Bridezillas And Breadwinners: Marriage Stereotypes Obscure Actual Marriages

The Daily Mail's crappy marriage coverage today isn't limited to the allegation that 60% of married women tricked their husbands into marrying them. The Fail also claims tricky women just want to be stay-at-home moms.

The survey, conducted by the highly trained scientists of the British television channel "Really" (which is, unsurprisingly, promoting a wedding show), apparently included 3,600 brides. According to the Mail, 60% had "used underhand tactics in an effort to get engaged." These tactics included threatening to leave (employed by a third of respondents), deliberately getting pregnant or faking a pregnancy (10%), and — the most bizarre, at least to me — sending themselves flowers from a "fake admirer." The first is manipulative and immature, the second is evil, but the third just had me yelling at my computer, who does that??

I hope the answer is: fake women. Though the survey also turned up some plausible-sounding data about weddings (one in five brides wish they'd scaled back), it smacks of made-up publicity to me. Perhaps "Really" (I can't not put quotes around it) wants Brits to believe they're a nation of Bridezillas so they'll be more excited about a wedding show. Or perhaps the survey was worded or interpreted to make respondents look more awful than they actually were. I'm not convinced a majority of British women are so set on the idea of getting hitched that they're willing to start their marriages off with deception. But I do know that women are encouraged to trick men in ways big and small throughout their relationships, whether it's by hiding their true personalities or pretending to be blase so as not to "scare him off," and if women really are tricking dudes into weddings, then dating guides and women's magazines share some of the blame.

In a slightly more plausible but still oversimplified piece, the Mail claims that "What women want in 2010" is "A husband who'll be the main breadwinner." Beth Hale reports on a study sociologist Geoff Dench of "the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies," which found that 32% of women with small children "agreed that most women want a home and children," up from 15% in 2002. 17% of moms also felt that "men and women should have different roles" (up from 2% in 2002), and 37% felt that "family life would suffer if women worked full-time."

It's not much of a surprise that women with children think other women want children, and to extrapolate from this survey that "women want a breadwinner" seems like jumping to conclusions. Which is exactly what Dench seems to have done. He says,

Women with young children are going back to the very traditional division of labour in which they want the husband as the breadwinner.

Having tried full-time working themselves they have found the home much more interesting and want to be enabled to have that - especially if the only job they have access to is a dull job.

Again, it's no surprise that women with kids would like to spend time with them. This doesn't necessarily mean they cleave to traditional roles — the 17% figure, while somewhat troubling, isn't all that high anyway. Putting aside any questions about survey methodology (I'd really like to know, for instance, how the "family life would suffer" question was worded), what's upsetting about Dench's take is how all-or-nothing it is. All too frequently, women's lives are framed as a choice between being a stay-at-home mom with a "breadwinner" husband, or becoming, in Hale's words, "superwomen who manage everything, plus a high-profiled career." Advocates of "tradition" often fail to consider that women might want, say, both time with children and a measure of economic independence, or that they might want the freedom to step in and out of "breadwinner" responsibilities at various points in their lives, or that who fills which "role" is probably a lot less important to many women than a happy, healthy, and financially solvent family.

Since so few politicians seem to be paying attention to what women really want, it's sad when surveys on the topic generate reductive analysis. We should be asking real questions about women's lives, marriages, and families — like why women with young children would only have access to "dull jobs." Instead, what we get — at least from the Daily Mail — are platitudes about "traditional division of labor" and crap about sending yourself flowers.

Six In Ten Brides Have Used Dirty Tricks To Get Engagement Ring On Their Finger [Daily Mail]
What Women Want In 2010: A Husband Who'll Be The Main Breadwinner [Daily Mail]