Part 2 of 2
Let us consider Wendy Shalit’s account, culled from anecdotes and women’s magazines, of the sexual situation women face today. The humble corporate drone who has to fear harassment charges and loss of livelihood if he winks at the girl in the next cubicle will feel as if he stepped through Alice’s looking glass when he reads this material. Here is a realm in which men have reduced women to struggling to see who can offer them the most and the best sex, frantically searching the Kama Sutra for some new position or technique that will manage to gratify their cloyed appetites.
The men who inhabit this world are concerned not that women remain faithful, but that they do not become “clingy.” Cosmo supports them, advising women to scurry out the door immediately after sex for fear of intruding on the Big Important things their man has to do that day that do not involve them — and that may well include a tryst with another girlfriend. “It’s sad to see that this is what it’s come to,” says one woman: “that guys will raise the bar and girls will scramble to meet it. Women just want to know what they have to do to get these guys to fall in love with them” (GGM, p. 176). One young woman explains: “If I don’t do whatever [my boyfriend] wants and he broke up with me for some reason, two days from now he’d have somebody else. That’s just how it works” (GGM, p. 177). “The men who share these women’s beds,” says Shalit, “are treated like kings or princes whose authority comes from God himself, whereas the women’s own feelings and even their health concerns are restricted in the extreme” (GGM, p. 81). Shalit advises one such woman to “run, not walk, to the nearest exit, trying not to trip over all the naked women on her way out” (GGM, p. 79).
All these stories certainly make it appear that, in the brave new world of the sexual revolution, the man’s position is stronger than under monogamy while the woman’s is weaker. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me pose a simple question that Shalit never considers. It used to be that there was roughly one girl for every boy; if men now have harems, where are the extra women coming from?
The answer is equally simple and obvious. Most men do not have harems, of course, and there are no more women than formerly. Some men have harems because women “liberated” from monogamy mate only with unusually attractive men. This situation demonstrates not the weakness of the woman’s position but its strength. If the male sex instinct were the primary determinant of mating, the overall pattern would be the most attractive women getting gang-banged.
In order to understand what is really going on, it will be necessary to shine a harsh light on a matter women instinctively prefer to keep under wraps: the female sex drive. Shalit almost never refers to it, and there is even a certain appropriateness about this, since such reticence is part of the feminine modesty she is trying to reestablish. But it means a veil is drawn over some important circumstances that must be honestly confronted if marriage and the natural family are to be restored as social norms.
When a young girl becomes erotically aware of boys, she is endowed by nature with a set of blinders that exclude the majority of them — including many who can make good husbands — from her sight. What gets a male within her narrow range of vision is called “sexual attractiveness.” What is it?
It is not possible to find out by asking women themselves. They will insist until they are blue in the face that they want only a sensitive, respectful fellow who treats them right. “Intelligence, kindness, personality [and] a certain sense of humor” make up Wendy Shalit’s list of supposedly sought-after male qualities (RM, p. 116). In a passage on the decline of male courtesy she delivers the following ludicrous assertion deadpan: “When . . . a man does dare to open a door for a woman, he is snapped up right away” (RM, p. 156).
When women claim to be seeking kindness, respect, a sense of humor, etc., they mean at most that they would like to find these qualities in the men who are already within their erotic field of view. When a man asks what women are looking for, he is trying to find out how he can get into that field of view. Women do not normally say, either because they do not know themselves or because it embarrasses them to speak about it. The advice they do give harms a lot of lonely men who mistakenly concentrate their mating effort on showing kindness and courtesy to ungrateful brats rather than working to gain the things females actually respond to.
Fortunately, we do not have to depend upon female testimony. It is with women as with politicians: if you wish to understand them you must ignore what they say and watch what they do. Plentiful evidence gathered over a vast range of history and culture leaves no room for doubt: women are attracted to men who possess some combination of physical appearance, social status, and resources.
In the environment in which we evolved, the careful choice of a mate was critical to a female’s success in passing on her genes. If her man was not strong enough to be a successful hunter, or not of sufficiently high rank within the tribe to commandeer food from others, her children might be in trouble. The women who were reproductively successful were those with a sexual preference for effective providers. A kind of erotic “tunnel vision” was selected for, which causes women to focus their mating effort on the men at the top of the pack — the “alpha males” with good physical endowments, social rank, and economic resources (or an ability to acquire them). Today the female preference for tall men, to give just one example, no longer makes much sense, but they, and we, are stuck with it.
