Yesterday a friend of mine came across an article in The Huffington Post entitled “Getting Married Is Not An Accomplishment.” The article is not too terribly long and does not break new ground the pop-feminism world, so if you haven’t eaten recently, you might want to go ahead and read the whole thing. But if you don’t want to – and who could blame you? – I’ll provide the most relevant excerpt:
My frustration is this: It is 2016 and being popped the question is still more celebrated than academic and professional pursuits of women. Yes, college graduations and landing a great career and receiving wonderful promotions are all received with happiness from friends and family, but not even close to the same level of elation received when you announce that you are getting hitched. This is my experience, at least.
I am so grateful for the excitement surrounding my upcoming marriage, however, I often wonder why the event of getting married is put on a higher pedestal than the true successes that come along with an education and career.
Truthfully, this kind of article is easy to obliterate because it is both predictable and poorly reasoned. I don’t believe in punching down, but there are a few points that I think I’d like to make about this article, points that may slip through the cracks for most readers.
The first couple of points I’d like to make are obvious, but important enough that they deserve being articulated.
The number one thing is this: The author is simply wrong. Marriage is a much greater accomplishment than having some success at work. Marriage is a lifelong project that requires a level of patience, growth, and commitment to personal growth that many people simply do not possess. I won’t say it’s hard to be married, but I will say that when you’re having a bad day at work, you can still go home at the end of the day, and if things really start to suck, you can get an even better job if you leverage your past successes. In marriage, there is nowhere to go other than back to the marriage to try to make it better; and if you, sadly, find yourself having to leave a marriage, you always end up worse-off than you were before, definitely in the short run and quite possibly in the long run. Compared to work or school, the stakes are much higher in marriage, the time horizon is much, much longer, the effort is greater, and the rewards are much more deeply satisfying – not just according to me, but according to happiness research. To suggest that getting a promotion at work – even a really big promotion and a nice raise – is a greater accomplishment than marriage is, well… insane.
The other obvious point that goes along with this one is that many, many people in the world aren’t lucky enough to get married, ever. A great many more people are lucky to have been married, but sadly haven’t ended up in a successful marriage. Still more people had wonderful marriages that were destroyed through acts of god or circumstance. In short, the author is quite fortunate – or, to use the language du jour, privileged – to be getting married. Her article and her perspective is warped by her good fortune; she is oblivious to the plight of the many people who aren’t so lucky as to be getting married. This makes her article seem cavalier.
The Less Obvious
By the time I had finished the article, I had recalled an old blog post that dispenses with most of the arguments made in this one. You can find it here, and do read the whole thing, because it’s excellent.
The knee-jerk reaction to an article like this, the one that The Huffington Post is counting on, is that we all sit around and pat each other on the back for knowing that a woman’s worth is more than her ability to attach herself to a man. And while we were all patting ourselves on the back for thinking this, the author sprung this little doozy on us:
I can’t blame anyone for being more curious about my relationship status than my career, as I too have been guilty of doing the same with other woman. After all, we are all taught through expertly crafted commercials and advertisements that it is of utmost importance for a woman to get a ring put on her finger.
Perhaps it’s time for society as a whole to re-evaluate what aspect of women’s lives we put the most value on.
There are two very important things to point out about this passage. The first is that the author has the audacity to suggest that advertisers are partially responsible for our having been brainwashed into thinking that marriage is an accomplishment when her own article is a piece of advertising for the Chevrolet automobile company:
That’s bad enough, but there’s something else going on here that strikes me as being incredibly odd. Let’s suppose that the author is correct, that having a successful career is a greater accomplishment than marriage. If the author has a successful career – and she sure seems to, because they aren’t printing my articles in The Huffington Post, then why does it matter to her what society thinks about that?
Stay with me here. This woman has a marriage, and a successful career, so she’s got it both ways. She’s not satisfied by those things, however, because people don’t ask her about the biggest accomplishments she’s had. In other words, her successes aren’t satisfying to her because nobody is asking her the right questions. She’s seeking external validation for her accomplishments. Without it, she doesn’t feel that they are accomplishments.
Let’s say that, instead of having a great career, the author’s biggest accomplishment was learning how to play “Leyenda” for classical guitar. Would she then be arguing that society needs to change so that “we” value classical guitar performances more than marriage? No, of course not – but the point isn’t that not all accomplishments are created equal, the point is that what society chooses to ask you about in casual conversation has nothing to do with how satisfied you feel by having achieved something. It doesn’t really matter that nobody ever talks to me about my accomplishments because, to the extent that I have achieved anything at all, those achievements stand on their own merits. I know I did them, whatever they are. I’m not waiting for people to pat me on the back for having achieved something, and if I did need that, how insecure must I be about those accomplishments?