Why “Eligible Bachelors” Are a Twisted Anachronism

Town & Country magazine does their part perpetuating an outdated, harmful, sexist trope.

It seems that no less an authority than Town & Country magazine, the official academic journal for the study of rich WASPs, has declared Prince Harry Windsor #1 on their list of most eligible bachelors, because apparently my clock is wrong and it’s actually 1910. What are the criteria to be “eligible”, you might ask? Well, the good folks at T&C are happy to describe their list as “princes, politicians, scions, DJs, and billionaires-to-be”. I guess that makes their criteria pretty goddamn clear.

Yes, ha-ha, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, that was totally funny the first hundred times I heard it in the 19th century. And in the 19th century, it made sense. Women were completely deprived of economic agency, and marriage was the only career they were allowed. Picking a man to marry was the most important decision they’d ever make, because it would determine their income for the rest of their lives.

Call me old-fashioned, but I was raised to believe that that system was a grotesque injustice that has quite rightly been being dismantled for decades. Was that just me?

I’ve written before about the Success Myth, the idea that men’s only source of value is their wealth and power, not any… y’know, human qualities. It’s the fucked-up mirror image of the Beauty Myth, the idea that women are only valuable for their looks. Just as women get reduced to sex objects, so too do men get reduced to success objects, attractive and worthwhile only in proportion to their bank account. Feminists have, quite rightly, decried all the cheap, dehumanizing crap that pervades our culture, telling women their human worth is measured by their dress size and their hair color. It’s hurtful, it’s oppressive, and it needs to go. And this kind of crap, this glorification of rich dudes in suits as success objects, mostly due to little more than being born to the right parents, needs to go as well.

Women have fought for generations to win the kind of economic agency that makes lists like this an atavistic embarrassment. And it’s working! It’s working really well! We’re seeing more and more powerful female executives and politicians competing right alongside men, and doing damned well. We’re seeing male and female employment figures approaching parity. We’re seeing the wage gap gradually close. We’re seeing more and more fathers economically free to be full-time parents, if that’s what they choose. We’re seeing people moving beyond those awful old housewife/breadwinner stereotypes that left so many people unhappy and unfulfilled.

And, unfortunately, we’re still seeing crap about “eligible bachelors”, where apparently eligibility is about how rich and successful a man is.

Let’s look at that word, eligible. Generally it refers to a basic, necessary qualification. You turn 18, you’re eligible to vote. You enroll in college, you’re eligible for student aid. And according to Town & Country, if you inherit a few million dollars, you’re eligible to be sought in marriage.

Take a minute to think about what that does to the self-image of a man who doesn’t happen to be a millionaire, a man who is, apparently, an ineligible bachelor. To be told that he is literally unworthy, unqualified, for a basic institution like marriage. Men have it beaten into them from childhood that the number on their paycheck defines their worth as a person, the same way women get it beaten into them about their dress size. We try to get past that, try to see ourselves are more than just another success object, and then a list like this comes along to say “Nope, it really is all about money and career, you loser.”

Let us have no more of this stereotype. Let us have no more eligible bachelors, no more trophy wives, no more godawful leftovers of a time when marriage was the only profession open to ladies. They are nasty remnants of an era we have evolved past, a leftover transitional fossil that refuses to die. This list might as well be archaeopteryx.

No, I take that back, archaeopteryx was awesome and this Town & Country list is gross and creepy. This list might as well be a lungfish.

Yes, that’s it. Think of it as Town & Country’s list of the top forty lungfish. That puts it in an appropriate context.

 

Photo—AP/Andrew Prenner

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About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

Comments

  1. Note also that no effort is made to determine whether any of these guys is actually INTERESTED in getting married. Apparently that’s irrelevant.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Dang, you beat me to it. I was thinking the same thing.

      Notice, too, how there’s very little mention of any inherent personal qualities or abilities. He’s just a doll or a fish to be reeled in. Less than that, even, because even his appearance makes no difference. It’s his bank account and pedigree that make him attractive in this mindset. Harry’s not just a party animal. He has actually done some things with his life, but you’d never know it from T & C.

      Just curious if anyone knows the cutoff age here: when does a man go from being an “eligible bachelor” to being a “confirmed bachelor”?

    • @ Copyleft Having a partner is also linked to success. When i hear people talking about a man not interested in a relationship they go into detective mode, the way they talk about him you’d think he cheated them out of something. “you’ll make a woman very happy someday” i never liked that quote because i thought it made men out to be cattle.

      • “the way they talk about him you’d think he cheated them out of something”

        That’s a very interesting point. Is it simple social conformity, the same routine that gets applied to single women or childless couples? Or is it something gender-specific, i.e., women resenting guys who refuse to ‘settle down’?