What women instinctively want is for 99 percent of the men they run into to leave them alone, buzz off, drop dead — while the one to whom they feel attracted makes all their dreams come true. One of the keys to deciphering female speech is that the term “men” signifies for them only the very restricted number of men they find sexually attractive. All the dirty articles in Cosmo about “giving him the sex he craves” and “driving him wild in bed” concern this man of her dreams, who by some amazing coincidence usually turns out to be the man of some other girl’s dreams as well.
During their nubile years, many women are at least as concerned with turning male desire off (i.e., telling the 99 percent to drop dead) as with turning it on (getting Mr. Alpha to commit): they get more offers of attention than they have time to process. Cunning feminists, many of them lesbians, have exploited this circumstance to the hilt, convincing naive young women they are being “harassed.” Quietly observing the furor over so-called harassment during the past two decades, I wondered how these women could fail to realize that the men of whom they were complaining constituted their pool of potential husbands and that they could not afford to alienate all of them. Clearly, I overestimated their intelligence. And Wendy Shalit does not distinguish herself in this respect either; she uses the term “harassment” as freely and uncritically as any man-hating feminist could wish.
But surely North America’s leading spokesman for feminine modesty would never encourage young women to date simply on the basis of their sexual urges?
Well, let’s see. At one point in her first book she is discussing a woman’s use of the controversial drug Prozac to help her “date calmly.” She then blurts out: “Maybe a woman shouldn’t be dating calmly — maybe it should be dizzying and tailspinning and all the rest. Maybe the floor should drop” (RM, p. 165). What she is describing here is female sexual arousal; it takes an emotional form. Her statement is the precise female equivalent of a man saying: “Men shouldn’t date calmly — they should date only young hotties with fantastic legs, hourglass figures, etc.” What would Wendy Shalit think of that advice?
Now, let me be clear: I do not have any objection per se to every woman being able to marry a stunningly handsome, successful man who makes her swoon in blissful passion eternally, yada, yada; I am merely pointing out that the world does not work this way, and men are not to blame that it doesn’t.
Moreover, there is nothing in the definition of marriage about the man (or woman) being attractive. That is because the marriage vow lays out the duties of the two spouses. Duty implies possibility. A man usually can, with considerable self-control and sacrifice, remain faithful to a single woman and support her and the children; he cannot become a romance novel hero and turn his wife’s life into a perpetual honeymoon.
The traditional answer to the question, “How do I get Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome to commit?” is, “You probably won’t.” Those men go fast, and they usually go to the most attractive females. But that does not, of course, guarantee the contentment of those females either: four women walked out on Cary Grant. Part of the folk wisdom of all ages and peoples has been that sexual attraction is an inadequate basis for matrimony.
Monogamy means that women are not permitted to mate with a man, however attractive, once he has been claimed by another woman. It does not get a more attractive mate for a woman than she would otherwise get; it normally gets her a less attractive one. “Liberated,” hypergamous female mating — i.e., what we have now — is what ensures highly attractive mates for most women. But, of course, those mates “don’t commit” — really, are unable to commit to all the women who desire them. The average woman must decide between having the most attractive “sex partner” possible and having a permanent husband. If she were serious about seeking commitment, in fact, the rational procedure would be to seek out a particularly unattractive man, i.e., one for whom there is the least possible competition. This thought seldom occurs to young women, however.
For an ordinary man to mate with a woman, either (1) he must work himself into her field of erotic vision (e.g., by amassing wealth and achieving status — not by demonstrating that he is “kind” and “respectful of women”); or (2) she must take off the blinders and widen her own field of vision until it includes him. This latter is what I term the “grandmother effect.” Young women used to be routinely advised by their elders not to base their behavior toward men upon sexual attraction, despising ordinary men and immodestly throwing themselves at good-looking, high-status men. Most young women concluded from this that grandma was just too old to understand love. But sometimes the advice may actually have had a slight effect. Consider the words to a popular song from 1963:
I always dreamed the boy I loved would come along
And he’d be tall and handsome, rich and strong.
Now that boy I love has come to me,
But he sure ain’t the way I thought he’d be.
He doesn’t look like a movie star,
He doesn’t drive a Cadillac car,
He sure ain’t the boy I’ve been dreaming of,
But he’s sure the boy I love.
(By the time the song is over, we learn the boyfriend is living off unemployment checks.)
