So, Rosie Mullender’s column in February’s Cosmo starts by comparing (heterosexual, mono, yaddayah) relationships to shopping for a jumper. Because they’re the same, obviously: in both situations, you browse a selection of inert objects, which you exchange for a specific price in a one-time deal, & once purchased both are guaranteed to stay the same and under your control for an indefinite period. What, you mean relationships might be a little dependent on growth, change and human individuality? WHAT? DO THE PEOPLE KNOW? It appears not, if the people write Cosmo.
Anyway, the point of this somewhat strained analogy is for Rosie to miss out on a particular jumper, mourn (because consumer goods are about form, not function! Self-definition through purchase & display! Yay capitalism!) and reflect (I quote) ‘Imagine if that almost-perfect jumper were a man…snapped up by a woman more sensible than me.’ Human beings don’t change, you see: here men, as well as women (maybe the shift is refreshing? Hmm…) are finite and unchanging objects devoid of will but possessed of finely graded desirability, capable of being purchased and possessed simply through an act of will on the part of the purchaser. (We won’t even get into the problematic assumptions being made here about monogamy, possession, exclusive rights, the actual functioning of a relationship. Evidently such sophistication is far beyond Rosie’s remit.) She continues: ‘With marriage rates at an all-time low, I wonder if the reason lies in our unswerving belief that there’s always something better around the corner, whether that’s a snuggly jumper or a husband.’
Well now. So many assumptions I don’t know where to start. Even if marriage rates *are* at an all-time low (and i’m not presented with any evidence, so I’ll just be taking Rosie’s word for it here), WHY IS THIS A BAD THING? Surely - given divorce rates - fewer people entering into a legally binding contract (from which extrication is complicated and expensive) if they’re not sure is a good thing? Surely people not marrying simply by default or to meet others’ expectations is a good thing? Surely increasing variety in socially acceptable ways of maintaining love relationships is a good thing? Well no, apparently not. And from Rosie’s point of view, apparently, the rates must be falling because *men aren’t proposing*, because (the assumption on which this whole piece hangs) *ALL WOMEN MUST WANT TO GET MARRIED*. (Yet again, I’m leaving the questions of queers and the non-binary gendered out of this rant, because they’re so obviously not even considered by the source article, but let me state once again here that SUCH EXCLUSIONS BOTHER ME. Hey, I don’t exist, folks, and neither do a substantial proportion of the people to whom I’m attracted! Oh well, we’ll just be having the kind of mindblowing kinky sex Cosmo doesn’t believe in either, off in a corner somewhere.) I just don’t know how to deal with this. I mean really. Since when do all woman want to get married? Isn’t that what we’ve had the last 50 years of feminism for (that and massive sociopolitical inequality, etc?) - so women have independent means of economic and practical support, so aren’t dependent on matrimony? Isn’t this a *good* thing? Why present a female hunger - hah - for weddings as a sociocultural certainty? just to alienate those who don’t? (FTR: I’ve been engaged twice, and the second time I imposed a compulsory ten-year waiting period, just to make sure we were sure about it, and even then I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Turns out I was right, but that’s over in another blog I’m afraid.) The thought of having anyone stay with me resentfully because of a piece of paper rather than actively choosing to be with me every day is kinda anathema. Let me state further, lest it’s unclear: I’m female, and I don’t want to get married. Yeah, I have fairly serious trust issues (see previous) but there are a huge number of people for whom marriage is equally distasteful for political or life-experience reasons, all of which are valid. But for Rosie Mullender, this apparently isn’t the case. ALL WOMEN HAVE TO GET MARRIED, RIGHT, OR WHAT ARE WE FOR??
Ignoring any of these issues, however, the piece continues to tie itself up in knots of inconsistency and illogic. ‘I’m not saying we should all settle for the first half-decent man we find.’ (See previous; are you suggesting the third, then, or the fifth? If we’re not waiting for somebody we are actually sure we want to marry, should we wish to do so, how are we supposed to decide which ‘half-decent’ one to pick? I wonder.) ‘[Like Walter from Sleepless in Seattle], ’ I don’t want to be someone anyone settles for.’ (But, cf jumper analogy, if you’re not quite what the someone in question would have wanted to marry, them marrying you anyway is fine. Hmm, big distinction there.) ‘But in the old days, before internet shopping, you’d go to yr local C&A, pick the best jumper from 4 unflattering clockhouse numbers, and be perfectly happy with it. And likewise, choosing a husband was easier. One of the handful of guys you came across at school, or down the shops, wd stand out. You’d fall in love, marry him, and live happily ever after.’
Oh God. Ohgodohgod. Let’s pause there. Because ALL MARRIAGES pre, say, 1980 were happy? Domestic abuse in these partnerships formed by proximity and coincidence didn’t exist? All marriages pre-divorce were happy? Nobody - particularly no women - ever lived unfulfilled and curtailed by marrying too young an unsuitable partner she wasn’t old or wise enough to recognise the dangers of? ALL FEMALE OPPORTUNITY NOW IS A BAD THING BECAUSE WE MEET TOO MANY MEN? Are you *sure*?
