Should women court men? Views from 1960
by Olga Curtis – Parade in the Gazette-Mail (Charleston, WV) May 29, 1960
How DOES a girl win a husband? By tradition, she waits until “the right man comes along,” then retreats shyly while he woos her, pursues her and finally leads her to the altar.
She’s never supposed to woo him — and in days gone by, she didn’t have to. Male-dominated courtship made sense when girls spent their time in the parlor and Papa seemed happy to pay all the bills.
But things are different in 1960. First of all, there just aren’t enough men to go around. Moreover, women now work, earn their own money and pay their own bills. Women are healthier, wealthier, more numerous than men — and more anxious to get married.
Yet, although women are allowed equal rights in voting and paying taxes, courtship remains something for the boys. Most of us raise an eyebrow at the idea of a woman phoning a man, asking him for a date; paying the check, sending him presents, and proposing.
Are things serious? Family life experts, noting the 113 American women for every 100 American men, predict an increase in spinsters — unless the girls go a-wooing.
MORE: The deal with dating: Romance matters, but money talks (1952)
“Marriages just wouldn’t happen if it were left to the men,” says Norman W. Paget, executive director of the Family Service Agency in San Bernardino, Calif. Paget believes women in 1960 should definitely court men.
Further, he’s willing to bet that the resulting marriages will be more successful than the current average because “women are more practical about choosing their mates.” He and other experts dip into their bag of statistics to buttress their arguments:
1. Women outnumber men.
Ten years ago, for the first time in US history, the census showed more women than men. Every year since, the ratio has gone up. Today we have 9,706,000 unmarried women against 8,567,000 unmarried men. Meaning: Men are scarcer than women.
2. Women outlive men.
Life insurance statisticians estimate the life expectancy of modern woman at 73.5 years, 67.1 for modern man. They also note that the life expectancy of bachelors is even less than that of married men. Meaning: Men need more pampering than women.
3. Women have more money than men.
Total holdings of American women include 66 percent of all US Savings Bonds, 65 percent of all savings bank accounts, 53 percent of all publicly held stocks. Thanks to minimum wage laws, women earn as much per hour as men, too. Meaning: Women can afford courtship costs more easily than men.
Yet tradition dies hard — and some experts want to keep it alive. Cultural anthropologist Dr. Rhoda Metraux of New York, for example, is firmly against the idea that women court men. She says courtship is “a male prerogative,” and argues that women should support male rights “in the special relationship of courting — at least until the men ask for a change.”
Some men, especially younger men, already have asked for a change. The teenage habit of “going steady” is evidence that courting tradition is shifting, says Mrs. Madeleine Fancy, executive director of the Family Counseling Service of Paterson, N.J.
This may be news to teenagers, who aren’t quite sure who should court whom. One 16-year-old boy itemized the expenses of an average date, including $1 for pizza and $2 apiece for a movie, and explained: “It isn’t fair if girls don’t pay for anything. I don’t mean they should pay for the boys. But going Dutch is okay.”
Alms and the men
Many older bachelors, however, are upset at the prospect of letting women ask them for dates and pick up the check. Movie star Tab Hunter, 28 and single, summed it up as “pretty frightening.”
“Sure, it’s nice if a girl lets you know she’s interested. A guy likes to know where he stands,” said Tab. “But I’d just be embarrassed if a girl gave me presents or tried to pay for a date.”
In general, bachelors questioned by Parade said they would accept gifts from women only on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas. They approved the sharing of expenses only for engaged couples. Several made the comment that “women are the weaker sex and should be treated as such.”
How do the women feel about courting? Out loud, few women will ever admit that they want to do the wooing. But in girl talk, they make no bones about it.
“Of course we want to court men,” explained one girl, adding slyly: “We’ve been doing it all along — but with our own weapons: pretty dresses, make-up, new hairdos, perfume and home-cooked meals.
“If we have to chase a man, we do. That’s how a girl gets married.”
And that’s exactly what bothers famed anthropologist Margaret Mead of the American Museum of Natural History.
Dr. Mead warns: “There’s a real danger to the structure of our society when girls take too much initiative in courtship. Today’s girls are so afraid they won’t get married that they’re pressing the boys into matrimony — and that’s unwise. Women are better off when men have the responsibility and initiative.”
What do you think?