Shalit is no grandma. Besides telling young women that dating is supposed to be tailspinning, she frequently urges them to maintain “high standards” and speaks with fond nostalgia of the days when a suitor was required to “prove his worthiness” to a woman. This sounds delightful, no doubt, but the effect depends on weasel terms. Romantic young men will want to conceive of the “worthiness” they must demonstrate as a moral quality — as being a gentleman, in fact. Young women are more likely to interpret it to mean that they “deserve” a romance-novel hero. To them, “maintaining high standards” will suggest that they should keep their erotic blinders at the narrowest possible setting.
This is not modesty but delusion. The reason men found wives before the sexual revolution was not that they were “worthier” than the date-raping sex-maniacs of today (as many male conservative commentators imply), but because women did not have their expectations formed and their imaginations corrupted by the likes of Cosmo and Gossip Girl. Popular culture’s message of limitless gratification has got ignorant girls so worked up over sex that Casanova himself would not be able to satisfy them. Our author’s vague talk of “worthiness” and “high standards” does nothing to counteract this tendency, and may reinforce it.
In this book as in her last one, Shalit offers no thoughts about what is to be done with the majority of men who are less than tailspinningly attractive. This, however, is a critical question for any society. It is not simply a matter of hurt feelings. Frankly, no one has ever cared very much about the feelings of such men, as they themselves learn early and well. The reason their sexual situation is a legitimate matter for public concern is that “the devil makes work for idle hands.” Poor, low-status bachelors are the most vice-, crime-, and violence-prone group in societies everywhere. No one has ever discovered a better way of employing their time and energies than by making fathers of them. Doing so will, however, involve the immeasurable calamity that certain women will just have to date calmly.
The women the author describes as struggling to get their “sex partners” to commit would be surprised to learn that the indifference of these men to their needs and feelings is precisely paralleled by their own indifference to the majority of men, who remain outside their field of vision. The chief point of distinction, in fact, is that the women’s unhappiness is largely the result of their own poor judgment and behavior; the men’s often is not.
Shalit, however, speaks as if a man’s failure to find a wife were always his own fault. Thus, she writes in an extremely critical vein of men who use pornography as “regressing to infantile sexuality” and “incapable of sustaining an adult sexual relation with a woman” (RM, p. 53). This is perhaps a reasonable position to take for one who believes men can get wives simply by holding doors open for women. But when women are occupied providing harems to a few highly attractive men, many men will perforce find themselves “incapable of sustaining an adult sexual relation with a woman.” It does not follow that there is anything wrong with these men. The fault lies with the women who have abandoned their traditional role of enforcing monogamy. Perhaps one should consider instead whether hypergamous mating and careerist deferral of marriage by young women might not be the principal driving force behind the explosive growth of the pornography industry.
Since the sexual revolution began, plenty of “beta males” have been tearing their hair out trying to discover what on Earth they have to do to make themselves acceptable to the Cosmo girl next door. They hear it said that women do not want to be rushed into sex and are looking for a man to commit. So when a woman does not respond favorably to his first advances, Mr. Beta reasons that he has to demonstrate his commitment. He will “prove his worthiness” to the angelic creature by being patient, kind, attentive, and respectful — exactly what women claim to want from men. He then gets slapped with a harassment accusation. If the woman is a co-worker he will probably lose his job. (Many — perhaps most — employers will fire a man without a hearing upon a woman’s complaint.) The loss of income, of course, does nothing to improve his success with other women.
This pattern may be repeated for many years until, well into his thirties, he unexpectedly finds himself starting to receive come-hither looks from desperate, frustrated, menopausal shrews cast off by more attractive men (or who have divorced such men). Sadly, many men are so lonely that they try to accommodate such women. Then they find themselves on the receiving end of all the resentment against “men” that has been building up in the women’s minds all these years. (Female anger tends to be less focused on the particular person who has caused it.)
There is reason to think such accommodation of women is already becoming less common: ordinary men are understandably growing disgusted with cleaning up other people’s messes. They are starting to reason as follows:
We cannot keep resentful, Cosmo-addled, STD-infected harridans out of our schools, workplaces, or government, but at least we can keep them out of our beds. Let them have the glamorous careers the feminist sisterhood fought so hard to obtain for them. They do not need our paychecks to keep them supplied for a lifetime with pulp romance fiction and magazine articles on “Reversing the Aging Process” or “Seven Kinds of Orgasm and How to Have Them All at Once.” Everyone makes choices in life and must accept the consequences; they long ago made theirs.
This male sexual counterrevolution — “revenge of the nerds,” you might call it — is likely to end up being more important and effective than Shalit’s exclusively feminine strategy of keeping the knickers up until after the wedding. What good will that do when there is not going to be a wedding?
