Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Amanda Marcotte School of Relationships

It doesn’t take too much to send Amanda Marcotte into an ideological tizzy. Recently, the debate provoked by Susan Patton’s suggestion that women should marry young did the trick.

As a notable feminist scold, a woman who was fired from the John Edwards campaign for rhetorical overreach, Marcotte defends the faith fiercely.

In her first defense of delayed marriage Marcotte resorted to a lame ad hominem argument: namely, that Patton was trying to play matchmaker for her Princetonian sons.

Marcotte wrote:

With that in mind, I'm guessing her sons are pretty embarrassed right now. Mothers have been embarrassing their sons since time immemorial by declaring that any woman should be happy to have a man so fine, but most mothers have the common sense to keep that sentiment inside the walls of their home. Dressing it up as concern for women's wellbeing and running it in a university's paper, however, takes cheek-pinching offspring-humiliation to another level entirely.

Everyone ought to know that ad hominem arguments are the first recourse of the feeble minded. They do not merit a response.

Since her first foray did not seem to impress too many people, Marcotte doubled down. When Slate’s Double X blog posted Julia Shaw's column about what it was like to marry young, Marcotte reached back to find a way to persuade young women to avoid marriage.

She came up with this:

Watching conservatives desperately try to bully women into younger marriage with a couple of promises and a whole lot of threats is highly entertaining but clearly not persuasive.

The underscored phrase refers to Marcotte’s first ad hominem attack on Patton. Nuf said.

Most of the women who are advising in favor of early marriage do not identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives. If you have been following the debate on this blog and elsewhere you will note that Patton et al. have not been manifesting any desperation, either.

It would be more fair to say that Marcotte has cornered the market in desperation. I am not suggesting that she is or is not desperate to get married. Reports suggest that she has a male "partner."

Marcotte continues:

Women marry later because it makes sense given their own career aspirations. Even many of those pushing the ideological argument for young marriage, like Megan McArdle, tend, when it comes to their own lives, to opt out of the pressure to be young divorcees martyred for the cause.

Or course, Megan McArdle, who wrote an eminently intelligent essay on the topic, never said that marrying young meant divorcing young. And where did Marcotte get the idea that marrying young would lead to martyrdom “for the cause.”

Marrying young is not a cause. Feminism is a cause. If a woman sacrifices her chance to marry and/or to have children because feminism told her to do it, she has effectively martyred herself for the cause.

While some women have questioned whether a woman who is trying to care for a toddler or two during her peak earning years is doing the best by her career, Patton’s argument emphasized biology and the marital marketplace.

Marcotte concludes with this gem:

I’m glad young marriage is working out for [Julia] Shaw, but for the majority of women, dating and cohabitating until they’re more sure is working out just fine. If he's good enough to marry, he'll still be around when you're ready to make that leap.

Let’s be charitable and say that everyone but Marcotte knows that deferring marriage and childrearing is not working out “just fine” for very many women. It’s working out well for reproductive endocrinologists, but not for very many women.

If it was working out so well, we would not be having a national discussion about Susan Patton’s column.

Marcotte’s last sentence deserves an award. I consider it a sign of desperation when the best you can come up with is a piece of arrant nonsense that insults the intelligence of young women.

In  Marcotte's alternative universe, a man who is “good enough to marry” will naturally defer to the wishes of a young feminist who has decided that career must come before family.

And what does Marcotte mean by “good enough.” Doesn’t that make it sound like she is settling? Is Marcotte suggesting that a woman who defers marriage will have to settle?

If a man is eminently marriageable, but is being strung along by a feminist, other women will notice. If they notice, they will naturally want to compete for his affections. Do you really believe that another woman will not be able to win him over, especially when her competition has attended the Amanda Marcotte School of Relationships?

If he’s good enough to marry, he will have a choice. If he waits around while she lives her feminism, he will be suffering a degree of self-abnegation that will ultimately make him bad husband material. 


Sam L. said...

She is so arrogant, or ignorant, that she thinks a "good catch" won't get caught or just up and leave before she herself is ready for him. Blinded by the dogma. Or trying desperately to convince herself, or, more likely, other young women.

Dennis said...

Since unhappiness seems to be extent one might be reminded of the old adage: "Misery loves company."

J.R. said...

There are definitely strains of feminism taking hold that lead to arrogant, anxious, and unhappy women. Why young women feel the need to march down the feminist path despite all the empty feelings is a mystery to me. This experiment in human nature will eventually lead back to basic biology beating out dogma (I hope). Bottom line, men and women are not fully interchangeable. It'd really be nice if feminists starting playing to their strengths rather than angrily clinging to a false precept. Like you said Stuart, " hominem arguments are the first recourse of the feeble minded." Well said.