        • OMG, LmAO! Yes! I HATE it when women say a guy is ‘wasted’ b/c he is gay. As though only a woman qualifies. Everything about GMP screams “IT’S ABOUT YOUR SOUL !!!” What a stupid and superficial area of the planet ‘Amerikans’ live in.

  2. I would add that “Eligible” is often a synonym for White.

  3. I saw this article at xojane the other day where this woman was talking about her online dating experiences. When describing one guy she started off by saying that he had a very prestigious job and made a lot of money.
    As soon as I read that it hit me, “when talking about dating, how often do you hear men talk about the type a job a woman has or how much she makes?” It’s hardly ever one of the top 3 things we would start the discussion with.
    And also struck me as ironic that someone writing for what appears to be a very “feminist” blog, leads off with one of the most outdated and stereotypical comments as far as dating goes.

    • Revo Luzione says:

      Great comment.

      For the most part, men accept their role as success objects, but women, especially women of the feminist persuasion, tend to virulently oppose being sex objects. At the end of the day, both beauty and social dominance (money is a proxy of that ) are about reproductive fitness. When we say someone is attractive, whether male or female, we’re generally saying they’re reproductively fit.

      The middle path is probably the most prudent. That is to say, we need to recognize that attractiveness is based in biology, but that biological and/or structural attractiveness is not the only important quality. Humanity, kindness, passion, empathy, all should at least match attractiveness as important qualities in mate selection.

      • Thank you Revo casue you are 100% right. I agree with every world you say.

        We really need to stop telling men that their only source of value is their success and that a woman’s worth is only based on her looks.

        But sadly we are biological creatures, our instincts have been shaped by million years of evolution. And that men value a woman’s attractiveness mostly on her looks in not the same as valuing her as a person only on her looks. The same goes for women who value men.

        We can’t fight against our sexual preferences, we can’t fight nature.

  4. I worry about men whose self-image depends upon an issue of Town & Country magazine. Like all anachronisms it will likely fade away (although not as quickly if it evokes the kind of passion that it did in this author). We should call these eligible bachelors what they truly are: Fortunate. Fortunate to have the means to pursue their dreams and aspirations without concern for material limitations. Regardless of whether those dreams are hedonistic, altruistic, or mundane.

    Final note, @wellokaythen, I was under the impression that there was no age limit when one became a “confirmed bachelor” as I always understood it as an archaic euphamism for gay.

  5. Martin…one of the reasons white women fall prey to body image crap is their own choices.They choose to ignore the fact that men of color like larger women.But to them,the opinion men of color-except if he’s famous or wealthy-doesn’t matter.So they view and how they look from one perspective that is decidedly white.

    • Martin Nash says:

      Some black women straighten their hair and use skin whitening products, I dont think body image is restricte to white women, at least in western countries. This list is produced by a magazine catering to the upper class in england, there really are not that many aristocratic black people for them to work with here

      I don’t doubt that these lists could be seen as racially exclusive but I do question the idea that it is “often a synonym”. non-white people in britain make up a small (around 4% – 6%) part of the population , so this list is reflective of that. More likely the list is prejudice against people without money and power and at present in the UK the majority of both still lies with the old guard.

  6. Martin…You right in that some blackwomen who buy into white is better beauty myth can stupidly fall prey to what is a predominantly a made up white middle, upper middle class malady.Men of color don’t care,mostly, if they don’t make the latest white female hottest guy in the universe bs list.This was already hashed out on this site after People mag released its last list.And yes,these list are usually classist too. Often where there is racism,classism lurks in the weeds.I might suggest you learn more about black culture,blackmen-want/demand thickness in their women;bigbutts and thighs!

    • Martin Nash says:

      Sorry, my examples were kind of slanted by what I hear written about on the web, wasn’t intending to imply that “black women wanna be white”, but that was one of the first examples of looks mattering to black women that I could explain without getting into big butts and thighs. My point was that it is not only white women that care about body image. I have never dated, or indeed had a close friendship with a black girl so could not really comment on the body image that matters to people from a culture I don’t understand.

      And incidentally, most white guys don’t give a toss about making it onto any lists either.

  7. It was a common practice in American corporations to expect that executives and jr executives,that wanted to move up in the company,would get married.Those that didn’t saw limited saw fewer opportunities.

  8. Martin…At the end of the story what white men and men of color deal with in this realm is more similar than not.

  9. Miguel…It is entirely possible to change one’s sexual turn ons.Most people have multiple buttons.The same woman who says looks don’t matter is the same who would fuck Brad Pitt if he asked.

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