, cheating might not win them any points, but it’s something that men do. It’s that same old double standard that has plagued women for years: girls are sluts, guys are studs. Think about it: When’s the last time you saw an adulterous male celebrity being publicly chastised for being a terrible role model to young boys? Exactly.

At the same time, when a 16-year-old gymnast cries on international TV during the Olympics, she’s criticized for being “too emotional”, “too girlie”. The implication here is that she’s weak. So what’s the lesson? It’s certainly not about women “toughening up” or that women should act like women only when society deems it appropriate. Women should be celebrated for expressing very real and understandable disappointment in an age-and situation-appropriate way. And the media should stop feeling the need to compare every female action to its male counterpart.

It’s hard to do. In part, that’s because every so often, some study comes out that seems to naturally want to pit women against men. When research reveals that women are getting more freedoms, more job offers, more money, more lovers, the inevitable and entirely predictable conclusion is that — for better or for worse, often in equal measure — women are becoming more like men. That can mean women are out-earning male colleagues, waiting to have babies, not “settling” for marriage, or the ones more likely to initiate an affair or a split.

Gender equality is not for women to “overtake” men or actually be men. Women are women, and men are men. And the evidence of women acting in ways that might not be considered traditionally female — or evidence that they are — has nothing to do with male versus female. Instead, what’s happening is that women are getting more choices and more confidence to make those choices. What’s happening is the decline of expectations, long and slow though it may be.

Two recent studies reported that women are getting less traditional about relationships, while men are getting more so and that marriage is at an all-time low. Some pundits point to modern women too busy climbing professional ladders to put similar effort to their relationships — the subtext: The end of marriage is all women’s fault. But the argument that women are opting out of marriage because they no longer need men is largely flawed.

Earlier an Atlantic piece about the 30-something author’s refusal to “settle” pegged the decline in marriage to a sort of feminist victory. Women, the author pointed out, are more educated, successful, and financially self-sufficient than ever before; men, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction. As a result, women don’t need men — not for security, fulfillment, or even babies — and especially not socially inferior men.

But marriage hasn’t been about needing men — or needing “better” men — for decades. What’s really happening is that women these days have more opportunities than ever before, plain and simple. Women aren’t opting out of marriage out of some new masculine evolution. They’re opting out because they can, or they want to.

Are men more like women and women more like men? Not really. What’s changing is society; finally, slowly, getting out of the way of women’s ability to live the life they want not the one others expect. As Alike, a brave 17-year-old African-American teenager embracing her identity as a lesbian said to her father in the movie Pariah, “I’m not running, I’m making a choice.”

Featured image via Shutterstock

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  1. Okay, yeah. Women who are adulteresses become what they really are, and don’t hide behind dark social sunglasses. anymore. I’ll go with that. Yet, I wonder if many women wouldn’t be better human beings with better intimacy in marriages if there weren’t these temptations to believe the lies that adultery promises. I am put off by your, and social, negative stereotypes of men as these monstrous cheaters (because of social acceptance of this male “trait”). Sure, it may appear true because of bad movies, tv shows, and news of adulterous dogs on tv, but I don’t believe we are cheats. It’s just media portrayals, media lies.

  2. I agree that a lot of the time women’s success is measured by what have been previously seen as typically male behaviour. It is something I personally feel quite alienated by. I feel that as a woman I have different priorities to men. I think it is ok for women to succeed in different ways as long as these are valued as equal. From a personal point of view, I would never want to be a CEO, but I would like to be a great mother. I think sometimes feminism forgets to celebrate femininity. Women do a lot of things a lot better than men do and I worry that we sometimes forget to value those things.

  3. I personally disagree with some of the sentiments of this article.

    The modern era is a very different age and women, both in a positive and negative note; are playing a far more vital role in society.

    I’ve done basic studies into women’s struggles for equality throughout the 20th century and my own conclusion is that it was ultimately a failure. You see women wanted equality and although the work place could do with a few improvements, women are more or less equal. However, women have picked mens’ negative traits – Instead of the male gender expected to make a compromise, women have simply imitated men.

    Don’t get me wrong.. perhaps my position is bias.