Anonymous said...

Monogamy is not necessary for bilogicial reproduction. The majority of species reproduce without monogamy and form no moral judgments about the relationships we humans call "marriage."

Opinions about marriage arise in the experience of each person. Thus the source of these opinions is in fact an ad hominem process.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

If I recall correctly, all human communities have marriage. I refer to Claude-Levi Strauss: The Elementary Structures of Kinship. If marriage is a universal human institution, it does not make a lot of sense to say that each individual can see it as he pleases.

JP said...

"Monogamy is not necessary for bilogicial reproduction. The majority of species reproduce without monogamy and form no moral judgments about the relationships we humans call "marriage."

Opinions about marriage arise in the experience of each person. Thus the source of these opinions is in fact an ad hominem process."

Here's the deal about humans.

We're human because of childhood.

And if you want a child, the best way to develop that child is through a mother-father-child unit, so to speak.

So, I suppose you could say that opinions about raising children also arise from the underlying reality.

David Foster said...

This may vary depending on the specific career field, but often, it will be easier to take time off for kids when younger and hence in a lower-level position.

If you're a sales rep in the San Diego branch, then it will probably be fairly easy for accounts to be reassigned while you're gone, and if you want to come back 3 years later, then if you were any good, people will remember it and welcome you back happily. If you're the San Diego Branch Manager, there's no realistic way your job can be held open for 3 years, nor is it fair to ask someone else to do it and then step aside when you come back.

Anonymous said...

Monogamy is a descriptive term applied to human and nonhuman biology. Marriage may exist in every human culture as a social ritual and actual or deceptive expression of monogamy over time. So far marriage is descriptive and one cannot say exactly what it means using descriptive language.

Most of your essays evoke normative language or judgment. The presence of normative language is a clue that the debate is driven by ad hominem differences of opinion or by differences in personal moral judgment.

See here:

Black Elk said, "Great Spirit! Look upon these children with children in our arms and smiling, and help us walk the good path to the day of quiet!"

I agree moral judgment begins in childhood and ideas about marriage have their roots in personal feelings about social interactions.

Veronica said...

I don't think you can argue that Susan Patton's argument was empirically right or wrong since she is really advocating that women adopt certain priorities. Sure, IF having a biological kid is THE most important priority, it makes sense for a young woman to make marriage an overarching goal of her life, even at the expense of other things she may care about - although even then, it is going to be tough for a Princeton undergraduate of either sex to lock down a marriage engagement because people in that demographic simply do not entertain the notion of marriage at that age.

But the real issue is that most women care about a number of other things in addition to having children. Given that the vast majority of women who want children manage to do so, it makes sense to focus on things like having a happy and stable relationship, a fulfilling career, and position of social equality with men. Getting married at a young age just for the sake of getting married hardly seems like a recipe for achieving happiness and success.

In any case, Patton seems more interested in expressing hostility towards young women than in actually providing sound advice, as is apparent by her needling question that maybe these female college students should have been nicer to the men in their freshmen class now that they are old crones at 22. Young women are the only ones expected to dutifully lap up "advice" fom columnists who insult them by implying that they are all jerks.

n.n said...


The reason monogamy is the de facto standard in human relationships is because raising a human child to be both physically, mentally, and emotionally fit requires a greater investment than for any other form of life. This necessarily requires a rare, but not unique, commitment between the mother and father of the child.


A "biological kid" is demanded by biological imperatives, and required for evolutionary fitness. The priorities of men and women should ideally be directed to ensure a healthy succeeding generation who are capable of normal function.

When women choose to delay procreation, they will suffer increased risk during reproduction, and will increase the risk that their child suffer from mental and physical defects.

Another problem with delaying procreation is that women will continue to have sex, and the likelihood is that they will becoming pregnant. In America, around one million children annually are prematurely terminated (i.e. elective abortion) in order to preserve the wealth and welfare of the mother and/or father. This is a gross violation of basic human and civil rights. It is the principal cause of childhood mortality. It is also a cause for a general devaluation of human life.

In any case, women can choose to not procreate, but it is irresponsible to normalize that behavior. And it is immoral to practice birth control through abortion of a developing human life without cause and without due process. At least in America. Other societies may have lower standards for the value of a human life.

Anonymous said...


I agree that a child desires to know both a mother and a father. However this is not a biological condition precedent to the emergence of cognitive abilities. Parenting can be provided by adults who are not biological mother or father. In fact, an abusive biological parent can do more harm than a loving non-biological parent.