Even the jumper thing is problematic. I’m younger than Rosie’s 33, but not much, and I too remember pre-internet clothes shopping. And I spent my adolescence saving up for trips to Camden, in a different city for God’s sake, just so I could get clothes that I felt comfortable and myself in. (Like a good little capitalist teenager.) Trying to find the perfect jumper. I certainly wasn’t a different person, happy to ‘settle’ for something I disliked simply because it was available. And nor, given the sketch that opens her column, was Rosie. That’s just *not* how it works. Has she ever read any of the ‘kitchen sink’ novels of the 1960s, those in which young women exchange sex with men they’re not sure about for rape & the promise of a ring, intelligent women are trapped in unfulfilling marriages by just such choices, or condemned to loneliness without them? Does she really, REALLY think that marriage pre-divorce rates was *better*?
Apparently so. Now, the imperfect man you’d supposedly have lived happily ever after with ‘has to compete with all the other men crowding our offices, inboxes and the internet. And when you compare one man to all other men ever, he’s bound to come up lacking.’ Well, I mean, what? Knowing more men is a bad thing? More varied interactions and experiences are a bad thing? Maybe women should never have made it into offices at all; we’d meet fewer men at home slaving over a hot stove! Except wait, no, the internet would still be there! Maybe we shouldn’t talk to men at all? Besides, it’s arrant nonsense. I may meet a lot of men (**AND ATTRACTIVE MEMBERS OF OTHER GENDERS, FTR, Cosmo) but I’m still perfectly capable of identifying those (admittedly few, but that has more to do with emotional scarring, self-knowledge and hard-won maturity than anything else) with whom I would consider a relationship, just as I am those few to whom I am attracted. Really. I wanted to marry my teenage sweetheart, not because he was the first man I met and thus my default choice, but because he really seemed to understand who I was and where I was coming from (and, y’know, ace sex/communication.) Since then, I’ve met…maybe 3 people - all alas impractical - with whom I could fall in love and to whom I might thus have wanted to commit. (I’m leaving marriage out of my personal equation, likewise the openness question.) Numbers simply mean a) greater opportunity b) greater diversity c) greater knowledge, wisdom and experience and d) greater choice. Of which c) is by far the most important. The more I learn about people and their needs/desires and my needs/desires and what I want from a relationship, the more likely I/anyone will be to be able to identify people with whom I/anyone could have a healthy functional relationship. With marriage if both parties are that way inclined.
Still, sadly, this isn’t the end. Rosie extrapolates from 70% of divorces being initiated by women ( a statistic with apparently nothing to do with increased independence and opportunity, or increased unwillingness to tolerate abuse, or any other unsatisfactory elements; reluctant as I am to make gender assumptions, it’s conceivable that were I to do so I could - for example- extrapolate a male reluctance to compromise on domestic matters from Rosie’s figures) to suggesting ‘men are happier to make a choice and stick to it than we are.’ Without knowing the grounds on which 100% of respondents filed for divorce and comparing the female 70% to the 30% male ones, how the hell would she know? Rather than explaining, she brings in a male friend, who blithely binarises along Rosie’s lines by saying ‘Men and women are different. Men realise perfection doesn’t exist, and recalibrate their expectations accordingly. Women shoot for the moon, then get back down to earth to find a perfectly decent man has just married someone else.’ (Someone else who, by his logic, therefore isn’t a woman? Given the shattering heteronormativity of all this, i doubt that was the intended interpretation, but i suspect he hasn’t thought things through.) Rosie concludes that men don’t bother worrying if they’re ‘totally happy’ with their partners (Only to beg the question: and women do? really? Surely women not being totally happy is where this whole mess started? And why *should* women lie to themselves to get an engagement ring, in 2012? I certainly wdn’t want anybody who wasn’t totally happy with me to marry me, or vice versa). For once and for all, ffs: PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. The maintenance of rigid binary gender roles is an utterly pointless exercise. WE ARE ALL PEOPLE, WITH DIFFERENT NEEDS AND EXPECTATIONS AND DESIRES, and the sooner you start trying to communicate as an equal with another person rather than treating somebody as an alien because they (probably, given that Cosmo seemingly hasn’t heard of trans, intersex, or any variation on medical-textbook heteronormativity) have different genitalia to you, the sooner you both might figure out whether or not you have a connection - and thus might want to get married. Really.
Her last sentence is breathtaking. ‘If we’re really that keen to get married, maybe it’s time for us to be happy with what we’ve got, and resist the urge to shop around.’ Oh please. Because obviously, loving someone enough to marry them is something that happens to order. If it’s not there, but you want to get married, are you meant to just decide it, or marry anyway? And once again, WHO SAYS WE WANTED (OR NEED) TO MARRY IN THE FIRST PLACE? You may, Rosie, and fair enough - but yours is far from being the only viewpoint. And the hideous, painful weight of gender and social assumption in this little column goes to contribute to an ideocultural world where women are always ultimately competing for men, the universal female goal is marriage (which is always het, mono, etc); capitalism is a perfect model for human relationships, and QUILTBAG people of any flavour doesn’t exist. Nice one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be taking advantage of my nonexistence to have some more of that mindblowing kinky sex I mentioned over in the corner. Let’s hope invisibility covers inaudibility as well.