The war between the sexes has become a stalemate. Men had been on the offensive by wielding most of the power in relationships for thousands of years, but women had been turning the tide back over the last forty. The result? Now, the two armies have stopped moving. They have completely separated from each other, sitting motionless while staring at each other across a no man’s land of loneliness and broken hearts.
How do I know this? I read the headlines.
A majority of marriageable women are living without husbands. An increasing number of single women are purchasing homes by themselves. The total number of single Americans is also growing. More men say they never want to get married. In Britain, there are single men than unattached women. Hundreds of websites offer advice for singles ranging from picking up a one-night stand to finding the love of one’s life.
More and more dating websites exist for those who are unable to find a partner. (In business parlance, the size of the market is increasing.) There are dozens of blogs on dating on just this one list. Teenagers, college students, and recent graduates are hooking up rather than forming significant relationships. Men and women are marrying at increasingly older ages — now twenty-seven for men and twenty-five for women. “Starter marriages” are becoming more common.
Well, what’s going on?
First, we need to understand the basic mentalities of men and women in the context of evolutionary psychology. For tens of thousands of years, men were the providers of resources and protection while women took care of hearth and home. Nature programmed men to spread their seed as far as possible, while women wanted men to stay and take care of their children. So, society founded the institution of marriage to get men to stay with the children. (I believe there are spiritual aspects to marriage as well, but its practicality cannot be overstated.)
These needs and desires were programmed into our societies — and our brains — over millennia. Men and women needed each other because each half of a couple provided things that the other could not. Women wanted men who would provide resources, and men wanted fertile women who would bear and raise their children. Women date up; men date beauty. Forty years of feminism cannot change these subconscious attitudes.
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Over the last several decades, however, the roles have changed. Women have become independent, and men have become less necessary. (New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd even wrote a book with that as its title.) The result — and the reason for the increasing prevalence of singleness — is simple. Men and women feel that they no longer need each other, and this attitude is separating men and women.
Feminism’s Unintended Consequences
What caused this? Feminism. More specifically, the unintended consequences of feminism. Feminism helped women overcome their lowly, undeserved status as non-voting citizens whose only duties were getting married and having kids. Still, like every social movement, it has had effects that no one could have foreseen.
First, we must start with women. After all, women make the choices in the dating game: Women choose which suitors have a chance, but men hit on every single girl above a certain general threshold of attractiveness. When a man makes the “first move,” he usually responds to a subconscious sign of interest that the woman has already sent. This is an important principle. Women make most of the choices in the dating scene because they must be picky: They only have one fertile egg per month, and they literally live with the consequences of sex. Now that women are becoming equal to — and even surpassing — men in school and the workplace, they can take care of themselves. They do not need a provider.
However, this conflicts with the subconscious attitudes that women have. Girls are raised with tales of a perfect Prince Charming who will rescue them. They idolize their fathers (for better or worse, depending on what type of men they were). They are treated like princesses. Most importantly, they have the evolutionary impulse to date up. They want someone amazing. Women, indeed, want it all. (This attitude can lead to more regret later in life when they realize that no one can have it all.)
This desire, however, works against a woman’s interests. Women are progressing along a set path — high school, college, graduate school/career, marriage, and then family — and only worry about having fun while teenagers and twentysomethings. Marriage and family now seem to be burdened with delaying as long as possible rather than wondrous joys. The irony of the situation is that women have the greatest chance of attracting a partner before the age of twenty-five, roughly when they are most attractive. Biology, after all, is working against them. There is nothing wrong with getting married in college or graduate school and waiting to have children, but this thought rarely crosses anyone’s mind.
Focusing on one’s career for a long time also poses another risk. The more successful a woman becomes, the smaller the pool of acceptable men becomes. In other words, successful, career-oriented women price themselves out of the market unless they date men who earn less money or have less education. Authors like Barbara Whitehead complain that no good men left, but the reality is simple: Men have not fallen; women have risen. It is hard to “date up,” for example, when one graduates from Harvard and works on Wall Street. Many successful women are unhappy because they feel that they must hide their success or subconsciously resent their husbands or boyfriends if they earn lower salaries. Feminism, in a nutshell, has made women pickier.
Men Are Scared and Pickier
Now, I’m not only blaming women. Men, too, are at fault. Feminism also made men pickier — but for different reasons. Advertisers have always used sex to sell products, but one unintended result of feminism is that overt sexuality and pornography have become mainstream. (Pornography, according to one school of feminism, empowers women. I don’t see it this way.)
Men are bombarded with images of fake, doctored, unrealistic women in television programs, advertising, and pornography. Their standards have become higher, even though the vast majority of men should not reasonably expect to date a Perfect Ten (or even an Imperfect Seven). Still, women have adapted to this trend by looking and acting like porn stars to attract men: exposing themselves for Girls Gone Wild video crews; posting in soft-core porn magazines like FHM and Maxim; making out with each other; wearing slutty clothes, and otherwise acting like pieces of meat.
