Are Success and Love Incompatible?
By Dr. Syed Amir
Bethesda, MD

Historically, women 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 remained single.
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 wife.
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.