“So, what do you do anyway?”
I look at him from across the table, considering my response. My reply would be the difference between celebrating Valentines’ Day or Singles Awareness Day next February. The answer to this question was the one thing that would determine this man’s romantic interest in me.
“Oh, I – I’m a lawyer.”
His shoulders hunch visibly. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows hard. The enthusiastic small talk turns into stilted conversation. At the conclusion of our date, the awkward hug is downgraded to a tentative high-five. Next time he will walk past me like he had not seen me. I scared him off with my profession.
Successful women sleep alone
When we discuss dating and marriage the issue of ‘strong’, ‘opinionated’ and ‘ambitious’ women who intimidate men rises to the surface. The stereotype looks like the career-driven, emotionally distant and rigid woman who does not need a man and will not hesitate to remind you of that.
When does this begin?
Our childhood romances seem to confirm it. Girls who loved debating, occupied leadership positions and won multiple awards stirred up boys’ feelings of respect more than they did their hormones. Successful career women believe that their accomplishments, intellect and personalities are the reason why they are single.
Studies of the effects of psychological distance and relative intelligence on men’s attraction to women show that there is some truth to this belief. Men are attracted to more intelligent women from a distance, but once they come into contact with such a woman, there is a decrease in attraction. Researchers attribute this to what they call ‘feelings of diminished masculinity.’
“Such findings, although preliminary, are consistent with research indicating that feelings of confidence and power, which are associated with masculinity, are related to approaching and initiating romantic encounters.”
Success threatens manhood
If men’s interactions with you reveal that you are smarter than them, then they are less likely to be romantically interested in you. For men, this is an issue of status. They defend themselves against women who challenge their status because traditionally they have been encouraged to pursue power and resources. In this context, a woman’s strength, career success and wealth may threaten what they have been taught is their role in the society.
Culture is dynamic
The advice passed out by older women to their younger counterparts at kitchen teas usually takes the tone of: ‘When you get married you must leave being a Chartered Account at work. Be a wife at home.’ The implication is that although women can now do what was only reserved for men in the workplace, they must not take that same mind-set into the home. ‘This is our culture,’ we are told.
On the one hand, this makes sense. A doctor who owns a private practice can unilaterally make decisions about finances, hire and fire at will and run the show as they please. But the same style of leadership that is acceptable at work cannot be exercised at home. Your role as a CEO is not the same as your role as a wife, or even as a mother. There is a difference.
It is not this principle that is a problem; it is the fact that it has only been applied to women. Men have not been held to an equal standard. For men, it has been acceptable to be ‘the boss’ at work and at home. Many an injustice has been committed in the name of culture. In the name of culture, a husband makes unilateral financial choices, even in relation to income that his wife brings in. In the name of culture, a man decides where his family will live without consulting his wife. In the name of culture, women have been subjected to all kinds of abuse because they are viewed as children and not as equals.
“Culture does not make people. People make culture.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The ideal man
If I find a man who is drawn to me as a person then he should see my achievements as a bonus and not a threat. If we ever have children then we should teach them not to place undue emphasis on a man’s wealth or physical strength as marks of masculinity. If culture is the reason why men feel threatened by successful women, then culture is what needs to change.
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