Saturday, April 20, 2002

Women serious about their careers think they have a problem sustaining successful relationships with any men. Maureen Dowd's column "The Baby Bust" last week claims that smart women believe they scare away potential partners, and now the book I'm reading (loose threads, Glenda Burgess) has the following passage. In response to an ex-boyfriend saying "Cynthia is going to quit her job at the preschool in Brookline and join me here," the heroine muses:

There it was. The perfect Foreign Service spouse. The able and adoring, fully dedicated wife to set up housekeeping, manage the money wexchange and the marketing, and never, but never, raise a priority in conflict with the posting of her husband. Why were no men interested in this role? Content to read the French press and drink cafe, or burgundy, through the lazy afternoons as their spouses worked the embassy. Was it just us, the women? Were we too aggressive, too focused, too self-centered to make it as wives? Too talented to be interested in shiftless men, but too restricted by our careers to have the men we choose?

Many of the letters to the editor responding to Dowd's article try to answer these questions. The responses are surprisingly varied and numerous (600 'e-males'). Mostly from men, they fall into two major categories. Some claim they'd be happy to find a smart women (one good article in this category, though at times too snide, appears from Bruce Fierstein). But the others put forth many possible reasons why a man might reasonably reject a "smart" career woman: she may be uncaring, cold, arrogant, critical, put her career before her family, and so on. On CBSNews, Glenn Sacks places himself definitely in the second category by returning all the blame to the women who voiced the complaint. Glenn says "[Dowd] chastises men for being afraid of successful women who, she says, may be critical of them. But how many women want to marry a man who is critical? " Sure Glenn, but first, women are more tolerant of criticism -- and second, criticism is only one of many issues. Modern couples clearly have a new balance to strike, as womens' careers increasingly match their partners' in intellectual requirements, prestige, opportunities, responsabilities, power and recompense.

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