Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why Women Shouldn't Marry by Cynthia S. and Hillary B. Smith

Why Women Shouldn't Marry: Being Single by Choice by Cynthia S. Smith & Hillary B. Smith
Copyright 2008 (updated from the 1988 edition)
Barricade Books/Nonfiction
214 pages

This particular book is obviously an odd choice for me, a woman who has been married for 26 years. I read it out of curiosity, more than for any other reason. The title implies that women should never marry, that staying single is the best option. But, the authors explain the title away:

When the first version of this book came out and was discussed on TV and radio shows, the inevitable interviewer-to-author question was: "Don't you believe in marriage? Your book tells women not to marry!"

The answer was: "This book does not tell women not to marry--but not to marry for the wrong reasons." [p. 22]

Occasionally, they do toss in a comment that supports that statement. But, in general, I found that the book discourages women from marriage, instead encouraging single women to give in to their paranoia about the little piece of paper that ties a man and a woman together legally. Some of the anecdotes are more than a little bit odd:

Vera was drawn to having affairs with married men because in doing so, she was only confirming her lack of respect for all men. In her view, their willingness to break nuptial vows only proved how untrustworthy, weak, and immoral they were.

She pointed out that she had never seen any happy marriages in her own family. Her aunt had married twice, both marriages ending badly. Her sister married a man twenty-five years her senior and was still together with him although Vera could not understand why. [p. 57]

Wait a minute! Just because Vera doesn't understand her sister's relationship doesn't mean it's automatically an unhappy relationship, does it? There are no actual supporting statements to that effect -- no quotes of angst from the sister. And, Vera has no respect for men or herself if she's the kind of person who chooses only to get involved with married men -- men who are both willing to break a vow and unavailable for permanent commitment. Immorality, in this case, is a two-way street. Are the authors saying it's better to have a series of flings than to marry a stable partner? If so, why? Is Vera happy or is she just an extremely confused woman? And, how about this woman:

She had a father who was never "there for us" and a mother who accepted the deprivation as women historically have done. She saw the marital male hierarchy of the dominant father and the subordinate wife, and the injustices imposed, and she feared that being married would make her view herself as one of those pathetic subservient wretches and would destroy her love for Paul and his for her.

"I meet women who think marriage gives them stability and reliability. I see it as doing just the opposite to me. It would make me shaky because I would lose confidence in myself and my own ability to make decisions." [p. 68]

That's interesting, but I think the quote reflects a particular woman's fears. I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I would advise her not to allow her fears to guide her. Confidence, self-assurance, ability to make decisions after weighing differing opinions . . . these things come from inside a person. Strength of character is always a positive. Marriage has not eroded my ability to make a decision, not one bit. I'm perfectly capable of making decisions and expressing myself. This comment, however, makes sense to me:

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of loneliness is "Dejected by the awareness of being alone." Thus it is a condition that is not a fact, but merely a personal reaction to the situation of singleness. It's not the presence of people that prevents loneliness; it's the presence of a sense of self-adequacy. [p. 75]

It's certainly true that you can be lonely in a crowd. Marriage does not guarantee the absence of loneliness in any woman's life.

If the objective of the book is to encourage women to make certain they enter into marriage vows for the right reasons or to teach women how to enjoy their decision to remain single, I believe the authors have fallen far short of the goal. Instead, they perpetuate the myth that a married woman must be, in some sense, subserviant or lacking in character.

Here, we get back into the bitter category:

After you've cooled down, had your drink and dinner, and feel like talking, that's when you get on the phone and chat with friends to your heart's content, without annoying interruptions demanding how much longer you intend to blab and snide allusions to the motormouth propensities of women. [p. 77]

I read the above quote to my husband, who has never made a snide remark about my talkative nature. If anything, he seems to find me entertaining. Hubby reminded me of one of his co-workers. She is an incredibly effervescent, chatty woman with a magnetic personality. And, her husband likes her that way.

"When we eat dinner together, he sits quietly. He's relaxed and happy. I can't imagine that he's ever said anything snide about the way she talks. He married her because he loves her personality."

Chapter 14 consists of a series of letters thanking the authors for helping them to understand and justify their life choices, so obviously this book has helped some women to feel better about their choice to remain single. I think one of the joys of our current time period is that women do have options. It's no longer consided unacceptable for a woman to remain single or, if married, childless. But, there are far too many angry, sad, neurotic women described in Why Women Shouldn't Marry. I was personally disappointed that the book was less objective than I'd hoped. Women of all ages do still struggle with lifetime decisions, and I believe that all women must support each other in positive ways rather than focusing on the negatives. Both marriage and the choice to remain single have their ups and downs.

