“I would not object to marriage if it were not that women throw away every plan and purpose of their own life, to conform to the plans and purposes of the man’s life. I wonder if it is woman’s real, true nature always to abnegate self.”
– Susan B. Anthony, letter, 1888 (as quoted in “Failure is Impossible”, by Lynn Sherr)
I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve been watching this season of “The Bachelor”. Not because I’m enjoying the show, but because it’s like a massive train wreck that I can’t tear my eyes away from.
Am I the only one who sees this show for what it is: a dating game that sets women’s rights back a hundred years?
If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, here’s a recap: Handsome Guy is presented with a group of about two dozen women, all who are vying to become Mrs. Handsome Guy. Handsome Guy whittles the group down by wooing the ladies with outings to exotic locales, fancy dinners and romance, and generally trying to get them all to fall in love with him. Once he’s done that, he picks the one he wants and offers her a proposal of marrige. The women, on the other hand, have convinced themselves the day they meet Handsome Guy that they’re desperately in love with him; they then befriend and betray each other, all with the goal of sticking around to the end and hopefully get the coveted marriage proposal.
It looks very much like emotional prostitution.
This past weekend I went to the Susan B. Anthony house for a tour. Hard to believe I’ve lived here my entire life and never been there. I knew about her, of course, had a vague idea about women’s suffrage and the struggle for the right to vote. What I didn’t really understand was how bad life was for women before the 19th amendment, or the incredible sacrifices women like Anthony made so that women today could enjoy the basic freedoms to vote, own property, participate in civic life, earn an income – and have a say in marriage (or divorce).
In the 19th century, a woman had no choice but marriage if she wanted to have any chance in life. She was limited in her educational opportunities, occupational opportunities, financial opportunities, relegated to the category of “imbeciles”, people deemed unable to care for themselves. She couldn’t divorce without forfeiting her money, property and her children. Her choice in husband was limited to whomever offered, and even then sometimes her spouse was not necessarily the man who made her heart pitter patter.
Generally speaking, she had no say in her own life.
So after my visit to the Susan B. Anthony house, I wondered what she would say about something like “The Bachelor”. I think Susan B. would be heartbroken to see a bunch of women allowing themselves to be cast as the brass ring in a game of marriage, throwing around their emotions and dignity so frivolously, forgetting the work of thousands of women for whom freedom was only a distant dream.
We’ve come a long way baby; why are we so willing to go backward, purely for entertainment’s sake?