Thursday, September 16, 2010

Man Up, Already

     Last month in Northern Afghanistan, the Taliban stoned an adulterous couple to death. It was the first stoning in Afghanistan since the U.S. occupation. Certainly the brutality of the act was part of the reason many people in the United States and Europe have such a problem with Islam. Another part is the difference between Western and Islamic views of the sexes. Majority opinion in Islam and the West diverges on this issue, but both cultures tend to be defined by their extremes—and the extremes are true opposites. There could not be more difference between the sexual orthodoxy of the Taliban or al-Shebab, who occupy one extreme, and Western radical feminists, who occupy the other. Radical feminists assert that all sexual intercourse is rape, while al-Shebab stone rape victims for committing adultery. The challenge to the West is to reject both extremes and allow natural masculinity and femininity to flourish.

     As with many other segments of the progressive agenda, feminism has outlived the conditions that originally made it necessary in America. Originally, the great-grandmothers of the feminists campaigned for the right to vote. Now, the big causes are equal funding for women’s sports and the unfair advantages enjoyed by attractive women (“lookism”). Even the most zealous feminists would surely agree that voting rights were more important than sports and beauty. The tendency among movements is toward self-perpetuation. When a movement has succeeded as utterly as feminism, it can only justify its continuing existence by manufacturing new crises to overcome. Since genuine crises are not in unlimited supply, this technique inevitably cheapens the moral force of the original cause. It is wholly right to say that women are not the property of men or that women must be allowed to vote. Any other position is morally bankrupt. However, sometimes feminists launch indignation appropriate for such moral bankrupts against people who do not agree that women’s sports and men’s sports must be funded the same at public colleges. Never mind that the markets for the two are vastly different in size, the point is to retain the moral high ground by remaining in high dudgeon. Ironically, the effect is to sacrifice the moral high ground by sacrificing credibility. Like a witness in court who protests too much, the feminist who takes such positions is hardly compelling.

     Or would be, but for Title IX. Written without mentioning athletics, the 1972 law prohibited the preclusion, based on sex, of any person from participating in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” In the years since, multiple presidential executive orders and court opinions have wrangled over the meaning of the law. A new round of such wrangling began last April, and the matter remains undecided. The fact that our country remains in debate over the worthiness of this notion—essentially, that the law should enforce absolute equality between the sexes—is strong evidence of how far we have come from female servitude like that of the Taliban. While there is comfort in knowing how far removed we are from that group, nonetheless we ought to be able to see that there is danger in pursuing absolute sexual equality throughout society.

     The danger of radical feminism arises because it is unnatural. Nothing could be plainer than the anatomical differences between men and women. The physical differences range from average upper body strength to the presence of the womb in only one of the two sexes. Radical feminists tend to discount such differences, sometimes arguing that the advent of a fully mechanized economy made the superior strength of males irrelevant. There is some truth in that claim. Consider that although arguments for sexual equality go back to the Greek Stoics, female emancipation did not occur in history until after the industrial revolution. On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that men and women have fundamentally changed since pre-history. If they have not done so physically, why should we expect they have done so psychologically?

     For the psychological differences between men and women are real and important. Moreover, these differences are hard to suppress, despite the effort to establish radical feminist claims of absolute equality as the compelling norm in the West. In 1992, just at the point when the feminist project seemed to have rooted out all contrary opinion, the relationship coach John Gray published a best-selling book on the differences between the sexes. Astoundingly popular among women, the book and its successors proceeded from the premise that acknowledging the psychological differences between men and women leads to better communication within a relationship. Perhaps because Gray’s mission was essentially to improve romance, the idea that some psychological differences do exist between the sexes has returned to the public consciousness without too much opposition. On the other hand, the radical feminist agenda is still active, as we see from the decision last spring by the Department of Defense to allow women to serve on submarines.

     The problems of women in the military will be for a later post, but the point today is that despite the well-accepted differences between the sexes, the radical feminist agenda is still trying to crush all official acknowledgement of such differences. Given the evidence, it is apparent that radical feminism is promoting a lie. The costs of that lie have been serious, and among the most serious casualties have been traditional masculinity and femininity.

     Feminist orthodoxy calls the traditional roles oppressive. The idea is that forcing women to stay home and raise children, rather than allowing them to go out in the world and compete in the job market, is unjust. The problem for the feminists is that far too many women remain more interested in hearth and home than in a career. They are happy to work, but many of them find less satisfaction in work than men. To their credit, women often need more than just a job in their lives. For instance, single women are far more likely than single men to be custodial parents, either after divorce or having never married. Indeed, single women are significantly more likely than single men to adopt children. Nothing about these trends should surprise anyone who understands natural male and female psychology, but it is explicable to feminists only as an artifact of patriarchal oppression. Of course, insisting on this orthodoxy leads some radical feminists to deny women the choice they most want.

     Ironic though it is, this denial of choice is not the worst artifact of feminist orthodoxy. Feminist rhetoric has not been able to suppress the natural interest of many women in family over career. However, feminist rhetoric has succeeded in destroying the traditional sexual roles, such that men are no longer expected to support their families. In many other ways, feminism has destroyed the obligations of each sex toward the other, to the detriment of both.

     Since women are to be the equals of men in the workplace, what intellectual justification exists for them to receive financial support from men? Isn’t such support demeaning? Isn’t it actually oppressive? The purist has to say that it is, and men have been selfishly good at reading the logic of that proposition. Why should they marry and support the women with whom they have sexual relations? Any children that may result are her problem, and the new sexual equality means that he need not even be ashamed. This loss of masculine shame has been the worst effect of radical feminism on American society.