Feminism made men pickier, and it also made pre-marital sex acceptable and common. However, we have now traveled to the opposite end of the spectrum. By allowing their base instincts to take over, men have allowed women to degrade themselves rather than be treated respectfully. In the end, women suffer because of the Madonna-Whore Complex: men want to hook up with these women, but no man would ever marry one of them. Evolution has taught men to value marital fidelity — from a biological standpoint, a man wants to be confident that his children are, well, his. No guy wants to have sex with the girl whom everyone in the bar has already done. I wonder how many women are now alone because of this sentiment, but I imagine that the Madonna-Whore line is difficult to tread.
The ease with which men can obtain sex is another reason for the lackluster dating scene. As a result of women’s liberation, men can now have sex with women who are just as promiscuous as they are. Why buy the cow when the milk is free? In fact, an unintended consequence of feminism has been to remove any motivation for men to get married. Men do not need to take care of women. Men can get companionship from their friends. Men can watch sports and play video games on flat-screen televisions. Men can have sex and hook up with untold numbers of available women (or download free pornography). Men can cook for themselves, or they can order take-out. Men can hire cleaning services.
The only practical reason for marriage, it seems, is to raise children — but fewer and fewer men have that desire as well. Birth rates in the United States, as well as Western Europe, have been steadily declining. I cannot provide a satisfactory explanation, but it seems that people have generally become more selfish and unwilling over the last several decades to spend their money and time on children. To paraphrase a line from a recent Economist article, I guess clubbing is more fun than changing diapers.
However, there may be darker reasons for an anti-marriage bias among men. Recent hysteria in the United States and Great Britain over sexual predators has led society to view all men as potential criminals who threaten children. Men have even had to develop coping strategies resulting, and fewer of them are volunteering to work in education and help children in need. According to several reports, boys also face discrimination at school. I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable raising children in this environment.
Male children may have a harder time at school, but men, in general, are now told that they are nothing more than idiots and buffoons. Most television commercials and nightly sitcoms portray men (and husbands) as stupid books and women (and wives) as intelligent and sexy. Women used to be stereotyped as flakes, but now the tables have turned. Perhaps each gender will be treated with respect one day.
My generation, the one that grew up in the seventies and eighties, became known as the Divorce Generation for a reason. This upbringing has interfered, in paradoxical ways, with our searches for spouses. Since we grew up in broken homes, we desperately want to create stable homes that we never had. At the same time, we are extremely picky because we do not want to choose wrong and endure a divorce again.
Men, however, fear divorce mainly because the courts are stacked against them. The family law came when women were dependent on men, so most divorce settlements included alimony and an equal division of assets. (Oh, and ex-wives always seem to get the children.) Even though men and women can now take care of themselves, women will still receive the house, the children, and half of their ex-husband’s salary. In a world in which half of all marriages will end in divorce, can men be blamed if they think that the benefit of marriage is not worth the risk?
Where We Stand
So, after all of the changes that feminism brought to society, this is where the two armies stand. Women are frustrated because their worldly success has hindered their search for the manly provider their genes and upbringing have told them to want. They are increasingly picky. They feel pressured to act in a hypersexual manner while knowing that most men, in the end, will only marry the Madonna, not the Whore. Women realize that they are losing their ability to become part of a codependent couple by becoming as independent as possible. Women try to “have it all” — a full-time career with devoting enough time to raise a family well — while knowing that it is practically impossible. Women think that all men are lazy slobs at best and potential criminals at worst.
Men believe that they will all get a woman with the looks of a model and the abilities of a porn star, and they do not want to settle for anything less. At the same time, they want a virtuous woman who will raise children properly and create a nice home. Men feel inadequate because they are denigrated in the media. They are unsure of their place in society because the role that evolution has told them to play — that of manly provider — no longer exists. Men see little need for marriage because its benefits can be gained elsewhere, and they stand a fifty-fifty chance of losing their children and half their assets if they were to get married.
Many of the practical benefits of marriage are no longer applicable because both men and women are self-sufficient, so that people may be looking primarily for love. While this is a nice thought, anyone who has been in the dating scene for a while knows that it is scarce to find someone with whom one immediately “clicks.” It is no wonder the people are remaining single for so long. But the longer that people are single and independent, the harder it is for people to compromise, change, leave their comfort zones, and become part of an interdependent couple.
Now, the two armies — men and women — sit and face each other across the desolate no man’s land. Each side wants to raise a neutral flag, stop the fighting, and offer negotiation terms, but each side is too proud to make the first move. They would rather talk amongst themselves while complaining about the enemy — it’s easier, of course. But no conflict has ever been solved that way.