It is a cycle as predictable as the sun rising and setting: Whenever feminism gains some social traction, the mainstream media reacts by amplifying a bunch of conservative messages about the alleged “dangers” of women having too much independence. In the wake of the post-Dobbs feminist uprising, we’ve been subjected to a deluge of hand-wringing articles about how feminism supposedly ushered in all these social evils, from male loneliness to child poverty. The cure that is invariably implied, if not outright demanded: Women are expected to lower their dating standards and get married, ideally sooner rather than later.
Alas, for those touting the “get married young!” message this past week, things got a little hairy. The GOP’s most famous exemplar of youthful marriage, 36-year-old Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, got caught publicly engaging in what traditionalists call “heavy petting” with her bar-owning date, before getting kicked out of a staging of “Beetlejuice: The Musical.” Initially, Boebert had denied any wrongdoing, saying she was ejected for mere exuberance. Once the video of her vaping and putting her hands in her companion’s crotch came out, however, she released a statement saying, “I simply fell short of my values.”
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Boebert’s “values,” which she enjoys talking about at length, reflect the anti-feminist line for decades: That women should put marriage and childbirth over their own ambitions and desires. Boebert met her husband, Jayson Boebert, when she was 16 and he was 22. He soon impregnated her, and, living her values, Boebert dropped out of high school to get married and have her first son at age 18.
Women are told to lower their standards and treat potential husbands like fixer-uppers who will be made into great, worthy partners if women put in the work.
A bit young by even Republican standards, of course. But Boebert is a perfect example of someone who didn’t wait around to get married. It’s a choice being championed across the media in recent weeks as the panacea for all sorts of social ills, from male loneliness to poverty to existential despair. The drumbeat is truly deafening. “To Be Happy, Marriage Matters More Than Career,” declares a recent headline in a New York Times column where David Brooks complains young people (read: women) want to be established in their careers before marriage. He’s hyping a book by Brad Wilcox titled “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization,” which sounds mostly like a book-length complaint about women holding out for Mr. Right.
“Has the Sexual Revolution Failed?” asked a title of a “debate” hosted by professional concern troll Bari Weiss over the weekend, in which the four women “debating” firmly agreed the answer was yes. There was an effort to pretend women’s happiness was to focal point, but of course, this is really about the plight of men who can’t get a wife when women are allowed choices. That’s why we’re under an onslaught of articles about the “male loneliness epidemic.” The problem is real enough and occasionally the articles address the real cause — toxic masculinity. More typically, these articles are aimed at women, for the purpose of making us feel guilty if we don’t pity-marry some whiny dude in hopes that will prevent him from joining the Proud Boys. A typical example is the recent article by Christine Emba at the Washington Post that put the blame on women being no “longer dependent on marriage as a means to financial security.” She largely avoided suggesting that men might want to consider making themselves attractive instead of relying on women’s desperation.
Then there’s the “do it for the kids” gambit. Not just one but two New York Times articles over the past week hyped the book “The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind” by Melissa Kearney. Alleged liberal Nicholas Kristof swallowed Kearney’s bait, claiming “there is a deep discomfort in liberal circles about acknowledging” that it’s hard to be a single parent. This is, of course, a favorite strawman of conservatives, but the truth is more complicated: Liberals don’t deny that single parenthood is hard — they just oppose “solutions” that trap women in unhappy marriages.
The bad faith underpinning this pressure to marry in haste is not hard to see. There’s simply no evidence that women are turning up their noses to a series of princes. The problem is the dating market is cluttered with frogs. A recent poll commissioned by Teen Vogue makes it clear why: There just aren’t enough eligible men out there. Sixty-four percent of women under 35 label themselves “liberal” or “progressive,” while only 39% of men that age do. Strong majorities of women wisely call it a “red flag” if a date is MAGA or listens to Joe Rogan. That shrinks their dating pool considerably, but the alternative is partnering with someone who doesn’t have even basic respect for women. That would work out for men, of course, but not for women’s safety or happiness. For women, it really is better to be single than with someone who thinks President Pussy Grabber is a great guy.
Boebert, of course, did everything recommended by the concern trolls. She not only put marriage and babies ahead of career but ahead of a high school diploma. She ignored all those red flags, such as “you’re only 16 and he’s 22” and “he got arrested for exposing himself to teenagers at a bowling alley.” Women are told to lower their standards and treat potential husbands like fixer-uppers who will be made into great, worthy partners if women put in the work. Boebert did what she was told and, of course, is now divorced.
It’s gross watching a 36-year-old member of Congress act like a horny teenager, of course. But also, it’s not the biggest surprise. That’s another downside the “just get married” crowd doesn’t want to acknowledge: Robbing people of their youth tends to breed a desire to make up for lost time. There’s a sexist myth that only men want to sow wild oats, but of course, women also have sexual fantasies. One of the best parts about putting off marriage for a time is that you get to make mistakes and have your adventures in your youth, when the stakes are low. Otherwise, as we see, there’s a risk that a 36-year-old grandmother publicly acts out that drunken prom date she didn’t get in high school.
But preventing “Beetlejuice” hand jobs is not the main reason this “get married” bullying is so misguided. It’s because it overlooks the very basic fact that women are people, and not just organic robots put on earth to cater to men. That’s why it’s useful to look away from the pseudo-academic framing given to the marriage discourse in the media, and to the more freewheeling world of TikTok. There you get refreshingly blunt takes from both sides of this debate.
No woman “is gonna ever understand what it’s like to go to sleep with zero matches on your dating profile, zero people telling you that they love you,” complains a young man going by the name of “Birdlaw“.
Of course, the notion that women never feel lonely and rejected is false, but this rant is, at least, more honest about what’s at the center of this discussion: Male entitlement. But that is also what gets in men’s way, as another TikToker named “hope_peddler” argued.
“Men need to change in order for them to be happy,” she explained.” “We women, we cannot fix this for you.”
This debate has been going on for decades, but it’s growing in intensity as abortion bans are spreading across the red states. There’s an audience — and funding — for the argument that it wouldn’t be so bad, strongarming women into committed relationships through forced childbirth. The “get married” crowd wants us to believe that women’s reluctance to marry young is something that a little coercion would overcome, and gosh, we’d all just be better if women stopped resisting. The argument clearly has allure, even to some liberals. After all, we all grew up in a sexist culture that assumes women should be the helpers, even at the cost of their own happiness.
Boebert accidentally timed her “Beetlejuice” ouster well, handing us all a reminder of the messy realities of trying to lock down women before they’re old enough to know better. Because women are people, they tend to chafe under constraints. Marrying someone off before they’ve grown up doesn’t confer maturity and happiness. It often just means they act like an overgrown adolescent when they finally break free.
about Lauren Boebert