There are compelling arguments for marriage as a means to minimize social unrest and perhaps optimize efforts to raise children. But one is not necessarily being objective in making such arguments, one is making an ethical (moral) argument to justify one's judgment on the matter.

Sam L. said...

Veronica, I disagree with your last para, because I don't see her expressing hostility.

Dennis said...

Sam L,
I agree. Veronica, it would seem to me, exhibits far more hostility in any case. Sound advice should include the positives and negatives of the decisions that one would have to deal with in deciding how to live life.
Hostility must mean to some people any idea that I do not agree with at the time. When one is predisposed to call a child a kid, which does seem to contain a lot of hostility, then one might be lead to believe that there is another agenda or justification taking place.

Veronica said...

Oh, this is really interesting on the "hostility" angle. My objection was that Ms. Patton expressed hostility towards a specific group of people (college women) and I actually explaimed precisely how she did so. Specifically, she chided Princeton for not having been nicer to the guys in their freshman class. When someone assumes out of hand that an entire group of people were jerks to their classmates, I think it is fair to conclude that person is hostile to that group. While her patent dislike for young women may not have a bearing on whether she is "right" about what is best for their welfare, it is certainly a good reason to view what she says on the topic with a healthy view of skepticism.

As for my own alleged "hostility" (as alleged by Dennis), I can't see any reason to infer that from what I wrote, which I believe was a fairly measured and substantive critique of Pattom's words. If I understand Dennis right, he is saying that I'm hostile because I used the term "kid." But how is this common colloquialism hostile and to whom is it hostile? Children themselves? Are you saying I am hostile to children because I used the word "kid" and because I suggested that childbearing need not be a woman's only priority in life? I think this a thin reed on which to base your claim, Dennis. It is also beside the point. I'm not giving advice to children while at the same time insulting them out of the other corner of my mouth, which is what Pattom is doing to the young women she is addressing.

Veronica said...

Hi NN,

I think you are addressing a non-existent problem. Even if a group of Princeton women delay childbearing, the human race is in no danger whatsoever of dying out. We've been an extraordinary evolutionary success story. Moreover, the vast majority of women, including those who go to places like Princeton actually do have children. Not only that, the vast vast majority of these children, including those born to women over 40, are healthy. So it doesn't make sense for a Princeton woman, with the world at her feet, to rush into marriage just for the sake of getting married to guard against the off-chance that she might run out of time to have her own biological child.

There are a lot of variables that go into these very personal decisions. Ms. Pattom's advocacy of a one size fits all solution to the path of a woman's life seems unhelpful,

Also, women continue having sex even if they have children at a young age. Often women who get abortions already have children. A wedding ring and young motherhood do nothing to protect a woman against unwanted pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

This whole argument and "national debate" is absurd, and the only reason it is occurring at all is because of the economy.

Unemployment still sucks, and the underlying, tacit drive to all this ridiculous debate is, "If only women would go back to the home, and leave the jobs to men." That's what this is all about.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The problem with the unemployment argument is that many of the new jobs are being filled by women because men don' want them. And many of the jobs that might be more suited to men, the ones in engineering and mining and agriculture... men are not qualified to do.

I'm enjoying the discussion... thanks to all those who are participating.

As for Susan Patton, why not say that for young women today there's a stigma attached to early marriage. Patton, I assume, is trying to remove the stigma to give women a freer choice.

If marriage and children are important to a woman she might consider the advantages of early marriage.

The reality is, that the aging process is not a woman's friend in the mating game.

To say, as Marcotte does, that women should place career first and defer marriage until she is presumably in her 30s distorts reality. Marcotte's statement about a good man waiting until she is ready is rank distortion of the truth.

One must recognize that women like Marcotte take as their primary goal, recruiting feminists. Which may of may not coincide with a woman's best interests.

If career is a woman's primary goal, then she has nothing to worry about.

Of course, the other side of the argument is that a woman who wants a career and a family might do better to have her children when she is younger... this contradicts the feminist message.

Anonymous said...

You are clearly not in the world of unemployment.

It is so bad that only a complete fool would insist that men are turning down jobs "because they don't want them." Ha ha ha!

Yes it is true that plenty of men (and women) are not getting jobs "because they aren't qualified." So? That's the situation. That's what everyone is facing.

It is bad, no matter how you slice it. So bad all this bloviating about women and marriage is nothing but ideological claptrap being dictated by the economic crisis.

Veronica said...

