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To wed for love or for money matters

So Hugh Hefner is marrying his bunny girl. He's old (84), ugly and rich, she's young (24), beautiful and relatively poor -- so they must be madly in lurrve, God bless their idealistic little hearts.

Some envious cynics may accuse him of being an old lecher and her of being a cold-hearted gold-digger, but according to the latest academic research, Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris are just doing what comes naturally.

The controversial London School of Economics sociologist, Dr Catherine Hakim, in a 52-page report published last week, has hit the headlines once again -- this time by asserting that feminism/ gender equality has failed and women are even more determined to marry a rich man than ever. This seemingly is what women mean by "having it all".

"Women's aspiration to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better educated and higher-earning, persists in most European countries. Women thereby continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers," says the British sociologist.

In these post-feminist days biology may no longer control a woman's destiny, but it seems that economics does.

The report, Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine, contains "12 feminist myths" to support Hakim's case.

These "myths" include the accusation that equality legislation has failed -- on the contrary, says Hakim, it has gone as far as it should; and that men and women have the same attitudes to careers and family -- not at all, says Hakim: "attitudes and values are the 'hidden hand' shaping the careers and choices of men and women and have only recently begun to be understood" -- presumably only by herself.

Hakim extrapolates from her "discovery" that nearly 40 per cent of women marry "up" in life (to a wealthier or more educated man) the "fact" that most women still want a provider -- a partner who brings back the bacon while little wifey stays home and cares for the sprogs. In her view, no amount of equality legislation, family-friendly work practices, paternity leave or cheap childcare will ever alter what she sees as basic, ingrained natural differences between men and women.

"The unpalatable truth is that a substantial proportion of women still accept the sexual division of labour, which sees homemaking as women's principal activity, and income-earning as men's principal activity in life," she says.

This analysis is, of course, manna to those who object to equality legislation, women working outside the home or the thought of a female boss in the workplace. Perhaps this is why Hakim's writings are frequently quoted in the media as opposed to academic reports that offer alternate views --for example, last year Cordelia Fine published Delusions of Gender -- which successfully debunked the "gender as innate" myth Hakim supports -- with painstaking and accurate research; it received little attention.

But in her initial claim that "women want to marry up", Hakim is bang on. It's advice I give my young daughter every time the subject of marriage arises; half in jest, wholly in earnest, I tell her that it's as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.

Marrying for love is a relatively new introduction; traditionally the union of man and woman was more an economic and business merger than a romantic union. (Many far-sighted social commentators of the 19th Century prophesied that if parents allowed their children to marry for love, the rate of divorce would rise to at least 50 per cent. They argued that if being in love was a reason to marry, then being out of love was a reason for divorce.) I believe that the economic and the romantic should be considered equally important today if a relationship is to thrive.

Does this make me anti-feminist? I don't think so. Just pragmatic. Not that I think my daughter is planning a quickie wedding anytime soon (she's just gone 10), but it's important to make sure she doesn't pick up on the pseudo-feminist mantra about being able to have everything -- career, lover, children, perfectly run home, toned body and glossy hair -- all at the same time. Because, as many smart women are beginning to realise, the only way she will be able achieve all these things is if she marries a rich man. Yes, it kills me to say it, but sadly I believe it's true.

If you want to actually have a genuine choice of staying home with the kids or remaining focused on your career, you'll need a partner with a decent wage packet to either pick up the financial deficit when you leave your job or help pay for childcare if you don't. And this choice only goes one way.

Currently in Ireland men are not entitled to a day of paid paternity leave. Our Constitution does not recognise their right to stay home with their children if they so desire. By immediately discriminating against fathers when a child is born, by refusing to allow them equal time with their children or the recognition that they are as important in the life of the child as the mother, we set in place social structures that copperfasten the age-old myth that women are better parents than their menfolk and that men are better providers.

Maternity leave -- as opposed to instantly losing your job when you have a child -- is certainly an improvement for women, but "equality" seems to go only one way, which paradoxically increases discrimination against women in the workplace with children, and discriminates against men at home.

Hakim is certainly correct when she advises that extending maternity leave will mean some employers will shy away from hiring women "of a child-bearing age". What she doesn't support, however, is an introduction of state-paid compulsory paternity leave to balance the scales. She just doesn't believe that "fathers are necessarily that good around tiny babies", an amazing -- and condescending -- assumption for which she provides no supporting evidence.

This is nonsense. Some women make better parents than men and vice versa. Just because a person has a womb does not mean that they are naturally more suited to staying at home and raising a child. Many men would love to stay home with their kids while their partner went out and worked. And most people, men and women, can see advantages in marrying someone who has a lot of money.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, hundreds of American heiresses flooded the shores of Britain and continental Europe as down-on-their-luck aristocratic men blatantly married them for money. No one suggested that these men were genetically wired to stay home and mind the children because of this choice. Yet a woman who marries "up" is automatically assumed to prove Hakim's "academic" thesis that Men are from Mars and Women from Venus.

Thankfully, the truth is not that simple. It would be an awfully boring life if it were.

Sunday Independent