There’s apparently a new book coming out called Smart Girls Marry Money: How Women Have Been Duped Into the Romantic Dream—And How They Are Paying For It, by Elizabeth Ford and Daniela Drake. The reviews actually make the book sound slightly less awful than the title, and it seems to have some vaguely feminist undertones:
In June, the prime month for weddings, it may seem heretical to suggest that romantic love is not the only requirement for a successful marriage. But that’s what the authors of a provocative new book advocate. In Smart Girls Marry Money,Elizabeth Ford, a news producer, and Daniela Drake, a physician, argue that despite the gains women have made in the last few decades, we still earn considerably less than men (especially if we are mothers). A husband’s paycheck is still critical. “We gals just haven’t come far enough or fast enough,” they say. “We know it’s important to take the long view of things, but as we’ve heard said, in the long view, we’ll all be dead.”
Then there’s divorce. Ford and Drake say that since women suffer economically much more than men when they get divorced, snagging a good provider is ultimately critical to an equitable settlement. And if current statistics hold, half of new couples are likely to eventually split up. Given that depressing reality, Ford and Drake say that a husband’s earning power is a more important indicator of a woman’s future happiness than his cute smile. “If the marriage crashes,” they write, “it’s the women who are exposed to an extremely high risk of poverty.” They urge their readers to look for a Mr. Right “who just happens to be Mr. Rich.”
The feminist argument, of course, is that we need to battle things like wage and resource inequality instead of just telling women to marry rich; I imagine the authors of this book would respond by arguing that that’s great in the long-term, but in the here-and-now it’s smarter for women to marry wealthier men. Jessica Wakeman, a feminist colleague of mine from college, weighs in to say that she hopes to marry someone with money and wouldn’t pair up with “journalists, teachers, [or] non-profit dudes,” because her own career aspirations won’t give her the kind of lifestyle she wants for herself and her children.
I can understand the feeling. It would be very nice to be able to make a career as a writer or blogger and still live in a really nice apartment, take vacations, and raise children with all the trappings of the upper middle class (I’ll also note that it’s a sad story when “pre-natal care” and “doctor’s appointments” go on a list of what are ostensibly lifestyle “extras” that money can buy). Some people manage to do it, but they’re few and far between. In reality, the vast majority of freelance journalists and writers aren’t making much, and if you want those extras, you’re going to have to find a way to pay for them. Having someone else provide them while you pursue your passion is understandably tempting.
But nothing in life, as they say, is free, and in our society, money is power. To expect — to plan, even — to find a wealthy man who will underwrite your lifestyle in traditionally gendered ways while also believing that you won’t be expected to reciprocate through doing more than 50% of the traditionally female work of child and home care strikes me as naive at best. While people organize their families is myriad ways, and while there are plenty of egalitarian relationships in which one partner makes most of the money, it’s much harder to have an equal partnership when one partner holds the purse strings — especially when that partner is male in a society where male heads-of-household have long maintained power in the family through financial control. Again, not saying that egalitarian heterosexual relationships are impossible just because the man makes more money, but if you seek out a partner because of what they can contribute financially — specifically so that they can contribute a large amount in order to support you – it does seem a little naive to think that they won’t expect you to support them in parallel gendered ways. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they won’t. But money doesn’t usually come for free. Even the phrasing — finding someone to “support me and our kids” makes it pretty clear who would be in charge, and who is being put in the same category as dependent children.
And all that aside, even if you and your partner have a 100% egalitarian relationship regardless of who makes what, it strikes me as a little immature to expect that an upper-middle-class lifestyle is best attainable through a princess fantasy. Adults have to make decisions about wants, needs, and what to sacrifice. It’s part of being a grown-up. Sometimes, you can’t do exactly what you want to do and have exactly what you want to have. Responsible decision-making often requires re-evaluating your priorities and making compromises.
And of course, the very option of finding a rich man to marry, or the option of choosing to stay in a low-paying career, isn’t available for a lot of women — especially women who are just getting by financially. There are only so many rich men in the world, so feminists are going to have to come up with something better than this is we want to better the circumstances of all women.
I don’t object to the notion that finances should play some role in who you partner with, especially if you’re getting married or sharing property or bank accounts. Tying your finances to the finances of someone who is fiscally irresponsible is a decidedly bad idea. But “responsible” and “rich” are worlds apart. Partnering or marrying someone with a similar financial outlook and similar goals is probably a good idea; I personally would resent being with someone who expected me to financially support them, or who wasn’t willing to contribute to half of the household expenses, or who was such a scrimper that they were never willing to splurge on a great dinner or a vacation. Someone who is super-frugal and puts every penny in savings, or someone who wants a partner to pay for all of their stuff, probably would not want to be with me. But financial compatability is a long way away from wanting to “marry rich” so that one party can financially support the other.
And there is the fundamental question of how we want to value other human beings. Feminists understandably object to women being traditionally valued for their physical appearance and their subservience; we often also object to men being traditionally valued for their breadwinner status and earning potential. The problem isn’t valuing financial security; the problem is expecting that someone else provide it for you, as opposed to being a partner in providing it, together, for each other and any children. To expect that you can pursue a low-paying passion while someone else comes along and pays for you to live the lifestyle you desire is pretty entitled.