Lest you think that American social conservatives have a monopoly on obnoxious, regressive views of women, may we direct you to the comments of one British Member of Parliament, David Willetts? According to the Daily Mail, Willetts recently told his countrymen that the British family is under threat from a 'Bridget Jones generation' — women who, like writer Helen Fielding's famous character, have been to college but are unable to find a man. 45% of young women in Britain go on to higher education, but only 35% of men do. Willetts says this means men "are no longer given the opportunity to bring home the bacon, and the evidence is that that is bad for families."Willetts's rhetoric is annoying, but his subtext is truly disturbing. His problem isn't with the romantic difficulties of Bridget and her ilk — it's with their independence. Willetts points out that college-educated women may want to marry college-educated men. And it's true that a smaller percentage of British women are married by 30 than were 30 years ago (horrors!). But he seems less concerned with those oh-so-unlucky British girls who can solve quadratic equation but can't find a man, than with those who land a man but then break up with him. He cites research suggesting that male unemployment is the biggest factor in the rise of single-parent families. Then he says:
Of course the family is an emotional and personal thing, but it is also an economic institution and what we are describing is the collapse of the economic circumstances that hold families together. [...] The man who can't go out and command a decent wage is not going to be able to hold a family together.
"Economic circumstances that hold families together" sounds like a nice way of saying "women's financial dependence." It may be harder for a man to "hold a family together" now because women are more free to leave unhappy marriages, or to have children without marrying the fathers. Willetts makes it sound like he's worried about those poor Bridget types who can't seem to find domestic happiness, but he's really concerned about men's loosening grip on women's lives. It's all just a British version of that familiar threat that women can change, but men are locked into the same roles forever, and we'd better let them do what they want or we'll all be very unhappy. Bridget Jones generation 'to blame for breakdown of the family' [Daily Mail]