Boy meets subordinate

I’ve lost count of all the chicks on TV who’ve been falling for their bosses in recent years. They can be secretaries, seconds-in-command or servants, but all they really want is to be under a good man. Take it both ways.

In Are Men Necessary?, Maureen O’Dowd mentions a number of movies with the same theme. I don’t even have to describe what goes on, because the titles paint it so clearly: Shopgirl and Maid in Manhattan, to name two. The fantasy, as she puts it, is “the allure of a woman who takes care of your kids without the attendant nagging and demands of a wife”.

And it’s not slow progress: it’s actually a decline from the time when romances between equals – Hepburn and Tracy, Bogart and Bacall, etc. – dominated the screens.

But it’s not just in movies. If the researchers and anecdotal stories Dowd quotes are at all accurate – and they certainly match what I’ve observed in Los Angeles – men will date any woman, but when it comes to settling down, most of them prefer someone less successful, and in particular someone who’s demonstrated it by working under them. Women, conversely, don’t show a preference either way.

Perhaps the most appalling study Dowd quotes is:

A simultaneous report by researchers at four British universities indicated that smart men with demanding jobs would rather have old-fashioned wives, like their mums, than equals. The study found that a high IQ hampers a woman’s change to get married, while it is a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for each 16-point increase in IQ; for woman, there is a 40 percent drop for each 16-point rise.

Remember when moms taught their daughters to giggle, blink stupidly a lot, laugh at all his jokes and say, “Oh, gosh, you’re so clever!” – then, once he’s landed, you can outthink him behind his back to your heart’s content, and the poor stupid creature will never know? Did our culture create male paranoia about female intelligence, or are men so insecure that it’s an evolutionary trait for them to fear smart women?

In either case, we can count on TV to keep perpetuating the divide. Absolutely perfect women will keep taking their rightful place underneath men who are their inferiors in every way except rank or status, and the men who watch and buy into this shit will continue to fear real life women who expect their intelligence to be appreciated and rewarded exactly as much as a man’s.


  1. Ifritah says

    That’s one of the reasons why I loved Who’s The Boss. It was so nice to see a switch where the employee was male and the intelligent (not that Tony wasn’t), middle-class business woman was the boss.

    You know, I never did see the last few episodes of that. I wonder if those crazy kids wound up together after all…

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Good catch – wonder if we can think of any other inversions of the stereotype? Bonus points if the woman in (alleged) charge isn’t a nasty piece of work, a la “Moonlighting”.

  3. scarletts-legacy says

    Bonus points if the woman in (alleged) charge isn’t a nasty piece of work, a la “Moonlighting”.

    That made me think of Amanda from Melrose Place. Man, I loved that woman. She was a bitch, but she was a damn sight improvement on the sobbing woman who waited for a man to pick up the pieces. It a great pity Heather Locklear hasn’t found something that’s done her justice since.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Psst – write an article about her. I never really watched that show, so I’d love to hear more. The “bitch” character can certainly be done right – lots of TV men are bitches, really.

  5. sbg says

    I don’t have much to add, beyond the fact that this boy meets subordinate formula is an almost absolute way for me to knee-jerk out of a program.

    And my parents = mother was high school valedictorian, father was in the bottom half of the class. :)

  6. Ifritah says

    Ooh! I thought of another example! Ever see the movie Working Girl? Doesn’t quite fit, but it’s about a character pretending to be a big business woman and teams up with a big shot guy and together they take on the WORLD. … Or they just make a good business deal.

    I love movies like that.

  7. Nialla says

    This makes me think Hollywood never got past the “doctor/nurse” and “executive/secretary” romance storylines. Those were the only jobs women could get back in the day, and it was assumed they were only working until they met a “nice catch” and could marry their way out of working.

  8. firebird says

    My roommate and I were talking a while ago about men and women and relative happiness as a single or a married person. We agreed that we’d separately heard figures that seemed to suggest married men were happier than single ones but married women were less happy than single ones. I’m sorry, I don’t have any evidence other than that’s how I remember reading the figures. But society constantly portrays marriage as the woman’s goal and the man’s losing battle (to avoid it).

    I said all that to say, perhaps women with higher IQs are knowing better than to get married and quite satisfied with their lives, thank you very much? The article above quotes someone quoting a study saying that women’s “chances” of getting married a lower if their IQ is higher. Is that true? Or was the study flawed and is just perhaps possible that some smarter women just don’t get married because they know better?