Men do not have to prove their worthiness to anybody. They are the ones who bear the primary costs of marriage. It is a woman’s responsibility to prove she is worthy of the privilege of becoming a man’s helpmeet and bearing his children. It takes a strict upbringing to form a tiny female savage into such a lady. Today, that form of upbringing is mostly a thing of the past: marriageable women are becoming difficult to find, and the costs of searching for them are getting too high.
A man should never base his self-image on what women think of him in any case, because women’s concerns are too materialistic and self-centered. (“He that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife,” as St. Paul put it.) The men who have accomplished the greatest things for our civilization have not, by and large, resembled the heroes of women’s romance fiction; indeed, they have been disproportionately celibate. Once a man realizes what triggers female attraction, and understands that women’s judgments of men are largely rationalizations of this attraction (or its absence), he will not be inclined to overvalue their opinion of him.
I mentioned above that Shalit’s writing is strongly marked by feminine narcissism; passivity is a second feminine trait that heavily colors her account of women’s experiences.
Men, by and large, are doers. They are expected to go out into the world and accomplish something, to strive for success but accept defeat if they must, and always to be strictly accountable for their actions. Women are different. Consider popular romance fiction, that most feminine of literary genres: its key term is “passion,” which implies passivity. A hero simply appears on the scene; the helplessness of the heroine to resist him is strongly emphasized. He sweeps her up in his big, strong arms and carries her off to a realm of endless, blissful feelings. He does, while she merely is.
Romance fiction is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the traditional Christian view of marriage, in which a woman freely enters into a covenant and is subsequently held strictly responsible for living in accordance with its terms. The contrast might be expressed thus: the Christian view of womanhood is ethical, while the romance-novel heroine is a merely natural being.
The women in Wendy Shalit’s anecdotes are of the latter sort: they never seem to do anything. They are like romance heroines in passively submitting to whatever some man does to them, except that they always seem to end up miserable.
In A Return to Modesty, for a first example, the author describes T-shirts designed by the campus feminists at Williams College bearing such charming messages as “I HATE YOU!” and “Don’t touch me again!” One of the shirts read, “Why does this keep happening to me? When will this end?” (RM, p. 9). The woman appealing for our attention and sympathy with this message apparently does not perceive herself as an agent at all; bad things (presumably involving men) simply “keep happening” to her.
Or again, Shalit recounts an incautious 1 a.m. visit of hers to a summer camp counselor’s bedroom when she was a tender 15: “One evening, I suddenly found myself [my emphasis] one floor above the room in which I usually slept. This room, as it happens, was the bedroom of my instructor. I don’t recall exactly the circumstances under which I had alighted there . . .” (RM, pp. 184–85). A man might be tempted to point out that it probably involved putting one foot in front of the other. I do not wish to be too rough on a girl of 15, but when thousands of adult women complain about “finding themselves” in bed with men who have no interest in marrying them, it is harder to be indulgent.
The problem with a passive mindset is that it involves an abdication of personal responsibility. Shalit wants our sympathy for the way her female interviewees are treated by their boyfriends, but she carefully avoids mentioning how the men got to be their boyfriends. In every case, it happened because the women chose them. The rule of nature is that males display while females choose.
Now let us consider in some detail one of Shalit’s unhappy-woman anecdotes which seems to me particularly instructive:
A friend of mine had an affair with her professor when she was 21. She was in his class at the time and madly in love with him; he had no intention of doing anything other than using and summarily disposing of her. I was struck, not that what had happened to her [my emphasis] had deeply upset her, but that she felt she had to apologize: “this is going to sound really cheesy but, um . . . I mean, for God’s sake, he took my virginity!” (RM, p. 11)
Much as I hate to spoil the effect of the touching melodrama the author conjures up for us here, I believe some comments and questions are in order. First, loss of virginity is not something that simply “happens to” a woman. Both author and interviewee speak as if the man “took” his student’s virginity like a pickpocket depriving an unwitting victim of a wallet. How exactly was this young lady’s attention occupied while the unspeakable defilement of her innocence was taking place?
Second, precisely what is meant by the assertion that the young woman was “madly in love”? Love may be the ultimate weasel term, so for purposes of clarification, let me oppose to the author’s anecdote a short one of my own.