Now, just ask some of my buddies about how I babble on about my husband's flaws. Okay, yes, I'm probably not the right one to speak. Here's an excellent statement from the book:

If you meet the man you see yourself spending your life with--go for it. It is up to you and you alone. It may or may not end up a mistake--there are no guarantees in life--but it will be your mistake. Remember, what we are saying is women should never marry for the wrong reasons, and therefore you should examine your motivations before you leap! [p. 83]

Absolutely. While I wouldn't highly recommend this book because I think there are far too many negative stories -- and the pitfalls of living without the legal benefits of marriage are not mentioned at all -- I wouldn't recommend against reading it, either. If it helps any woman feel better about her choice to remain single, I'm all for it. But, I didn't find it very objective, myself.

Coming up next: A review of When Twilight Burns. Had to toss this one in first, as I'd forgotten to put it on the "to be reviewed" pile and wanted to stick with the order in which I finished reading.


  1. Anonymous6:21 PM

    That's ridiculous. You should never marry because men will disappoint you and historically men were considered superior?

    I'm reasonably certain that even during the Dark Ages when men did have the law and religion on their side, there were some women that ruled the roost.

  2. Carrie,

    Yeah, men. Sleazeballs, one and all, apparently. Although, you should definitely marry if you feel like it, for the right reasons . . . and just be aware that it might be a terrible mistake. Gah.

    This is why we're fast friends. You are quite simply the voice of reason in a bizarro world. LOL

  3. I think I would have a difficult time readings this book objectively. I don't like how the word *mistake* kept creeping up in the quotes that you provided. I do think, however, that women shouldn't get married quite so young. Perhaps the better you know yourself that better a decision you can make about your life partner, but what do I know? :) Did you find the book to be preachy?

  4. What--no moderation letters to type in??? :D

  5. Trish,

    I tried to read the book objectively but the negative quotes really did jump out at me. It appeared that their focus was not on marrying for the right reasons (if so, they should have said something about the importance of communication) or learning to live with your self, if you choose to be alone, but on reasons marriage doesn't work for some people or that some women choose not to marry -- and most of those were neurotic reasons.

    I wouldn't call it "preachy", but I did consider it a little bit angry and bitter toward men, in general. They seem to advocate living with a man so that you don't have to get a divorce if it doesn't work out. Seems like a cop-out to me. But, again . . . I chose marriage.

    Oh, yes, I discovered I could moderate without making people type in the letters. I'd forgotten I changed that! :)

  6. Anonymous4:53 PM

    Is this author the same Hilliary who plays on One Life to Live? In any case, I choose marriage too, but only if it's with the right man.

  7. Hillaryfan,

    The book doesn't say anything about One Life to Live, so I'd guess the answer is "no", but I don't know for sure. Yep, the right man is kind of important. ;)

  8. Your review and quotes provided reminded me strongly of that Dr Laura Schlessinger book I read- pure curiosity- The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands- which had the opposite stance- (that a woman should do everything to make her husband happy and unhappy marriages were all her fault; at least that's the impression I got)- but a very similar tone. Funny.

  9. Jeane,

    I haven't read a Dr. Laura book, yet, but that's kind of funny in a horrible way. I think the big thing that's missing from a lot of this type of self-help book (I guess that's what they are) is the concept of balance. Marriage involves a whole lot of give and take on both sides.

  10. Books like this one are the reason why I won't refer to myself as a "woman's libber". I've come to hate the title because of the women who've fronted the movement. The ones like the author of this book and like the college professor who said sex is rape, even if a woman consents and especially if a woman is married...

    And I'm a woman who has been out on the front lines, fighting for equality. I was the first female police officer in a three county area when I started in this line of work. But, I am not a 'women's libber'. Never.

    And man, I miss a day or two and you posted 15,000 times!!


  11. CJ,

    The great thing is that women have forged on and are now earning more than men, in some places (not everywhere in our country, but there's been definitely progress), in spite of the fact that some of those women's libbers probably did a bit more harm than good.

    Oh, coolness. Good for you, CJ! It's women who say, "I'm going to do what I love and nobody is going to stop me from being fulfilled," like you, who really helped to forge the path to true equity for all.

    Oopsy on the posting. I've been posting in spurts, lately, because I'm finding I accomplish more of my non-blog tasks if I just set aside a time to play catch-up. The good news is that the posts sit there a little longer, so there's usually no hurry to read everything at once. :)

  12. Bookfool -

    That's exactly it. I decide way back when I was in 6th grade (1969/70?) that I wanted to be a police officer. I was very lucky in one way - my parents never once discouraged me, never said don't be foolish, women aren't cops. They weren't back then, of course. They just made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to do. So far, I've done pretty well for myself.

    And my comment about the posts was more about how I've been too... whatever to keep up over that last few days.


  13. CJ,

    You had great parents. :)

    Yep, I've noticed some people post in spurts, some post every day and some just show up when they feel like it. Whatever works, right?


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