    Okay, so maybe I’m feeling a little snarky. But I’ve been thinking about this all day. And it doesn’t stop me from wishing to marry Mr. Right. Oh, well.


  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    We agreed that we’d separately heard figures that seemed to suggest married men were happier than single ones but married women were less happy than single ones.

    There were two studies a while back that both reached this conclusion. Marriage is for men, pure and simple. That’s why societies had to deny women any other form of making a living, owning property, of being safe against some forms of harrassment in order to get women to marry en masse. Now TV does its best to convince women they really, desperately want to settle down and get married.

    You ask a great question: the Dowd studies I quoted were not recounted in detail enough for me to be sure whether it was the men rejecting the women, or the women rejecting marriage.

  10. Nialla says

    We agreed that we’d separately heard figures that seemed to suggest married men were happier than single ones but married women were less happy than single ones.

    My first reaction to such studies is, “Duh.” Married men are happier because they’ve got a live-in maid they can have sex with, while married women aren’t happy because they’ve got to work and be expected to come home and cook and clean, offer sex at any time, be a perfect mom, etc. That’s the simplistic interpretation, and of course not everyone fits, but still… I think it does more often than not.

    I know an older lady whose husband is in very poor health. She says she’s not going to look for a new husband after this one dies — she’s going to look for a wife. Because according to her current husband, the job of the wife is to do everything their spouse wants, whenever they want.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s how I see it, too. I’ve always said I wanted a wife, since I’m really not domestic material. 😉

    I think marriage would fare better if we dumped the gender roles altogether. For example, I’ve seen families that would have been much better off had the naturally nurturing and kid-loving dad stayed home and the more emotionally unavailable, ambitious mom gone off to work. Of course, that would mean paying women equally, and making a few other changes society doesn’t want to make.

  12. Nialla says

    My motto is, “I think, therefore I’m single.” 😉

    I know one of my male friends has said more than once that I’m too smart and outspoken for my own good, but he’s OK with me being a mouthy bitch. 😉

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    Interesting how a man doesn’t become too “smart and outspoken for his own good” until he’s threatening to topple a powerful and dangerous regime. For us, it can happen on a date. 😉

  14. firebird says

    So the possibility of women rejecting marriage is a Lurking Variable! We just talked about those a couple of weeks ago in statistics class. My professor says that lurking variables (more or less causes that are hidden at first blush and you forget to account for) are the reason statistics should never say “x causes y” and instead say, “x and y tend to happen together.” :-) Sorry, couldn’t resist the recounting.

    Seriously though, I do think the idea of gender roles in the institution of marriage needs to be revamped. I used to visit this blog of an artist father who was staying at home with his kids while his lawyer wife worked. Their family seemed very functional and happy, and his little kiddos got a committed, nurturing, creative father with them all time. It was a beautiful thing, and I need to find it again. :-)

  15. firebird says

    My boss and I talked about this a while back. She’s a boss and a judge, and in both respects has authority over men – in the courtroom it would be very rare in my area to have all women but not rare at all to have a trial with all male lawyers.

    She said that she feels like she has to really balance her approach so that she comes across as comfortable with and willing to use her authority without just being a b****. She’s very soft-spoken and tends to repeat herself to get her point across. But I remember when we talked about it how interesting it was to hear her mention that the ways of communicating that authority that male judges engender respect for them while they tend to engender disrespect for women. I guess it seems odd to me that it’s not just that some things work better for one gender or the other – that I could understand, even agree with perhaps – but things that work well for men don’t work at all and even work against women. That is just weird, perhaps even “wrong”.


  16. scarlett says

    well, my boyfriend and I are in general agreement that it’s whoever is the most suited for the job who should stay home and look after the kids/whoever has the better employment oppurtunities should be the one working, regardless of gender.

    Unfortunately, this theory falls apart on account that, although I can only stand children in very small doses (I consider them the spices in your diet, a little makes it a whole lot more enjoyable, a lot makes you sick), I’m studying the second most unemployable profession after acting/singing and he’ll bed able to walk into a 40K job after he finishes university.

    Sigh. At least I can console myself that journalists are universally unemployable, not just female ones :)

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think it’s wrong. When what works for one group works against another group, that means you’ve limited the other group to ineffectiveness. They don’t have a chance from the get-go.

  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    You’re absolutely right about stats. Dowd just doesn’t provide enough details of how just what stats were involved and how they were accummulated for us to evaluate what the study really meant.

    I may have to research it sometime, if I can track down a source.

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