    I’ve been in a relationship in which I was very much in love with a woman. So much so, when she cheated on me; it took years for me to recover. See, she didn’t just cheat on me – she started a completely new relationship whilst feeding me with promises of eternal love and getting married. Even the few times I spoke to her in the aftermath: I could never receive an honest answer from her.

    That made me bitter for awhile and I won’t deny that, but I know not all women are like that. They make very good friends and good, honest women do exist; it’s simply becoming far more rare.
    Don’t get me wrong, the male gender still has a monopoly of liars and cheats. However, so too, have women.

    I’ve known many women that have cheated and gone to great lengths to hide or otherwise cover it up. I’ve seen that good, honest and kind-hearted men have spent years of solitude, begging for the recognition of women that surround themselves with male admirers, manipulate them and simply discard them.

    In many respects, we are indeed equal.
    Yet.. the times I go out drinking, or to a club on a night out in town? No voice can be heard louder than that of a woman. The majority of violence and alchohol abuse is, again; mostly women.

    Women have become far more aggressive, in some respects far more so than men have. Too often than not it is men that want relationships and commitment, which has been deemed ‘clingy’ or ‘creepy’ by today’s women.

    There’s a stigma attached to a man’s actions, too. It’s true that women are seen as sluts and men players for their sexual conquests, although it is more and more becoming the ultimate symbol of adulthood.

    I don’t deny experiencing most of those things first hand, but I also can’t recall any friend that hasn’t been hurt by the opposite gender, whether male or female.

    So, for that reason I believe women are, as a majority; more dominant than men. It’s not that I have opposed women’s rights – on the contrary. However, men do not wear belt-sized skirts – so why does it empower a woman to do so? Equality was about civil liberties – not about self-objectification and yet that is exactly what has happened. People followed the wrong aspirations and if women’s rights is still seen as a struggle today, then it is one that is on the verge of failing.

    I hope I wasn’t too offensive, as I believe my views are in the best interest of what women originally wanted.
    I guess I just see it as my role, as a man; to protect women. To that would indeed sound offensive, but I do not view a woman as weak, or in need of my protection. I just see it as compassion’s natural play. There’s nothing undignified with a man taking care of a woman, ’cause a woman can and does equally take care of a man.

    Not to claim that I’m a good man, as it is not for me to judge – I do, however, wish that women would aspire less to be like the alpha male ‘bad boys’ and see, as a majority the ‘good’ men they always search for; yet ignore every day when it’s right in front of your eyes.

    Women don’t need love, I’m not saying that, either. You don’t need a man – but what if a man needs you? What then? ‘Cause I need love.

    And it’s getting harder to find with each passing day.

  4. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it. So, in the spirit of this, here’s mine. I don’t think women need marriage, or even a man, for companionship, love or the having of children. You can get companionship and love from a great group of friends, and children through adoption or a sperm bank if you feel the need. There’s the same old debate of whether you need marriage to be happy. Give me a break, you can have everything without the piece of paper just by living w/someone in a committed relationship. I’m so glad that women are taking their time and realizing they don’t have to settle, and that social norms may be changing. PS: I think Jessica Butler makes a good point.

  5. oh great, this means i still have a chance with Kristen Stewart. I thought she was married to that guy. Kristen, give me a call. ty

  6. I am a guy, I enjoy this site alot, i have recently been involved in an affair that was initiated by a woman, i dont believe that it was because they were trying to be a man or anything like that. I do notice alot less of my friends are interested in marriage but i will point out that my friends whom are married are very happy. Maybe people in general are less willing to take a risk, only getting married if they are truly happy and secure. Im not sure i have a point but im a guy and this article has me thinking about my own place in modern relationships. thank you for making me think more about this subject.

  7. I even think that while the marriage rate may be declining, that could also mean the rate of successful marriages might be increasing. Now that women are feeling more empowered, they might even just be waiting til they really find the right guy instead of getting married right out of high school or college. I’d like to think that this will make marriage a more successful enterprise because less people are running into it because of social norms.

  8. What bothers me about this argument is that it’s not only women who are forced in that kind of stereotypes. I have male friends who would love to stay at home with their kids for a few months but are afraid to do so because society still frowns upon stay at home dads. I really wish we can stop this someday and let everybody live their lives as they assume the best way for themselves. We all only have this one life and we’re all here to make the best of it, so focus on your own and leave other people alone.

