Three years later, Maureen Dowd blamed her own single life on her career success. In her 2005 book Are Men Necessary?, Dowd told readers that she came from a family of Irish maids and housekeepers. Now in her 50s, she has achieved more than her great-aunts and grandmothers would have dreamed: She was one of the first women to have a regular opinion column in America's newspaper of record, she's written several best-selling books, and she has won the highest award in journalism. Writes Dowd, "I was always so proud of achieving more -- succeeding in a high-powered career that would have been closed to my great-aunts. How odd, then, to find out now that being a maid would have enhanced my chances with men."
These two books have had a profound effect on the way young, career-oriented women perceive their relationships.
Carolyn, 36, had recently ended a four-year relationship when the bad news books and articles began to garner large-scale media attention. She was getting anxious. "Should I be a little quieter? Should I listen more? Should I flatter more? Should I postpone talking about my stuff, should I put it off until he likes me for my personality? Should I laugh more? It feels fake, like a game, but I'm not sure what these studies are telling me to do."
Among single women in their 20s and 30s, the topics of marriage, career, and life balance are at center stage. Jill, Kim, Angela, and Star are members of a women's book club, and these bad news headlines were Topic #1 at a recent meeting. "I got that Maureen Dowd piece emailed to me by tons of people, including my mom, who wrote a header saying something like, 'According to this, you're never getting married.' Someone in the office emailed me as well. It was just amazing how one single article can have so much resonance," said Jill, 28, who works at a political nonprofit organization. "It was just depressing."
Kim chimed in: "I'm on the cusp of turning 30 and people are always complaining that smart women don't get married. You never hear about the relationships that are going well, the people who have found a great match. Instead, you hear about the single women who want to be married, as if that's the only story." Kim's own observations, however, are different: "It's a misconception that smart women don't get married. It's dated."
Star and Angela agreed that the media are on the wrong track: "The men I've dated like my career ambition," said Star. "They are looking for that. It's what they are most enamored with. And most of them have gotten graduate degrees themselves." But Angela, 31, added, "Getting those degrees delays the process. You tend to focus on school after a while. And that's when [women] freak out."
The deluge of dire findings about these women's chances at love don't help, either. In the years between Sylvia Ann Hewlett's research and Maureen Dowd's best-seller, two depressing studies garnered national attention.
In 2004, researchers at the University of Michigan published a study in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, which, loosely summarized, found that the men in their sample would prefer to marry a woman whom they considered to be a subordinate, rather than a woman they considered to be a superior or a peer.