Hi Stuart,

When you say that women like Amanda Marcotte's primary goal is "recruiting feminists," you make it sound so nefarious. But don't ALL of us who put our point of view into writing , whether you or me or Patton or Marcotte, attempt to persuade or "recruit" people to our point of view? Isn't that the whole point of writing an opinion piece in the first place?

I do think that Patton is part of a long tradition of invoking a fear of spinsterhood to discourage women from pursuing other ambitions or from getting too uppity. (Remember the now totally discredited Time Magazine story about how women past a certain age, 35 I think, had a better shot of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married?) These pieces rely heavily on stereotypes without evidence (how easy is it really for an older guy to marry a 25 year old and how many actually want to?) These pieces also devalue women heavily compared to men - implying that we will be lucky to get any guy to want to be with us and we had better snag him fast as we are all hurtling towards becoming disgusting old crones. The idea that these guys are doing us a huge favor by marrying us before our sell-by date doesn't actually make marriage seem at all appealing.

I am quite happy with my own youthful marriage, and would certainly never discourage any woman from pursuing a similar course (nor did I ever experience the supposed stigma on youthful marriage, despite being a northeastern, well-educated, feminist urban type). But I found the idea of young marriage appealing because of my deep seated belief that marriage is about well-suited partners who love and want to support each other throughout life, not as something I had to grab at desperately in order to fulfill a biological imperative. If one wants to make early marriage seem an appealing option for men and women, it might be a better move not to make it sound quite so animalistic and depressing. And to avoid insulting her audience, as Patton did.
(It is amazing to me how young women are exhorted to take advice from older commenters who crap on them.)

Sam L. said...

See this from Emily Esfahani Smith

Dennis said...


I was saying you were hostile because you attributed hostility to Patton when none was apparent. Stating one's position is not hostility and to infer that under the guise of critical thinking, is intellectually dishonest.
If one wants respect for their opinion then one needs to give respect for other's opinions.
I am saying the use of kid in the context that you used it demonstrated hostility where none should have been required nor was any other word but children required. Please do not try to play word games because it does not become you.
You don't see the hostility because you don't want to see it as denoted by the hostility underlying your remarks about the "men" in your comments.
I always love the need to present "bonafides" to justify an an underlying hostility.
I await eagerly to hear that I hate women and am hostile to them because I might have the temerity to challenge some things.

Dennis said...

Sam L,

As usual a good article and right on point. people have a right to make choices, but they should be made with as much information as possible. The need by feminists to try to destroy any person who does not agree with their dictates about how women should lead their lives will eventually destroy them. If one is pro choice then one would respect the choices of those who choose to live in the manner they see fit to live and prosper.
When one wants respect they have to give it. It one wants courtesy then one has to give it. I could go through a whole litany of just common ideas that demonstrate show respect for other, something feminists do not do, but you get my point. Much of the hostility we have driving most of our society comes from this and the desire to destroy anyone who might disagree with you.
The underpinning of a dictatorial government is that hostility.

Veronica said...

But Dennis, you haven't addressed a word I said. To pretend that I said Patton was "hostile" towards young woman simply because she expressed a viewpoint with which I disagree is to substitute the caricature of irrational feminists you harbor in your mind in place of the actual feminist with whom you are speaking. The reason I ascribe hostility to Patton is that she accused young Princeton women across the board of failing to be nice to the freshman men in their class. How, Dennis, is it not hostility towards a particular group to ascribe rude conduct to them across the board?

While we are at it, we should talk about different kinds of hostility. Am I hostile? Sure - like probably everyone on the planet, I am hostile towards ideas that are repugnant to my values. There is nothing wrong with that. I get the sense that you and Mr. Schneiderman are hostile towards at least some aspects of feminism or what you presume feminism to entail, and I am certainly hostile to many of the ideas I have seen expressed on this site. But there is a difference between hostility towards an idea and hostility towards a group of people. So I don't mind copping to being hostile to anti-feminist thought (just as you are hostile to feminist thought), but I do object to the accusation that I am hostile to children merely because I used the word "kid."

Of course, hostility towards ideas CAN translate into hostility towards certain groups of people. For example, I am hostile towards anti-Semitic people because of the idea they espouse (I.e. hatred of me and people I love). Issues surrounding feminism can get equally personal, but it depends! See the distinction, though, Dennis? These aren't "word games" but substantive categories.

Veronica said...

Dennis, you also say this:

"The need by feminists to try to destroy any person who does not agree with their dictates about how women should lead their lives will eventually destroy them."

