and Love Incompatible?
By Dr. Syed Amir
have exercised great power and influence through
their powerful spouses, as empresses, queens and
wives of presidents and prime ministers. The legends
of Noor Jahan Begum, wife of Emperor Jahangir, and
Queen Zubeida, wife of Abbasid Caliph Haroon al-Rashid,
are well recorded. More recently, Evita Peron in
Argentina and Eleanor Roosevelt in the United States
exerted much influence on the policies of their
husbands’ administrations. Until recently,
there were few opportunities available for women
to climb the ladder of success on their own, however
bright and well qualified they might be.
Cultural ethos steeped in centuries old, male-dominated
traditions did not concede any meaningful roles
for them. Whereas, in most Third World countries,
especially Muslim countries, the status of women
has improved very little, they have taken impressive
strides in the West during the past decades, occupying
positions of power and influence in the Government,
news media, teaching institutions and private industry.
All the striking success at the workplace notwithstanding,
paradoxically, influential women seem to be at a
disadvantage when it comes to love and marriage.
One of the most powerful women in the world today,
US Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, never
married. Neither did the former Attorney General
in the Clinton Administration, Miss Janet Reno,
and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr.
Donna Shalala. The most successful television talk
show host in the US, Oprah Winfrey, has similarly
Going back a little in history, one of the most
enlightened rulers of England, Queen Elizabeth 1,
never married. In Mogul India, talented, highly
cultivated princesses, Jahan Ara and Roshan Ara
Begum, daughters of Emperor Shah Jahan, and later
Zaibunissa Begum, daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb,
also remained unmarried their entire lives.
The question of whether success, accomplishments
and status place women at a disadvantage, when it
comes to marriage and winning love, became the subject
of a lively discussion in the media following the
publication in 2004 of a research paper in the Journal
of Evolution of Human Behavior. The authors, Drs.
Brown and Lewis, at the Universities of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, and California, Los Angeles, set out
to test the proposition that people in Western societies
are influenced by power and other attributes, such
as wealth, fame or higher social status, while making
choices for a spouse.
The researchers recruited 120 males and 208 female
undergraduate university students to participate
in an interesting experiment. Each was presented
with an imaginary scenario, according to which he
or she had taken a job in an office with a co-worker,
who was either his/her subordinate, equal in rank,
or the boss. In addition, they were provided with
a photograph of this hypothetical person, a reasonably
attractive male or female model. Each student was
then asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 the office
co-worker as a potential marriage partner. Separately,
they were also asked how enthusiastic they would
be to attend a social gathering or make friends
with this same co-worker. The results were both
fascinating and revealing.
The authors found that men, in general, preferred
females in subordinate positions for long-term stable
relationships, including marriage. However, this
preference for women of lower status did not extend
to making casual friendships or going out to social
functions together. For these uncommitted relations,
they did not seem to have a strong preference for
either higher or lower status women. The women in
the group took a different position, expressing
a higher level of confidence and self-assurance.
They were not especially attracted to subservient
males as potential marriage or long-term romantic
partners. Even for casual relationships, they did
not show a preference for men of lower status.
The above findings have received some reinforcement
from a long-term study carried out last year at
four British universities, Bristol, Edinburgh, Aberdeen
and Glasgow, in which social scientists measured
the intelligence quotient (IQ) of 900 young people,
and then followed their career paths for forty years.
They found that girls with the highest IQs (categorized
as brilliant) who were successful in their professional
careers were less likely to find appropriate husbands
in later life. In contrast, the boys suffered no
such disadvantage; instead, those with high IQ also
had better prospects for finding an accomplished
American studies, supported by the US National Institute
of Mental Health, revealed an interesting discordance
in male-female attitudes in today’s social
environment. Several varying views have been advanced
to explain the findings that males and females employ
a different set of criteria to make their choice
of marriage partners.
Some anthropologists believe that male behavior
is a vestige of our primitive life on earth when
it was essential that females stayed with the man
and bore his children. A submissive, less-accomplished
female was unlikely to be threatening and more likely
to stick with the man at the time when binding social
contracts, like marriage, did not exist. It would
also ensure that any offspring would be properly
looked after and nurtured. Others propose an alternative
explanation. They believe that traditionally women
have been portrayed in television shows, movies
and literature as serving in inferior or subordinate
roles, rendering these traits in real life acceptable,
indeed attractive attributes. The third possibility
is that women are attracted to powerful, resourceful
males, since they offer security and stability for
them and their future children.
No scientific studies as far as we know have been
conducted in South Asian countries, Pakistan, India,
Bangladesh, to independently ascertain male/female
preferences in the choice of marriage partners.
Since most marriages traditionally are arranged
by parents, a study of this nature may not be feasible
or even meaningful.
When the selections are made by parents, a number
of pragmatic considerations, rooted in the benefits
or otherwise of the anticipated union may prove
decisive. Meanwhile, in the West where women have
now gained much independence, status and affluence,
it may be a while before their success will cease
to be a drawback in the marriage market.