If Mo Dowd is getting personal, then so will I
I always keep it personal at Mouse Words, but I thought it wise to sidestep the whole issue of Maureen Dowd's bitter-sounding essay about this bullshit study saying men want to marry subordinates. Feministing tackles it better than I will, actually, so I'll leave it at that.
But I have to admit, Ezra at Pandagon's take on the whole thing was cute and annoying all at once.
Absolutely. If anything, my character failing lies in the other direction, an overemphasis on intellectual curiosity and ambition. The dynamic Dowd is arguing -- that men want women who won't outshine them -- is almost laughable. Men always want women who will glow brighter; ever met a guy who desired dates below his attractiveness level? Of course not. Even though looks fade over time and disappear completely in the dark, we all rate them highly because having a good looking lover reflects well on us. Most I know -- and myself for sure -- are similarly determined that our girlfriends be cerebrally impressive. That my girlfriend is focused on working in public health and has a subscription to The Economist is important to me. That's partially shallow and partially functional (good conversation), but that's how I am.
It's annoying because he accepts the basic premise that men pick their lovers primarily for the ego boosts. It's cute that he thinks that all men are as bright as he is and have complex ego boost needs. Dim man + ego boost motivation = man who will look for a subordinate wife. Why? Well, on the most basic level it's ego-boosting to have someone around who tailors her opinions to yours and defers to you. It's particularly ego-boosting to have someone who does this in front of other people.
I agree with Ezra that some people look up more to men who pick mates who challenge them. I know I think more highly of a man who doesn't have need a wife who is careful to tailor herself to his requirements. For one thing, it does show that he's his own man and doesn't need that sort of thing. For another, I know damn well that some men get submissiveness through abuse, and I tend to suspect it when I see these dominant man/submissive woman couplings.
I'm annoyed all over again by Dowd and by Ezra because there's this lockstep "what do men look for" thinking. (Like Jessica at Feministing points out.) Whether we want to admit it or not, men and women pick each other. That's why dating is such a pain in the ass--it's like being on a job interview where each person is both employer and potential employee. And it's even more complicated than that. There's a lot of luck involved.
Ego boosting is a big thing in relationships. I'll be the first to acknowledge that, but that doesn't mean that it's this all-consuming thing. In fact, the older I get the more I realize that most happy couples don't really care what others think about their match, and instead they ego boost privately. (Good work, you look nice, hey sexy, etc.) And most importantly, the happy couples I know do it equally. And most resistant to these shallow type of studies, they are good at figuring out what the other person is vain about and they flatter that.
Ezra is vain about his brains and so he has found a woman that flatters that in him by challenging (and probably praising) him. If he's smart, he's doing it back. And while it makes them annoying assholes, a lot of men are vain about having authority over women and they seek out submissive women. In that sense, Dowd is right. And I have noticed that yes, men who seek out submissive women do tend more towards worrying how their match looks on the outside in that they are earnestly worried about fitting into "traditional" marriages. But every person I meet has a different mix of what they are looking for, including different amounts of ego-boosting. But you just can't paint all men or women with the same brush.
Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to find out some people don't look to their relationships for an ego boost at all. When I meet someone like that, I'll be sure to blog about it.