In 1972, Matina Horner made headlines with her finding that women suffered from a ''fear of success.'' Colette Dowling followed suit a few years later with ''The Cinderella Complex,'' an analysis of women's ''hidden fear of independence.''
Now Megan Marshall, following the trend of exposing fault lines in the lives of women, claims in ''The Cost of Loving'' to have found another fear, a ''new fear of intimacy.'' Observing that her friends' careers were interfering with long-term relationships, Marshall began to wonder if feminist ideology was holding women back. She set out across the country and interviewed 40 single working women, aged 26 to 37, hoping to examine the first symptoms of the breakdown of the feminist code, the ''growing pains of an entire generation.'' Marshall became convinced that this generation of women needed to ''re-examine its ideals, find new words for new hopes and ambitions,'' before it was ''too late.''
Horner and Dowling based their work on the questionable assumption that the achieving, autonomous male was the human ideal, and this led them to the even more questionable conclusion that women's fears of success and independence deviated from a desirable norm. Marshall's work, while well written, engaging, and provocative, may also rest on shaky terrain. For while she states that women have ''borrowed'' their new fear from men, ''along with business suits and briefcases,'' she nowhere discusses the situation or fears of men.
This oversight becomes a serious liability when she claims that in women's development fear of intimacy assumes a ''more severe and more prolonged'' form than in men's. How does she know, and why are we to believe her?
In her composite studies of women suffering from ''fear of intimacy,'' many of the women, instead of showing an aversion to relationships, seem to be longing for human connection. They are willing to give up partnerships in prestigious law firms and jobs as stock analysts to be with their lovers. One television anchorwoman asks, ''What kind of acid did I take to live a life like this? I'm tired of thinking about me, me, me.'' An Ivy League professor laments, ''It's one thing to have a room of your own - but can you live your whole life in it?''
These women, part of what Marshall labels the ''Control Generation,'' seem, in fact, unsure how to control their lives. As one artist phrased it, women are haunted by the choice between one's ''brains and reproductive tract.'' These women do not want to relive the intellectual suffocation experienced by their housewife mothers, nor do they want to sacrifice the meaning and stimulation found in their work.
The most troublesome part of ''The Cost of Loving'' is the final chapter, ''Marriage: The New Risk.'' Marshall chronicles the life of Franny Larsen, a high-powered New York advertising executive, who gets married in the course of Marshall's research. She follows her husband to Milwaukee because the move is best for his career, gives up her own job, and now spends time free-lancing and tending garden and home. From the glowing comments she makes after a year of marriage, we are apparently to assume that she has found the kind of fulfillment Marshall feels women need today.
But this scenario sounds disturbingly familiar, and the author fails to show how Larsen's decision differs from that made by many brides in the 1950s. Moreover, one wonders how many couples today could afford to live on only one steady paycheck, or how many careers would lend themselves so handily to the part-time employment Larsen enjoys. Marshall doesn't discuss the difficulties of going back to a traditional mode of marriage, nor does she mention the challenges and compromises involved in meshing the complexities of a two-career marriage. In short, her view of marriage seems naive.
While Marshall offers a solid critique of the feminist ideology of the 1970s, which emphasized achievement to the exclusion of affiliation, her solution seems to be the sacrifice of achievement. Her ''fear of intimacy'' in women may, in fact, be an awareness of the cost of juggling careers, marriage, and family.