  9. “When’s the last time you saw an adulterous male celebrity being publicly chastised for being a terrible role model to young boys? Exactly.”

    ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?

    Ever hear of Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and… oh, lets not forget.. (Drum Roll Please)… Mr. Bill Clinton!?

    The media went crazy on how they were bad roll-models to young men everywhere. Never EVER did I hear CNN’s Anderson Cooper applaud Woods’ adulterous behavior. If anything, people were talking about how Bryant was an idiot for cheating on his significant other.

    • While I do agree that everyone was up in arms about Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, they were also married and have children. Oh, wait. So does Rupert Sanders, and I not one is saying I can’t believe he cheated on his wife, they are saying I can’t believe that Kristen Stewart ruined this marriage. I understand that under no circumstances should she have done what she did (which according to many accounts never included sleeping with the director), but why is she responsible for his marriage. He knew he was married and he is older while she is just in a relationship that almost everyone on Earth speculates.. Her and her boyfriend don’t acknowledge each other in public hardly ever, even before this incident, so I can’t blame her for liking getting attention from someone else. That doesn’t make it right, it just makes it what it is. They were both wrong and people are acting like she is the only one who made this choice.

  10. Choosing not to get married and toting that you don’t need a man is fine – its certainly your own choice and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it.. However, I suspect that many women will eventually find themselves lacking in some very important aspects of life w/o a man/marriage – mainly companionship, love, creation of a family, etc…these things directly affect a persons happiness. If you are truly happy without these things, than more power to you! I just think its more often the case that women aren’t getting married because they are being too picky about silly things that really shouldn’t matter.

    • I think what you’re getting at is that some women are highly independent individuals who may or may not eventually find happiness in a traditional family format.

      Here are my thoughts: It doesn’t mean married women were unhappy until marriage or that they will be unhappy in marriage. It just means that someone came along and the two decided to be happy together. My personal experience is that I am perpetually single by choice. I’m very happy with my life right now and if it turns out that my someone never comes along, I imagine that won’t impact my personal happiness at all because I’m already good friends with me and am looking forward to that lifelong friendship. Should a certain other come along whose happiness is compatible with mine and we decide “forever” is the way to go, that’s nice too.

      The point is: If I know I’M happy (alone or attached) – it’s no business of anyone else’s to say otherwise based on feminism, women’s lib, traditional views, etc. I’m doing me, I’m not making a political or feminist stand.

    • Not every woman in the world wants to have children or get married. Telling a woman that she will “eventually want these things” and will be “unfulfilled” if they don’t is pretty close-minded and pretentious if you ask me. I just helped deliver my sister’s baby daughter three days ago. What an amazing experience. Do I now “see the light” and want to have kids? Nope! No one wants exactly the same things and thinking the way you do is exactly what is keeping these outdated stereotypes going strong. You’re feeding the issues instead of helping eradicate them.

    • That is absolutely a valid point, Morgan, BUT what about women like myself and many others? I’ve been married for four years but I was not happy. Not because he didn’t meet my “silly” standards, but because, I feel, I am not cut out for monogamy or the compromises expected by society for my relationship. Granted, I live in the South and some level of tradition is ever-prevalent, but I honestly do not hold location or religious preference responsible, people CHOOSE to perpetuate these ridiculous standards. What I’m trying to say is this: you’re doing good to acknowledge that some women are capable of living life happily without a significant other, but to say that more often than not they will feel that “something is missing” is detrimental in most every way. Then you go on to say that if someone, such as myself, may just have silly expectations/standards. I feel that some things just should not be compromised upon, and they’re nearly exclusively dependent on a woman to make said compromises, then that says there is a serious flaw in the system. When I decide to walk away from a losing battle there are men and women out there crying out how wrong I am for this.. I do not feel that people feel that it is missing, I think they are made to feel something is missing.

      • I agree with you Jessica, in that I think it is extremely detrimental to think that women will eventually need a man or marriage to be happy, otherwise we’ll feel like something is missing. We are responsible for our happiness, and first it must come from within yourself. Marriage or a man is not going to fill that void. I think a lot of women settle in order to try to make themselves or society happy, and that’s not always the right choice for them. You have to make yourself happy first to really know what you want or need.