The Root: Stop Lying to Women About What It “Takes” to Get Married

Future First Lady Michelle Obama with husband and someday President Barack Obama

Lincoln University President Robert R. Jennings stirred up a lot of trouble for himself when remarks he made in September to female students insinuating that women lied about rape went viral this week. After much public outrage, he apologized on Tuesday.

 “My message was intended to emphasize personal responsibility and mutual respect,” Jennings wrote. “I apologize for my choice of words. I certainly did not intend to hurt or offend anyone.”

He added that he would “choose [his] words more carefully” going forward.

I’m glad that people rose up to condemn that inflammatory portion of his speech about rape. And I’m glad Jennings had a “come to Jesus” epiphany, or at least followed the advice of the university publicist, and apologized for his remarks on rape. But there was another segment of the speech that deserved some ire and an apology: the segment about guys liking to have fun with women in short dresses, but going on to marry the women who wear the long ones.

“Men treat you, treat women, the way women allow us to treat them,” Jennings told the young women. “And let me let you in on another little secret. We will use you up if you allow us to use you up. Well guess what? When it comes time for us to make that final decision, we’re going to go down the hall and marry that girl with the long dress on. That’s the one we’re going to take home to Mom.”

These comments are minor in comparison with the ones about rape. But they caught my attention because they uphold the Madonna-whore stereotype, that women of worth have to be covered up and asexual. God forbid a young woman of legal age with the body to show off in a short dress wears one and explores her sexuality with another consenting adult. This somehow makes her unworthy of marriage.

The young man in this equation? He gets off scot-free. Boys will be boys, right? So what if he’s exploring his sexuality, too, and so what if he explores it with as many women as possible? The conservative woman down the hall with the long dress on? She should be happy to have him, no matter how messy he’s been, right? I would love to hear Jennings’ speech to the male students. I wonder if there was any mention of “No means no,” “Don’t rape,” “Don’t have sex with just anyone,” “Respect your coeds” or “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

I’m baffled as to why a college president feels the need to focus on the social and sexual lives of his female students. Why are we talking to college-age students about marriage instead of, I don’t know, their education, their interviewing and networking skills, and their readiness to enter the professional marketplace?

But I’m even more baffled at the lies we keep telling women, that if we do things by the letter, then we’ll get the reward: marriage. There are heaps of educated, hard-praying, knees-covered women who leaned in to that theory and are single. I hear from them daily and they ask, “Why?” and “What did I do wrong?” They all know married women with kids—who might have dropped out of school, might still have their cleavage exposed and a short dress on—and they just don’t get it.

These single women bought the hype about the “type” of woman who gets married. They didn’t know that the only “type” who marries is the type who wants to be and who finds someone she loves and who loves her back. It happens to all sorts of women, no matter the length of the dress they wear or how closely they uphold the Madonna archetype.

The truth is, the game is rigged against women. If you explore your completely healthy and normal sexuality as an adult—and don’t let people actually find out that you do—you’re not marriage material. Want to “save yourself” for marriage? At 22 and inexperienced, those women are often called prudes. I hear from them daily. The guys they want to date want to have sex, and as soon as those guys find out that this particular woman isn’t having it—literally and figuratively—they bail.

We tell women to focus on building a career. That’s fine with everyone until those women at the ripe age of 25 don’t have a husband, at which point everyone and their mom asks, “Why are you single?” It’s also fine to be professionally driven … until she has too many titles and owns her own stuff, at which point she’s told she’s “too independent,” and has left no room for a man to provide. The New York Post writes articles about the “scrubs” she’s forced to date because she’s risen too high and too fast. And if a woman doesn’t have her own money? She gets called a lazy gold digger trying to profit from someone else’s sacrifices.

It’s an evil catch-22.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. LC says:

    This is very true. All of the girls that I knoew who slept around in college are now married with children. I was busy studying and looking for a man who was interested in me as a person first, so I did not sleep around. I’ve been single for 9 years now and haven’t even had one guy interested in being my boyfriend let alone being married. So I’ve had to concentrate on my career. My mother had 3 men propose to her at age 17; that never happened to me or any other girl I’ve known in this generation. Men are using us all for sex and moving on to the next one. After they’ve lost their looks/hair, then they look to settle down with a nice girl that never slept around. But I don’t want you after you’ve screwed hundreds of girls over in your 20s and treated them like “Shake and Bake Bits” (this was the term actually used by a guy who was chatting me up). I told him that I never wanted to speak to him again. Men also have responsibility for sleeping around no matter what they think; it makes you unable to be in a relationship b/c you cannot bond with anyone.

  2. KL says:

    Alright, so I think President Jennings was wrong but so it Belle. The idea that there is some “rule” about all of this is where I get stuck. I’ll be frank, in college I was giving it up out of both draw legs (as my mother would say) and I was studying. I was unapologetic in sleeping with who I wanted to sleep with and I frankly didn’t care who knew.

    My mother (while clutching her pearls) used to always tell me “but who’s going to marry you if you behave like like?” Trust and believe she was in a full out panic about me and my “ways.”

    After college (in a small mid western town) I moved to NYC where the party continued. As my career grew the my party girl ways naturally receded. I was unwilling to be hung over and/or tired at work. I dated nice enough guys and guys who were just along for the ride.

    When I was ready to settle down, I settled down. There was no sitting around waiting for Mr. Right to come along and sweep me off me feet. I dated with purpose and kissed a lot of frogs. I kept it 100 about who I was and what I was about. I never hid my past and still don’t. The guys who couldn’t handle who I was were soon gone and that was fine with me. you see the thing is I’m not the girl who’s going to sit back and wait for some man to deem me worth of marriage.

    It never crossed my mind that I would not have a successful career. Just like it never crossed my mind that I would not have a husband and family. I got both!

    I was dating a nice guy. He knew from jump that I wanted to get married. Two years in I said to him “I plan to be married within the next year or 2.” He let me know that 2 years didn’t fit his time table. Without a moments hesitation I told him “that’s ok - I don’t have to marry you. I’m just letting you know my plan. You might be part of it, you might not. We’ll see.” I knew I was getting married within 2 years. I would have liked for it to be him, but it didn’t have to be. I loved him but I loved me more and was ready to let him go.

    Women should know their worth and go for what they want. I never doubted that I would be partnered well and I am.

    For the record, Mr. “2 years don’t fit my time table” got his stuff together in less than 2 years. We’ve now been together for going on 14 years!

  3. Ty says:

    I love the 2yr married story. You have to want it!!!

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