This is the question I asked last week in Relief Society. It didn’t start a huge fight, but only because I’d already started one, by pointing out that I could change my own tires and would rather find a husband who could get the baby back to sleep. (Or, depending whom you ask, someone else started it even before that, by suggesting that women demand their husbands change the tires, and that they [wives] be sure to force them [husbands] to preside. I don’t even know, guys. Yeesh.) But, in any case, gasoline on a match, dead-Mercutio on a family feud, whatevs. At least no one was bored during third hour.
I stand by it, though: Not as a rhetorical question, but as a real one we should actually know how to answer. What do I need a man for? (Note that emphasizing the verb or the preposition makes this into not a rhetorical question being dismissive of the value of men, and I emphasized both when I asked it.)
The teacher (to whom I did apologize later, because really, no one deserves to have me feeling antsy in their RS class, even if they’re wrong about everything) had just explained that while she wants her daughters to be smart and strong and independent, she doesn’t want them to be “so independent that they don’t need a man.” I find this appalling, because what if, in spite of all her hopes and dreams for her daughters, one of them ends up without a man? That seems like an awkward position to be in: to have carefully cultivated a need which remains unfulfilled, meaning that you are, unless you un-cultivate that need, stuck being needy. Worked all those years to need a man, and now you don’t even have one? Also, I’m not totally sure I like the model of relationship this sets up: So Gwyneth marries Billy, but she might as well have married Herbert or Carlton, because she really just needed A Man, not any man in particular. (Yeah, that’s a reductio, but do you want that to be the reductio living at the core of your marriage?)
(It also occurs to me that something like this attitude is also hiding out behind that quote I hate. Hrmmph.)
Here’s the thing: I don’t need a man. Now, you might be thinking, Yep, Melyngoch, and that’s why you don’t have one! Maybe, but I’m optimistic for the future, despite the grim statistics, and my failure to be properly needy. I can take care of myself pretty well, and when I need help, I have friends and family who can and are willing to step in. (Full confession: I actually didn’t change my last tire, because the lugnuts were on too tight. I need to lift more weights, and make sure they don’t machine-spin my lugnuts on in the future. Happily, I have friends with tools, which are the best kind of friends.) If I never find a man, I’ll be sometimes sad and lonely about it, but I’ll also be fine, and I’ll do lots of cool stuff with friends who are also man-less. (Or even those who are en-man-ed. Crazy talk, but sometimes married people like to have fun too.)
I don’t need a man, but I do want one. And I don’t need A Man, but I do need people, in general — I may be pretty independent, but I absolutely couldn’t get by without those friends and family. I want a man because I want someone to hang out with, go on road trips with, watch terrible movies with, lean on when things suck, be lean-on-able when things suck for him, and generally make a companionable life with. (Oh, and cause I want to have lots of sex. I’m pretty tired of not having lots of sex.) I want a man because if relationships are (as I believe) what makes life meaningful, than a super-close relationship like a marriage seems like it would be extra-meaningful. (I speak from the experience of having only dated, not married, any men, so I’m open to being wrong about this.)
Let’s just be cautious of reducing husbands to a temporal necessity, i.e., that they’re useful because they make money, and they tend to have more upper body strength than women. For one thing, if this is all the benefit there is to marriage, then the panicked family-values backlash has it right — feminism will absolutely make marriage less appealing, because women can make their own money, and then hire people with upper body strength to do the grunt work. For another, this is just as offensive as reducing women to their child-bearing capacity and supposed uber-spiritual-nurturing-bletch-bletch-sweetness. Men with not-so-much upper body strength who choose low-earning careers they’re passionate about deserve love too! (Really good high school teachers are a rare necessity, and also hot!) Men are individual people, not just a paycheck and a penis, and I think they want to be loved and appreciated personally, not just for their earning potential and triceps.
But most of all, if we really see marriage as The Relationship that we’re all striving to get into, make work, and maintain forever, then that relationship is already justified; our theology (at least as it’s construed post-polygamy) makes marraige self-justifying. We don’t need to justify it by carefully making sure that we absolutely can’t get by without it, we don’t need to be worried about being too self-sufficient so that we accidentally forget to need it, and we certainly, certainly don’t have to limit ourselves as individuals in order to artificially make marriage into a necessity.
Next time on Arrested Development: Melyngoch inadvertently learns the thing that tips her into critical mass, finally educating herself out of a husband.