The “Eligible Bachelor” List: How Quaint

Town & Country sets gender relations back a few decades with its February list of marriageable males.

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Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

His so-called eligible highness, Prince Harry

Town & Country magazine’s February issue is out, with its annual inventory of  “Top 50 Bachelors.”  As editorial franchises go, this is so antiquated that it’s almost all the way back refreshing. Almost. Even if you overlook that George Hamilton and all four* of Bryan Ferry’s sons made the list, it’s a story that makes you want to poke your own eyes out.

The roll-call is pretty much what you’d expect—some sports figures, a techie or two, some political up-and-comers and lots and lots of rich people’s sons. It’s not entirely serious; the magazine offers up four guys it acknowledges would probably be the marital equivalent of 10 miles of bad road and one Italian textile tycoon who not only has his jeans tailored, but formerly dated Naomi Campbell. (“Always a red flag,” it notes.) And some of it is patently ridiculous: one of the most eligible bachelors is Jack Nicholson, aka the white whale of committed mates.

The Eligible Bachelor is the close cousin, or at least in the same posse, as that other dubious male icon, the Charming Prince. Indeed, several royal younglings made the list, which is headed by Prince Harry— the Master of bachelors, so to speak.  The whole concept is  fantasy, and not an entirely pleasant one. It belongs to a time when women’s best future lay in them making a good match, which itself seems not far removed from the era of providing a dowry to a man’s family for taking the family-budget-eating girl-child off your hands.

(MORE: Prince Harry Gets His Own Bachelor Pad — Next Door to Will and Kate)

You’d think that women were no longer held under the sway of such myths, that, having made huge strides in education and employment, they were seeking more of a life partner and enthusiastic bedfellow and less of a meal ticket. But in many cases, you’d be wrong. “I can’t tell you how many terrific, smart 20 year old girls in my practice are holding out for that good-looking high testosterone man,” says Rachel Sussman, a relationship therapist in New York City.

Conversely, she thinks high-powered, wealthy men are actually poor marriage material for most women. “In my experience, unless they’re unique, these guys don’t want a wife who works, or who has an opinion different from theirs.” Moreover, being married to the scions of big wealthy families is not always a life of ease. “Many women come into my practice crying, asking if I can help them do a better job managing their husband’s life,” she adds.

I’m sure there are people who will argue that objectifying men in this way, as meat on the marriage market, is a fair turnabout, since women are objectified in every other magazine with monthly frequency. Indeed, most of the men are chisel-jawed and have either heaps of hair or that sleek shaved head look. While the body-standards are not nearly as exacting as those visited upon women, none of the gentleman can be called obese. At least 90% of them are  rich (exceptions: Newark mayor Cory Booker, who will be rich one day, and some Obama staffers, who will be too, probably.)

(MORE: When Men Stop Seeking Beauty and Women Care Less About Wealth)

I don’t want to seem like the scoldy killjoy aunt, but the list is really a terrible thing to do to men. Studies have suggested that one of the reasons people don’t get married is that they don’t feel financially able. They feel like marriage is something you do when you’re on solid ground. Conversely, most marriage education types would tell you that marriage, or whatever flavor of committed monogamy you prefer, is something you build, with another person. It doesn’t just arrive. It takes work.

Sending this list out into the world is imposing an impossible standard on men. They’ll never measure up, so they’ll numb the pain with long lonely bouts of plentyoffish browsing and very little trying to find a life partner. It’s true that women are judged by an impossible standard, but it’s a poor sort of equality that drags others down rather than lifting the downtrodden up.

So T&C, here’s a proposal for a new issue: the World’s Most Eligible Women. (Try “spinsters” if you dare.) Using the same category as for the men, money and/or power, let’s start with: Heidi Klum, Maureen Dowd, Harriet Meiers, Condi Rice, Janet Reno, Gina Rinehart and, what the hell, Naomi Campbell. Go get em, guys.