A recent survey of over 1000 New York City singles by online dating site Match.com found that the professions women found most desirable in men were "firefighter" and "Wall Street executive" (at 30 and 26 percent, respectively). According to YourTango, this is evidence that, "Sometimes women just want to be rescued."
I'm not sure that conclusion holds water. There are plenty of other possible explanations for the findings, including but not limited to an attraction to the average fireman's fit physique or to men in uniform in general -- and you could call that executive's suit and tie a kind of uniform, too.
But the loaded idea that women want to be rescued is worth thinking about, for completely different, very timely reasons. The notion resurfaces periodically to taunt us, most prominently in recent years when Carrie Bradshaw raised it in a 2000 episode of "Sex and the City." It's easy to say that it's a jab at feminism, with the subtext Women have fought so long for equality and opportunity and accomplished so much -- but maybe we really just wanted men to take care of us all along.
But the reality is more complicated than that, especially now. Given the current economic climate, the desire for sudden deliverance is more understandable than ever. The recession has hit women particularly hard:
- Of the 1.3 million jobs created between March 2010 and March 2011, 90 percent have gone to men, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Women in top positions of companies are three times more likely to lose their jobs than their male colleagues.
- Employers still assign men the role of primary breadwinner, putting them at a sympathetic advantage in interviews, even though wives now contribute nearly 30 percent of a married couple's earnings and of the 3.7 million single parents in the U.S., approximately 84% of them are women.
Who wouldn't want a reprieve from that level of inequality?
And that's just what's going on at work. Women, who have arguably been conditioned by every childhood fairy tale to see themselves in the position of the rescued, have in this recession often found themselves their own families' rescuers, in many cases becoming the sole or primary earners when spouses lost their jobs or were forced to take pay cuts.
Given this enormous pressure, it's conceivable that women might occasionally dream of an easy exit -- and in some cases these fantasies point to just how badly women need a break. Recently on The Huffington Post, blogger Katrina Alcorn wrote about the "hospital fantasy" she has heard other women talk about, the secret dream of being injured just enough to be forced into a several-day-long hospital stay, and thereby freed from the crushing pressures of their everyday lives. Those women aren't necessarily looking to men to provide that way out. They're looking for any way out -- even temporary incapacitation.
Clearly, we have a problem, and one with no easy fix, especially with a second recession possibly on the horizon.
Maybe one solution -- one these fantasies represent -- is a co-rescuer. In the 2011 Match.com survey, 45% of men said they were willing to stay at home and be the primary caregiver, while only one out of three women said she would want the man in her life to do this. We can interpret this to mean that women still want a man in charge, but doesn't it make more sense, especially in the post-recession world, that women simply want mates who take on as much responsibility as they do -- earning an income and shouldering equal responsibility at home?
Perhaps that desire is what women's attraction to those firemen and bankers really indicates. In an exploration of why women are drawn to men in uniform -- and have been for a while, even in the boom years -- Slate reported in May that clinicians cite several reasons for that attraction: Some women may find the aggression a uniform implies sexually exciting, but many are also drawn to what the uniform represents: authority, competence, confidence, dependability, and courage -- all qualities women themselves have demonstrated more than ever in the past several years.
Underlying our supposed "rescue fantasies," perhaps there lies the simple desire for what Sheryl Sandberg in her TED talk last year called a partner who is a real partner -- in other words, an equal.