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Tying the Knot or Not

By Lora Painter

The top three things my students seem interested in: Pokemon cards, today's school lunch menu and my personal life.

I've been building quite a rap sheet of infamous questions from my precocious pupils. They ask me anything from ''why don't you eat kimchi?" to ''what is your dress size?" But based on my rough mental estimation, about 75 percent of their non-academic inquiries involve their curiosity into ''Lora Teacher's" extra-curricular activities.

A most notable conversation occurred on the eve of my birthday:

Student: How old will you be?

Me: Much older than you.

Student: Are you married?

Me: Maybe yes, maybe no.

Student: Well if not, you better hurry then! The clock's ticking!

This comment did not inspire me to elope to Las Vegas nor dwell on the possible drudgery of becoming the next Susan Boyle, famous spinster from ''Britain's Got Talent." Rather, it sparked my curiosity in societies' both latent and covert preoccupation with marriage and the affects this fixation may have on womankind.

As much as I tried to avoid feeling peeved, my student's line of questioning and presumptuous suggestion during this conversation still managed to get under my skin for several reasons.

Unlike the turn of the last century, contemporary women can generally be expected to have more education and have successful and lucrative careers outside the domestic sphere. The world is finally our oyster and with so many options available in our journeys through life, why is acquiring a husband still intertwined with the value of our overall accomplishments?

In ''A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf writes that the modern woman need not ''ruin her peace of mind longing for travel, experience and a knowledge of the world and character that were denied her." Arguably, female economical, social and intellectual standards have greatly risen since Woolf published this work and perhaps more women than ever are experiencing financial and creative freedoms that their grandmother's may only have dreamt about.

Women have comprised about 57 percent of students in American colleges since 2000, according to the American Council on Education. Girls are being cultivated into having aspirations, career goals and unbridled creativity. Girls can play sports and have an affinity for math and science, like their male counterparts. Girls are carefully taught that these achievements are valued, until they grow up and are carefully re-taught the value of a marriage certificate.

Modern societies have increasingly touted the virtues of higher education for women and egalitarian social systems. And yet, the clinging to some fundamental traditional roots refuses to slacken. The role of a woman as ''mother and wife" is so etched in our social memory as to perhaps obstruct any progressive and new images from being created.

Love and marriage can certainly be things of beauty. I completely and whole-heartedly endorse people pursuing their own form of personal happiness. Women should be allowed to find fulfillment with or without marriage and without social scrutiny. Considering the overall declining marriage rates, any tenacious adherence to the idea that a woman's ultimate happiness resides in wifedom and motherhood is frightfully archaic.

According to Sam Robert's article ''More Men Marrying Wealthier Women" in the New York Times, ''In 1970, 28 percent of wives had husbands who were better educated, and 20 percent were married to men with less education. By 2007, the comparable figures were 19 percent and 28 percent. In 1970, 4 percent of husbands had wives who made more money; in 2007, 22 percent did."

This noticeable increase in female breadwinners has its pros and cons. On the bright side, with better access to education and careers, women are more independent and may not need to rely on their spouses for sole financial security.

The pool of eligible males may increase because of the declining importance on the size of their bank accounts. Women are no longer restricted to attaching themselves to men for monetary reasons ― we can provide for ourselves and can choose our mates based on other qualities.

But conversely, recent global recessions and societies' increasing emphasis on financial stability also reinstate the importance of marriage as a way to make ends meet.

Whoever said ''all you need is love" obviously never had college loans. More and more of the younger generation are finding themselves in this situation, along with other financial obligations.

As a person from this generation, my cohorts and I are very weary of the uncertainty of the economic future. This apprehensiveness is reflected in our efforts to make ourselves as employable as possible and postponing both marriage and having children. While we generally still want to marry for love, we also realize the advantages of joint incomes.

Although women have made great strides in achieving more independence, the importance of money probably will never be out of the deciding-a-mate equation.

Like Woolf, I also long for the day when women are able to savor the benefits of ''a room of one's own," a place free of scrutiny in which they can flourish independently of outside distractions, i.e. social pressures to confine to

particular molds of femininity which have traditionally been governed by men. There is no one of source of happiness. Find it in being single; find it in marriage; find it in careers or find it in motherhood. Let no one dictate your dreams.

Find your room; make it yours.

Lora Painter has an M.A. in Journalism from New York University. She is struggling with her aversion for kimchi, but has found solace in her new found love for Bonjuk, a rice porridge restaurant chain. Contact her at mp385@nyu.edu.


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