     When men are free to have all the sexual intercourse they want without making any commitment to their partners, too many of them naturally choose that irresponsible course. In taking away the traditional obligations of manhood, feminism has removed much of the social pressure on males to become men. In effect, we are left with large, self-indulgent adolescents who have no particular reason to mature. Why should they, since women now give them everything they want before marriage? Feminist orthodoxy protects them from having to support a wife, but in doing so it also removes one of the main ways by which young males have traditionally become responsible men.

     When there is no accepted moral content in the term “man,” males are free to define the term however they want. Indeed, this point is part of another Leftist agenda item, radical individualism. Who are you to tell me how to live my life? But the whole point of social norms is to protect the community from selfish indulgence. The male who rejects the traditional obligations of manhood is able to avoid the burden of supporting an unlimited string of illegitimate children. He effectively preys on the women who raise his bastards and on the society that provides such women the welfare they require. Moreover, society will pay again when the boys he has abandoned grow up and imprint on the nearest example of a dominant male figure available. If boys do not have responsible fathers, they will find a role model wherever they can, even if that role model is the criminal gang leader down the street.

     All this used to be common sense. Radical feminism has destroyed this consensus, with the connivance of both sexes. Each seems to have gotten something from the feminist revolution, but each has also lost a great deal. It is not discrimination or oppression to expect both sexes to live up to certain norms, certain traditional sets of obligations toward one another. We can start by allowing the natural sexual differences to reassert themselves despite feminist doctrine, for instance by not demanding exactly equal funding for men’s and women’s sports at college. However, society also requires positive norms for sexual roles. These roles must be sufficiently well accepted that males will experience some quantum of shame when they fail to act like men. In effect, we need an entire generation to man up.


  1. When I was growing up I was told and believed - to my cost! - that males and females were not different psychologically. Let me just say however that I think it's always important to remember that people are individuals with individual qualities that may not be typical of their sex/gender. I agree that feminism is self-perpetuating. I have noticed a strong anti-feminist tendency in certain groups of young women (e.g. when I was teaching at a provincial university a few years ago).

  2. Yes, exactly--I was taught and believed the same thing. "Men and women are identical psychologically." What's more, I absorbed a related moral point, which was "men and women are identical psychologically, _as they should be._" The evidence now has shown that there are large differences across statistically significant populations. Moreover, I'm convinced that we do better to acknowledge those differences. The shocking point to someone with teachers like mine was that doing so is not discriminatory or oppressive. In most cases, it is empowering. There will always be atypical people, of course, but in making room for them we need not try to rewire the rest of the species. My concern is that the fundamental impulses are strong enough that they will express themselves no matter what. If we do not maintain a social apparatus that channels those impulses in healthy ways, we will get unhealthy results.

  3. It never stopped being a social norm to take care of your kid. I don't know who you're hanging around, but none of my flaming liberal friends approve of deadbeat dads. In a lot of states, you'll lose your driver's license if you fail to pay child support. Yes, we should encourage men to be fathers, emotionally and financially, but why stick with "traditional sets of obligations"? Sometimes, tradition sucks - like not letting women vote, remember that tradition?

    Yes, we should, and we do, acknowledge that men and women are physically and psychologically different. But how does that translate into less than equal funding for girls? If the market for men's collegiate sports is as big as you say it is, girls actually need the funding more since men can make extra on the open market. Or do you think college sports are somewow more important to a man's career than to a woman's? Or that women don't benefit all the same ways men do?

  4. Erika, you’re absolutely right that some traditions were unjust. As I mentioned in the essay, not letting women vote was at the top of that list. You’re also right that nobody approves of deadbeat dads. But there are still too many of them, which means the norm isn’t changing behavior. Therefore, it’s not working as a norm any more.

    Think about your second point: “If the market for men’s collegiate sports is as big as you say it is, girls actually need the funding more….” Your unspoken assumption is that someone—it tends to be the courts—should intervene in the market to equalize outcomes. That’s a fundamental assumption of the Left, and one I (and many conservatives) reject. Let colleges set their budgets according to their own conditions. Some schools will have a big demand for women’s sports, and women who find sports important will gravitate to those schools. We don’t need judges or Congress forcing all schools to follow the same politically correct template.

  5. i think the problem with feminism is that it hasn't gone far enough. Optimally, feminism would result in society changing so that the feminine modus operandi is considered the better one. At this point, any conflict between the sexes disappears: women cease to be despised and instead are respected, and men easily see that their extra strength gives them an important role to play in supporting women. Instantly, also, men stop appraising themselves in terms of their machoness, but, rather, in terms of how helpful their conduct is in supporting the feminine. Women, now they feel accepted ergo protected by society, feel less self-conscious in being themselves and are happier to participate in social life.

    The point is, women are the weaker sex, therefore they need to be put at the centre of society. Or, of course, you could just get rid of them ...

    At the moment, society doesn't even seem to acknowledge that women exist.

  6. I am enjoying this article now. Thank you, and I am so glad that you put it out. I was wanting to ask you questions along these lines for a long time. On a lot of these social issues I am caught in a difficult middle, with the left and right trying to polarize me. I was raised up, very Christian Right. I now follow the Secular Right. I have a lot of things that need more study. Have a wonderful night and a Merry Christmas, wink, and a Happy New Year.