Friday Ephemera
Elsewhere (203)

Lifestyle Advice

Laurie Penny – yes, ‘tis shewants to expand our minds with her deep knowledge of marriage:  

More women are living alone or without a partner than ever before, and the question on the table once again is not how to have a better marriage, but whether to have one at all. 

I suppose there’s also the question of whether those living alone, perhaps in the name of feminism, are happier than they otherwise might be, more satisfied, and more prepared for later life. Sadly, Laurie waves aside the, as she puts it, “vanishing amount of security offered by coupledom” - coupledom which she assumes must be antithetical to “personal autonomy.” The notion that a person’s sense of freedom – say, from doubt, isolation or poverty - might be enhanced by the practical and emotional support of a lifelong exclusive relationship, is oddly unexplored. The advantages of a second income, shared labour, shared troubles and an expanded circle of relatives on whom one might call for support - and above all, a sense of personal commitment through thick and thin – these things are apparently much too bourgeois and conformist, and so unworthy of attention.

Instead, Ms Penny thrills to the “growing power of uncoupled women” and “the threat this poses to the socioeconomic status quo.” Posing threats to the status quo is, for Laurie, a thing of great importance, something to be championed, seemingly regardless of what that challenge might realistically entail. This, after all, is someone whose pronouncements often suggest a pretentious teenager hoping to scandalise elderly relatives, and who believes, or pretends to believe, that “romantic love is a systemic lie designed to manipulate women into lifelong emotional labour.” As so often, Laurie’s sincerity is somewhat in question, and either way, one has to wonder how this dark conspiracy, this “systemic lie,” might explain the romantic feelings of gay couples, or those who are fairly sure that their partnership is not in fact a sham, an idle reflex or the result of subtle brainwashing.

This being a Laurie Penny article, the spotlight soon shifts to her glorious self:

I had been struggling to find language for my growing anxiety over the fact that, at almost 30, I still have no desire to settle down and form a traditional family. I’ve been waiting, as open-mindedly as possible, for a sudden neo-Darwinian impulse to pair up and reproduce. And yet here I am, and it hasn’t happened. Despite no small amount of social pressure, I am happy as I am.

Which would explain all those cheery, contended articles she churns out

I am quite content with the fact that my work, my politics, my community and my books are just as important to me as anyone I happen to be dating… I live in a commune, I date multiple people, and I’m focused on my career.  

Potential suitors please take note. You are but one of many, and of no more importance than Laurie’s books.

“Do you actually want to spend years taking care of children and a partner when it’s hard enough taking care of yourself?” asks our empowered adult ladyperson, possibly revealing a touch more than she intends. This is accompanied by a list of oppressions supposedly inherent to marriage, including “the wiping of snotty noses,” being considerate of a partner’s allergies, and cleaning and cooking, which unmarried people never do, obviously. Even the remembering of birthdays is framed as unpaid labour, a ghastly imposition, too much to bear. Says she: 

Today the benefits of marriage and monogamy are increasingly outweighed by the costs.   

A typically bold statement, presented as if self-evident, and followed, quite promptly, by this:

Today, single women have more power and presence than ever before – but there’s still a price to pay for choosing not to pair up. It’s not just about the stress of steering a life in unnavigated waters and unlearning decades of conditioning… It’s also about the money. Over half of Americans earning minimum wage or below are single women – and single mothers are five times as likely to live in poverty as married ones.

A detail that seems somewhat at odds with the claim that marriage and monogamy are probably best avoided. However, Laurie hastens past these mere practicalities, muttering only that,

society must do more, and better, to support women’s choices.

She then fixes on the more pressing imperative:

If women reject marriage and partnership en masse, the economic and social functioning of modern society will be shaken to its core. 

And so the abandonment of the stable family unit is something to be endorsed in the war against the Great Hegemon of heteropatriachal capitalism, which must be toppled at all cost. Or, in Laurie’s words,

I happen to believe in dismantling the social and economic institutions of marriage and family. 

The destruction of which is, apparently,  

the only chance we have of one day, at last, meeting and mating as true equals.

Readers who currently regard their marriages and relationships as both functional and a meeting of equals are, it seems, delusional, at least according to Laurie. At which point, you may wish to revisit Ms Penny’s excited endorsement of an article by Madeleine Schwartz, in which we were told, based on nothing, that the “diffusion” of the family unit – which is to say, absent fathers, hardship and subsequent dependence on the state – “is one of the most exciting things to happen to the American social pattern since sexual liberation.”

And if that fact-free assertion tickles your fancy, you may also be entertained by one of Laurie’s own:

Women everywhere are simply going on strike, and it is a strike the like of which society has barely contemplated. It is distributed and dispersed, and the picket lines begin at the door of every household and the threshold of every human heart.

You heard her, women everywhere.

And note that, in 2,252 words, and despite an ostensible topic of the nuclear family, no mention is made of parenting and its practicalities, and specifically the needs of children and one’s obligations to them, beyond a brief admission that, “single mothers are five times as likely to live in poverty as married ones.” But hey, let’s all do as Laurie says. For the revolution.


Christina Hoff Sommers talks with Brad Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies on the advantages of marriage, with data and correlations, and the consequences of its abandonment.