The damage done

How that Newsweek article really did a number on women.

Published June 5, 2006 2:10PM (EDT)

I was thrilled to see the "Week in Review" article in Sunday's New York Times that drove home just how toxic that infamous Newsweek piece was to generations of women. (Just in case you haven't heard by now, the newsweekly recently admitted that it botched the 1986 cover story that claimed -- I can barely stand to repeat it -- that a 40-year-old, single, white, educated woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get hitched.)

"For a lot of women, the retraction doesn't matter. The article seems to have lodged itself permanently in the national psyche," writes ABC news correspondent Jessica Yellin. Even film characters have wrestled with it; Yellin reminds us that Meg Ryan's character in "Sleepless in Seattle" tells her colleague that the stat wasn't true. Ryan's co-worker, played by Rosie O'Donnell, retorts: "It's not true, but it feels true."

Indeed, it did feel true. Of course, women understood intellectually that they had delayed marriage because they had studied, traveled, worked or simply needed to slog through a bunch of dysfunctional relationships before they figured out the part about making it work forever. And they knew that there were still plenty of great guys out there, men who had made similar journeys themselves or were back on the market after their first rounds of divorce. But emotionally, that stat is responsible for a lot of anguish. I'm talking about the insidious unease that manifested itself in a little voice that told women that they were somehow flawed if they hadn't scored a rock by a certain deadline. That stat made a lot of very decent and awesome women feel like crap for a very long time.

I, for one, am burnt out on the unjustified panic of Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw. I prefer the plan of Liz Tuccillo (the unmarried, 40-something co-author of "He's Just Not That Into You"), who hopes to broadcast the new stat from 1996 -- one that says that a 40-year-old woman has a 40 percent chance of marrying, and that number is probably even higher today.

"That new statistic needs to have its own parade," Tuccillo told the Times. "There need to be banners and virus e-mailing and a national holiday."

Yes, it does. Or we need to hang out more with Cindy Chupack, former executive producer of HBO's "Sex and the City," who's going to 12 weddings this summer for brides in their late 30s or older. And she's getting married at age 40.

I'd like to see more of that kind of news -- or maybe a new HBO series.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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