By Sarah Olson – Feminism’s over-enthusiastic message has led to crippling debt and plummeting marriage rates among millennials, according to “The Feminist Fixer” Suzanne Venker’s recent essay in the Washington Examiner. A former middle school teacher turned self-proclaimed relationship coach, Venker is determined to convince women they should prioritize marriage and family over a fulfilling career. By obtaining degrees in order to make themselves more marketable, she claims, millennial women now “can’t afford to get married.”
Millennials have an average of $42,000 in debt, but most of it isn’t from student loans. It’s credit cards. If Venker had critiqued consumer culture for pushing instant gratification and unhealthy financial choices on young people, she might have had a point. Instead, her goal is to discredit feminism by blaming it for problems the movement never caused. Although Venker may not want millennial women to be in debt, she clearly doesn’t want them to be financially self-sufficient, either.
The oldest millennials are nearing 40, and at almost 22, I’m among the youngest of the generation. An undergraduate student and feminist writer, I’m also one year into a happy engagement. Venker’s argument is familiar. I grew up in a conservative Christian community which pushed that women should depend on a husband so they can raise children. They believe women must fulfill their “natural” role as mothers and helpers, not breadwinners, to be truly happy.
Instead of recognizing feminists simply want equitable marriages and that millennials have actually brought the divorce rate down, Venker blames the usurping of traditional gender roles for America’s problems. But today, couples are encouraged to share domestic responsibilities, and women have fewer children and more choices than previous generations. Rather than confine women to marriage and motherhood by obligation, these opportunities allow millennial women to pursue what’s right for them.
According to Venker, this is bad news. She writes that millennial women “were told they don’t need a man but learned that they do,” and now they are “too broke and old” to have children. Considering millennials are not even forty and she completely ignores non-heterosexual relationships, this is a little outrageous.
Venker doesn’t provide facts to substantiate her claims, likely because evidence suggests exactly the opposite. This week, a behavioral scientist made headlines for discussing why single women are happier. Studies show there are significant benefits to delaying having children, because older couples are often more secure in their relationship and settled into more stable careers. Women getting married later in life is also an indication of a healthy society.
Her argument millennial women are too broke to get married must assume we plan to spend our country’s average of $30,000 to tie the knot. But millennials made budget weddings trendy – from having a friend officiate to simply eloping, our weddings are not the traditional ceremonies our grandparents had. As my partner and I plan ours, we’re leaning toward something simple and small, and I have the feminist movement to thank for that. Millennial women like myself can get married to whoever we want, whenever we want, however we want. If that means a quick trip to the courthouse or a lavish destination wedding, call me self-obsessed, but I think a wedding should celebrate a couple’s unique relationship and personal preferences.
Weddings aside, for Venker to assume millennial women are pursuing degrees to make themselves more eligible for marriage is simply ignorant. Universities are not finishing schools. My mom wasn’t passionate about getting a degree, and she dropped out after getting married to become a homemaker. Because I don’t want to be a homemaker, finishing my degree and waiting to start a family is important to me. I’m putting myself through school, and since I live with my fiancé, we’re used to sharing chores and supporting each other while we work toward our goals. Women should be able to choose what’s right for them.
Becoming financially dependent on a partner and sacrificing career ambitions to have multiple children, which Venker supports, is a recipe for creating discontent – a problem she conveniently ignores. Today, more stay-at-home moms report sadness and anger than mothers with careers, according to a recent Gallup poll. And we cannot ignore the working mothers who have jobs out of economic necessity, because living comfortably off a single spouse’s income is a privilege.
Feminism isn’t harmful for millennials. If anything, the article in the Washington Examiner is proof we need to defend women’s choices. Millennial women should be able to find fulfillment outside of men and babies without being reprimanded for having those choices. Many want a compromise in which they can marry, raise children in partnership with their spouse, and still achieve their personal goals. The pushback from anti-feminists like Venker reflects nothing more than a fear of white women losing their privileged status as ideal mothers and wives in a domestic cult the conservative, white patriarchy has cultivated.
Venker is right about one thing she said, though. When it comes to the problems millennials face, she just isn’t getting it.
About The Author
Sarah Olson is an undergraduate student at Oregon State University where she is majoring in microbiology. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and reviews popular science books on her blog, readmorescience.com. In addition to advocating for science literacy, Sarah is also a top writer in Feminism on Medium, where she frequently writes about the intersection of science, religion, and feminism. You can connect with her at saraholson.net and on Twitter and Instagram. She lives in Oregon with her fiancé, Matthew.