As we approach the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s feminist magnum opus, The Feminine Mystique, we can have a perspective on feminism that was largely unavailable heretofore.
And that perspective doesn’t make feminism look good. Yes, women have more opportunities to achieve career success; they are now members of most Jewish and Christian clergy; women’s college sports teams are given huge amounts of money; and there are far more women in political positions of power. But the prices paid for these changes — four in particular — have been great, and outweigh the gains for women, let alone for men and for society.
Argument: The first was the feminist message to young women to have sex just as men do. There is no reason for them to lead a different sexual life than men, they were told. Just as men can have sex with any woman solely for the sake of physical pleasure, so, too, women ought to enjoy sex with any man just for the fun of it. The notion that the nature of women is to hope for at least the possibility of a long-term commitment from a man they sleep with has been dismissed as sexist nonsense.
As a result, vast numbers of young American women had, and continue to have, what are called “hookups”; and for some of them it is quite possible that no psychological or emotional price has been paid. But the majority of women who are promiscuous do pay prices. One is depression. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently summarized an academic study on the subject: “A young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.”
Fact: The study doesn’t say exactly what Prager says it says. Take it from a Science Person: “As a statistician and behavioral scientist, there is no compelling reason to think that larger numbers of sexual partners are truly ‘causing’ less happiness,” he says. It’s more likely that the reverse is true. “I find Ms. Right; she makes me happy; I then don’t need to look for any other sexual partners,” he says. “Until I find Ms. Right, it is quite rational to have plenty of sexual partners, and as a bonus it’s fun along the way.” The problem is that it’s hard to conduct a solid lab experiment on such a thing — “it is not like testing a new sleeping pill against a placebo,” he says.
Argument: The second awful legacy of feminism has been the belief among women that they could and should postpone marriage until they developed their careers. Only then should they seriously consider looking for a husband. Thus, the decade or more during which women have the best chance to attract men is spent being preoccupied with developing a career. Again, I cite woman callers to my radio show over the past 20 years who have sadly looked back at what they now, at age 40, regard as 20 wasted years. Sure, these frequently bright and talented women have a fine career. But most women are not programmed to prefer a great career to a great man and a family. They feel they were sold a bill of goods at college and by the media. And they were. It turns out that most women without a man do worse in life than fish without bicycles.
Fact: Feminism has actually been great for marriage. People in egalitarian marriages are happier than those who aren’t; they also have more sex. Couples who marry later have significantly lower divorce rates — the chance of divorce decreases every year a woman delays marriage, and the most stable marriages occur after the woman is 35. “Today, men rank intelligence and education way above cooking and housekeeping as a desirable trait in a partner.” Educated, high-earning women have the lowest divorce rates. So while I don’t discount the feelings of women who call into Dennis Prager’s radio show, the actual statistics tell a very different story.
Argument: The third sad feminist legacy is that so many women — and men — have bought the notion that women should work outside the home that for the first time in American history, and perhaps world history, vast numbers of children are not primarily raised by their mothers or even by an extended family member. Instead they are raised for a significant part of their childhood by nannies and by workers at daycare centers. Whatever feminists may say about their only advocating choices, everyone knows the truth: Feminism regards work outside the home as more elevating, honorable, and personally productive than full-time mothering and making a home.
Facts: I’ll start off with an argument here instead of a fact: If raising a child is The Most Important Thing You Can Do, and work necessarily interferes with that, why is Dennis Prager clearly working and not at home raising his kids? Fathers can raise their children too. But ok, Real Facts:
-Parents today — mothers and fathers — spend more time with their children than they did in the idealized homemaker heyday of the 1950s and 60s.
-Research on the cognitive and socioemotional development of children of employed mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers has shown almost no discernible differences. What differences do exist come out when certain sub-groups are examined — for example, daughters of employed mothers exhibit greater independence and career success.
-Feminists aren’t opposed to stay-at-home parenting. Last I checked, it’s not Republicans and conservatives like Prager who are advocating for things like federally mandated maternal and paternal leave.
Argument: And the fourth awful legacy of feminism has been the demasculinization of men. For all of higher civilization’s recorded history, becoming a man was defined overwhelmingly as taking responsibility for a family. That notion — indeed the notion of masculinity itself — is regarded by feminism as the worst of sins: patriarchy.
Men need a role, or they become, as the title of George Gilder’s classic book on single men describes them: Naked Nomads. In little more than a generation, feminism has obliterated roles. If you wonder why so many men choose not to get married, the answer lies in large part in the contemporary devaluation of the husband and of the father — of men as men, in other words. Most men want to be honored in some way — as a husband, a father, a provider, as an accomplished something; they don’t want merely to be “equal partners” with a wife.
Facts: I’m sure the idea of being “equal” to a mere woman feels very emasculating to men who think that masculinity is about being better than women. But the insecurities of a few dudes — an inability to have a sense of purpose outside of “being better than women” — doesn’t really justify oppressing half the population, you know?
Also, equal marriages are happier marriages, and equal marriages tend to be more stable. Oh and men tend to be happier than women in marriages. Perhaps it’s true that Manly Men aren’t getting married as often as they once were — it’s hard to find statistics on Manly Man alone. Maybe women are less interested (and less obligated) to marry men who treat them like domestic servants rather than partners. As Amanda points out, far fewer women kill their husbands today than they did 30 years ago — that is perhaps indicative of the fact that women have more options to escape abusive relationships than they used to, and it’s less common for a woman to feel that she has no option other than to murder her abuser. It’s perhaps indicative of the fact that while women today are certainly still pressured to stay in abusive situations and are told by people like Prager than being a “real man” means being dominant and being a “real woman” means sticking with a manly-man who treats you like garbage, feminists have offered another model, and it means fewer people — but especially fewer men — are getting murdered.
Maybe it also means that Manly Men(TM) who think that Manliness is tied to treating women like lesser beings get less action, and end up single forever. I’m ok with that, and society seems to be better for it.