How exactly have feminists tried to "destroy" Susan Patton? By disagreeing with her vigorously? By ridiculing her piece? Gee, social conservatives NEVER do that to feminists. (Sorry for the sarcasm, but it's a rhetorical device to make my point.). Look, in a free society, people are going to have vigorous disagreements but somehow when we feminists participate, folks like you accuse us of trying to "destroy." Who knew our words were so powerful? And why is it only a problem (and, for the record, I don't think it is a problem) when we do it?

I can also assure you that, as a lifelong woman, I have never encountered these supposed feminist "dictates" of how I am supposed to live my life. I even did the Susan Patton thing and married young without hearing a peep of opposition from any of the many feminists in my life. Yet social conservatives, religious leaders, and the GOP have been hectoring me all my life about life choices from whether to hook up in college(that would be a no, those folks told me), the extent to which I should try to control my fertility ( mostly another no, once married), whether to marry, what sex to marry, whether to have babies (that would be a yes, do it and do it now, they said), who should primarily be responsible for household and child care (that would be me, according to them) and on and on. I think when social conservatives accuse feminists of "dictating" things to women, that's a pretty severe case of projection.

That said, of course, feminists are going to point out that some choices are more feminist than others. To give an obvious example, it is quite reasonable to point out that the religious practice of vowing submission to one's husband is antithetical to the goals of feminism. But at least in the U.S., unlike social conservatives, we don't try to force women into compliance through anti-choice legislation or through the hectoring of religious authorities.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm surprised that you missed out on the idea that women are supposed to postpone marriage and children in favor of career.

The idea has been around for decades now. I have called it a life plan because that's what it is.

I have presented quite a lot of evidence for it on this blog.

I cannot speak for individual cases and do not want to speak about anyone personal decisions.

Clearly, from the time of Betty Friedan, feminists have disparaged the role of wife, and especially the role of housewife. They have insisted that young women not marry before they have fully established themselves in their careers. Obviously, some women have not followed these rules, but if the average age of marriage has jumped into the late 20s, it's not an accident.

I have quoted a number of sources to the effect that women who want to marry young are actively dissuaded, by friends and family. I will not go into methods, but I do not believe that, in the current regime, they really have a free choice.

If they did, then the Patton article would never have provoked the sound and the fury that it did.

Veronica said...

I don't think it is quite as simple as that. Of course, we feminists hate what Patton said and agree with Friedan's disparagement of the role of wife as conceived in the mid-20th century (a very different thing, please note, than the disparagement of the wives themselves). That's not the same thing at all as "dictating" to young women not to marry young. First of all, Patton's view is loathed because she is advising Princeton women across the board to marry ASAP on the extremely dubious grounds that they may be getting too old to be attractive at 22 and won't have another comparable chance after graduation. I married young and happily so, yet totally disclaim and reject every word Patton uttered in her open letter; it can't be because I think no woman should marry young. Second, the role of "wife" has changed and, I hope, is still changing from what it was in the time and place Friedan wrote about 50 years ago.

Of course, I suppose you are quite right that feminists have certain values about what sex roles should look like. Otherwise, we would be traditionalists with different values or blobs with no opinion, not feminists. So to give you your due, I will concede that if I had chosen to enter a traditional housewife-breadwinner arrangement certainly my friends and family would have said, "Ummm, are you sure this is such a good idea?" And it certainly would have been contrary to the mores of my time and place. But that is true of any value system that gains wide support. Just try being a guy in mid-20th century America, or even today, who decides to take on the homemaker role while his wife earns a paycheck - I think traditionalists would have "dictated" something quite different for him. And not only would they have disapproved, they would have relied on religious teachings and even at times in U.S. history, legislation to actively discourage his choice.

I do agree with you that the upward age of marriage is largely the result of the widespread acceptance of feminist values. But it is not quite as simple as feminists "dictating" certain behaviors, like priests from a pulpit. A lot of it has to do with the fact that, with women earning their own bread, marriage does not hold the same economic necessity for women as it did in the past. It also has to do with the sexual revolution and the fact that couples no longer feel the need to marry so they can do IT. So women, and, men too, can afford to wait, be a little choosy, and prioritize other things - or choose not to marry at all - because marriage is no longer necessary for economic security or the chance to have sex. So, yes, feminism (and the sexual revolution) have driven up the age of marriage, but not in the sense of "dictating" things to women, any more than any other cultural norm exhibits a pressure on behavior.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to this. What I find interesting is that Miss Marcotte, who is an atheist and a skpetic, can quickly and easily divine the author's "true" motives and what her children are allegedly thinking without any evidence.


Dimitri Cavalli
Bronx, NY