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Of bimbos and bachelors
Hot women: another view

"Men really do find successful women hot," writes Bruce Feinstein in the Post last week, in response to Maureen Dowd's New York Times' columns about the phenomenon of childlessness among high-powered women, as reported in Sylvia Ann Hewlett's new book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children.

Really. How to explain, then, the finale of The Bachelor, also last week, when The Bachelor (your tall, dark, handsome 31-year-old Harvard graduate with the Stanford MBA; you know him; he's always leaning on the bar in your favourite restaurant looking for a high-powered woman to marry), after weeks of writhing around in the largest limos ever with shiny-haired babes (some with brains but just as many with bosoms in the old-fashioned sense), finally chose a mate: not the woman who was at least his match in age and wits (Miami Heat dancers are famous for their IQs), but the blank-faced, really, really bosomy 23-year-old. A child! With surgically balanced breasts; what was her mother thinking? (I learn from reading press coverage of a show I had not seen until the finale, that, from the beginning, we have known that Alex was obsessed with what he actually referred to, more or less to her face, as Amanda's "boobs".)

But if men truly find successful women hot, presumably there could be a sequel to The Bachelor. In The Spinster (you cannot call a CEO a bachelorette and there is no word except spinster in the lexicon), a 39-year-old Harvard graduate/female executive auditions twenty-five men for the job of husband and sperm-donor. It would be a short series; the woman would know within seconds that most of the men were losers, and in any case she would not be permitted, in prime time TV-land, to examine his, uhm, physical credentials.

But let us step out of the mire of "reality"-based television onto the higher ground of smart women finding dates. Dowd's argument is that successful women are dateless and hence childless because men are afraid of them. Hewlett's argument is that women have a false idea of their own fertility, concluding that if women really want children, they must put their careers on hold and try for pregnancy in their late 20s. She also throws out the arresting news that 49% of successful women are childless, but only 10% of successful men; "...the more successful the woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child. For men, the reverse is true."

Hewlett's news is easily explained. Men don't have to pause for a second to have babies; they can practically email in the sperm. And a large percentage of those happily fathering CEOs also skip past the fertility issue by choosing younger women just bursting with eggs. (Ripe women; women with ripe eggs: two very different statistical baskets.)

Feinstein weighs in as a man who once thought of dating a smart woman and was told by a friend "don't even think of it; you are nobody" but still went on to marry a woman he calls "tough, smart, accomplished." I just note in passing that he says carefully that she "was more successful and earning more money" when they started dating; still true? He also scolds women for two contradictory faults: dating bad boys and "thinking they could do better".

But details aside. Bring on the Bruce Feinsteins, I say. Where is he; who is he? He is not on the radar or the Palm Pilot of the successful single women I know, both those under forty who still want children, and those in their 40s and 50s who are either still single or now divorced. Oh yes, the single men we know admire smart, successful women; they choose them as business partners, friends, confidantes and sometime lovers if they are lucky. But they mate with younger women, fertile or otherwise; sadly, still, the Amandas. Single men who are, in terms of income, power, age, the equals of these women do not see them as potential mates. They see past them, to the young, green crop coming up behind. It's just genetics, some would say.

But women also make choices, in the real world. Both Feinstein and Dowd acknowledge another truth about successful women; they prefer men who are at least their equal mentally. Their idea of a plausible partner is someone not unlike themselves, and yes, they are picky. They are discerning, even judgmental, and surely with good reason; unless they are only seeking a sperm-donor, they cannot imagine a long-term relationship with someone who is their inferior. Men can still do this, apparently, although I agree with Feinstein that the men brought up by strong women in the past several decades are more interested in equality than their fathers were. But those men for the most part are not available or even interesting to high-powered single women approaching 40.

Those women may well be a statistical anomaly. Ironically, they have the Darwinian edge, being ahead of their male cohorts in their re-thinking of roles and relationships, but they are unlikely to find men with whom to have children, so they will lose the Darwinian edge. Unless the workplace suddenly becomes maternity-friendly, and all the corporate-success patterns suddenly crumple, women in their 20s and 30s will still have great difficulty in balancing motherhood and a career.

I agree with Hewlett that women have sketchy knowledge and unrealistic optimism about their fertility. It is also true that the older and more successful a woman becomes, the harder it is for her to find a mate, let alone become pregnant. But although Hewlett's numbers are sound; her agenda is less than transparent. She cautions women against being threatening "predators," because men only want "nurturers." Men, being two-birds-with-one-bone kinda thinkers (so this is why they are in charge!), seek both a mother for themselves and one for their offspring in the same woman. Hewlett insists that she is not arguing for a 50s model, but the debate is highly politicized.

Back to The Spinster. Put a really smart successful woman in the limo with a really smart man her own age. Is he paying attention? Or is he mentally juggling the breasts of some vacuous Amanda? And whose limo is this, anyway?

Marian Botsford Fraser is the author of Solitaire: The Intimate Lives of Single Women. She now lives in Stratford, Ontario.