Katy Hayes | The Sunday Times | 24 Apr 2016
I RECENTLY met a couple of mates I hadn’t seen in a while — same age as me, teenage kids the same stage as mine, career on life support. Both ambitious women of substantial professional achievement, both married to alpha males. This is where it goes wrong.
The ambitious woman aims high: for the best exam results, the prize career, the trophy man. Ambitious women are attracted to ambitious men. But ambitious men are very high maintenance. And they don’t teach you this in SPHE.
Conversely, ambitious men will often fall in love with women whose primary attractions are beauty and kindness, and whose natures will readily adapt to being helpful to his alpha career throttle. Sometimes they simply marry their personal assistants — a short cut that removes the need for retraining. They will stride through life propped up by this beautiful, kind, nurturing soul. When they have a problem at work, there is a support in place.
Whereas when the ambitious woman has a problem at work, her alpha partner has fecked off to a conference in Dubrovnik. And if she starts throwing shapes and alpha challenging, she’ll get burnt. She’ll end up in a double alpha meltdown marriage, like Edna O’Brien and Ernest Gebler. Or Madonna and Guy Ritchie. And not only that, her alpha male colleague who has the beautiful, nurturing, supportive wife at home will take up the slack.
I know several of you will say plenty of alpha females have supportive partners/husbands beavering away in the background. Isn’t novelist Marian Keyes’s husband Tony the nicest man in the Irish-British archipelago? Doesn’t he do all the cooking and isn’t it a matter of public record that Marian cannot work the washing machine? Didn’t Mary O’Rourke have Enda-the-supportive down in Athlone keeping the home front on track while she put manners on the Fianna Fail front bench? Didn’t Martin occasionally carry Mary McAleese’s umbrella? Well, they do exist but they are rare birds.
Think of your high-flying gal pals or sisters, the ones who have a PhD or a partnership in a law firm. When was the last time one of them produced a handsome new date and said: “Hi everyone, here’s Kevin and he’s the barista in my local Insomnia?” Never, that’s when.
How many of your careering girlfriends have married their administrative assistants? Not many, bordering on none. And how many have got themselves saddled with their demanding bosses? Plenty.
We have an entire entertainment industry dedicated to perpetuating this system and grooming tastes. One of the standout features of the recent Hollywood comedy How to Be Single was an actual male character who wanted to stay at home with the baby. And they didn’t make an idiot out of him — they made him sexy.
However, these small efforts have to counterbalance a marauding army of idealised alpha males galloping around popular entertainment: chewing it up on Wall Street, riding around on horses being mauled by bears, and a substantial macho subset making a living as spies. And that’s not including the superheroes.
We need role models for domesticated males, and we need them to be attractive so women will fall in love with them. Women need retraining in what they will find attractive. We need George Clooney in an apron. We need Leonardo DiCaprio taking his kids to the grizzly bear enclosure at the zoo. We need Michael Fassbender, topless, wrestling with an untamed Hoover as he copes with a debilitating housework addiction. It is a more urgent issue than equal pay. OK, maybe not more urgent, but nearly.
So, ambitious young ladies, a word of caution: you may see a nice, shiny, high-achieving man at the top of his game, and think: “I’m gonna get me a bit of that sexy.” Reaching high for a man may feel like a clever thing to do, but in the long game it’s stupid. They are fine for a whirl but, when you are seriously thinking of putting a ring on it, go for the merchandise on a lower shelf. You are better off marrying a bum than an alpha. Don’t so much “lean in” as lean down.