This is an epic misread of the timeline stresses that plague educated women in their twenties. Are we supposed to believe that the solution to a biological double-standard is a sexual double-standard? That women who want it all later in life must spend their youth prim and sexless, waiting for men to prove that they’ve got themselves together both professionally and emotionally? There’s one little problem: We like sex. None of us are going back to a world in which we only put out once he’s put a (promise/engagement/wedding) ring on it.
Douthat gets women’s motivations all wrong. Most of us aren’t scrambling to lock down boyfriends by age 25 — we’re busy building our careers. These days college women tell reporters that they prefer hookups because being coupled up too young interferes with your professional trajectory. Early marriage is good for men, who do better at work and report higher satisfaction if they get hitched in their mid-twenties. That isn’t the case for women, who earn more if they marry later and for whom marital status plays a smaller role in determining their happiness. There’s a reason many women put “marriage/first kid” in the early thirties section of their timeline: They know they’ll need their twenties to maximize their career prospects and self-exploration because there’s a good chance that after they have kids, these things will fall by the wayside.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Times op-ed section needs cultural criticism from someone who believes that “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” is a profound insight. Perhaps it could also hire a liberal critic who could actually explain why reactionary gender analysis is wrong. Someone like, er, Ann Friedman, who could write serious stuff about these subjects?