I just wanted to add a little something to this great post by Jill from Feministe. One of the consistent ways in which feminist issues get undercut or marginalized is by framing them in facile, battle-of-the-sexes terms. You can find this sort of thing all the time; an issue of contentious and important feminist controversy is watered down into "hey, equal pay for equal work-- Venus and Mars, am I right? War of the Roses! Crazy." Forcing feminist issues into the terms of men vs. women, and particularly in the sense that they are all just happy battles in the sexual and romantic landscape, robs feminist critiques of their power. It suggests that these issues are not really about morality and equality but about romance, and it sets people up to view feminist controversies as the kind of argument where there is no right or wrong side, as we tend to do in the hoary old competitive view of romantic relationships.
So Jill is right to call Kay Hymowitz out for the way in which she is hiding some of the politics in her piece from the WSJ. She also does a good job of just calling Hymowitz out on her bullshit; broad generalizations about entire generations of men or women sweep away acres of complexity, and there are all sorts of reasons to disbelieve the idea that delaying the onset of marriage and "adulthood" are bad for traditional domestic roles, anyway. For example, broadly speaking, delaying marriage tends to result in less divorce. The common "starter marriage" phenomenon, where young people marry after a brief courtship and then divorce within less than five years, is often followed by long-term and permanent marriages. (Yet another reason why the divorce rate is bogus: people who marry once, divorce, then remarry and stay married until death have a personal divorce rate of 50%; could anyone reasonably call this a failure for the institution of marriage?) Clearly, marrying later is not then an impediment to successful coupling. If Hymowitz's interest is in preserving traditional domestic institutions, I'm not sure she's on track here.
We all want to look young and hot in our wedding photos, but c'mon.
Jill is also right to be frank about the power dynamics that are just below the surface of Hymowitz's piece. Marriage in a heterosexual relationship certainly doesn't have to be about the marginalization of the female partner's power and identity to the needs and desires of the male partner, but that is the traditional arrangement, and Hymowitz's desires seem to be in that spirit. Delaying marriage in that context means preserving the time period when young women are free to be independent and fully realized beings. As is typical, what is framed as a piece sympathizing with women ("poor women, no good men") is actually one that seeks to condemn them to narrow, traditional gender roles. Also, while Jill's post doesn't quite come right out and say it, I see a critique within of the attitude that success in life is a matter of working at a particular job, being a good capital producer and consumer. Traditional roles of domestic life within capitalism don't just have noxious imbalances between husbands and wives but also define life in reductive terms of capital and material goods acquisition.
While we're on the subject, I do want to say-- there have been a lot of things lately which have provoked considerations of changing gender roles and evolutions in the "sexual marketplace." (ugh) The recession, Knocked Up, Hannah Rosin's "The End of Men," Blue Valentine, and on and on, each provoking spirited reactions about what our changing economy means for dating and relationships. I have opinions on this stuff (shocking, I know), but I do want to say that, in general, I think the stakes are dramatically overstated-- or, at least, that the difficulty in navigating these waters is overstated.
I don't doubt that the currency that really matters to people is sexual and romantic success. (In the case of many men, this is actually a matter of maintaining sexual privilege, but that's a whole other issue.) But I find that the big think articles and essays on these phenomena almost universally make it seem harder to adapt to a changing romantic landscape then it actually is "on the ground." When you take on these issues theoretically, when you're reading a magazine essay that is compelled by the usual pressure to be sensationalistic, it can seem daunting. But when you really are out there interacting in the actual social spaces, I think you'll find it much easier. Remember that people want to like members of the sex that they are attracted to. Men and women, gay and straight, people want to be attracted to other people. (I think one of the best things for straight guys who feel romantically undesirable to do is to understand that straight women like love and sex too.)
A lot of people feel like there is a conflict between their political or ethical commitments and their need to get laid or find a partner. And, sure-- on some level, it is indeed easier to be a cad or a creep than it is to try to operate in the romantic space ethically. (Since the average creep cares not about his rate or percentage of success in trying to pick up women, but rather just the number of times he is successful, it's to his numerical advantage to just keep throwing it out there and coming on to women as often as possible. It's a numbers game. If you feel resentful that creeps might be getting laid more than you, content yourself with the fact that doing the right thing is a higher order concern.) But it's always been that way, and it's not much easier for creeps. The idea that it is becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Just do the right thing, try your best, have fun, and you'll find yourself happier than you'd expect. Treat people the right way. Don't be a jackass doing magic tricks at a bar. Have fun. Seriously, the hype that it's a very tough landscape out there, or that it's newly difficult, is just the media doing what it does. Trust in evolution, your value, and our flawed but indispensable concept of romantic love.