I had occasion recently to make some visits to a nursing home. Most of the residents never receive visitors; they just sit, bound to wheelchairs, waiting for death. Such care as they get is provided by low-wage workers speaking Swahili, Amharic, and a Babel of other tongues. Heaven knows where their children or grandchildren are. But a few cases, I noticed, are different. A man who once navigated bombers past Hitler’s Luftwaffe was there, unable to feed himself. Every day his wife appeared and sat by him, patiently spooning the food into his mouth. Was he an “alpha male”? Did he make her swoon with passion? Did he support her any longer? Did he, for that matter, provide her with any benefit at all? No: yet she continued to appear every day for months on end, never complaining, until the day he died. This behavior cannot be explained in terms of rational self-interest, and I submit that it might reasonably be called “love.”
But love in this sense cannot be demonstrated to exist in a young woman — not even a newly married one; it requires a lifetime to reveal itself. So no one is in a position to say for sure whether Shalit’s “madly in love” friend was really prepared to stand by the professor “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” etc. — not even the young woman herself. Even if he had married her en forme, there is a good statistical chance she would have ended up divorcing him after a few years (blaming him, as unfaithful wives invariably do, for the “breakdown” of the marriage). We simply cannot know.
When the author describes this woman as “madly in love,” however, she is not referring to any active service or sacrifice, but to an emotion. This type of love, especially characteristic of the young, might better be termed infatuation. It is a natural occurrence which always wears off over time. It does not merit the respect we pay to a lifetime of proven marital loyalty.
Shalit’s friend probably experienced the podium effect. When a man is addressing an audience, it conveys subrationally to the female mind that he has status: he speaks, while others merely listen. The phenomenon has long been known to Hollywood scriptwriters. Many old Cary Grant romantic comedies contain a scene where the heroine watches him addressing an audience. Shalit could probably tell us plenty about the podium effect herself, if she cared to; she mentions “my admiration for my [future] husband after hearing him speak at a Passover seder” (GGM, p. 103). (Not after his holding a door for her!) In any case, the podium effect is a principal reason for the erroneously termed “lecherous professor” situation.
Third and finally, let us consider the assertion that the professor “had no intention of doing anything other than using and summarily disposing of her.” While I do not wish to approve of professors fornicating with students, it should also be pointed out that most men do not rub their hands like nickelodeon-show villains and cackle: “Heh, heh! I’m going to use this girl to sate my wicked lusts and then abandon her to heartbreak and ruin!” Going into an affair, a man, like a woman, may not even know precisely what he wants or intends.
But experience indicates that whenever a love affair does not work out to a woman’s perfect satisfaction (which in practice means always), she will be inclined to foist a tendentious and self-exculpating interpretation upon the events: she “loved” him, while he was “just using” her. One of the reasons for the institution of marriage, I have come to believe, is to prevent women from doing this, to enforce public recognition of the legitimacy of a man’s taking a mate. Marriage is what lets men say, “It’s okay — she’s my wife.” The sentimental scenario of the heartless cad’s “preying upon” the wide-eyed girl is dangerous because it appeals so powerfully both to female passivity and irresponsibility, and to the male protective instinct. Without some socially sanctioned form of sexual union, men’s protective urges might go into overdrive and we would see them shooting up the town trying to “protect” young women from becoming mothers.
I have come across male commentators, for example, maintaining that professors who “prey upon” female students should (in certain cases) be treated as rapists. This is a radical departure from the Christian view of women as moral agents, and the high status of women in Western society is essentially bound up with such a view.
As far as I can see, if we are unwilling to hold women strictly accountable for their actions, we have only one logical recourse available: a return to the ancient Roman legal doctrine that a woman is a perpetual minor. This would involve an end not merely to contemporary “women’s liberation” but to an entire legal tradition that has developed within Christendom over centuries. For starters, it means women could no longer be permitted to hold property or enter into contracts. Although demeaning to women and inconvenient even for men, such a system is at least internally consistent.
What is both inconsistent and morally indefensible is what feminism and the misguided gallantry of certain male conservatives are now combining to promote: freedom for women to do as they damned well please, with blame and punishment for men if the women are not happy with the results of their own behavior.
In sum, I would advise men not to let their tears be jerked too easily by stories of women falling helplessly prey to seduction and abandonment. Ever since the day, well before the dawn of history, when human beings first grasped the connection between coitus and childbirth, all societies have demanded sexual self-restraint from their women as a matter of course. It is a highly suspicious circumstance that the most politically “empowered” women in the history of the world have suddenly turned sexually helpless.
Another expression of Shalit’s feminine-passive pattern of thinking is that, in emphasizing the reservation of sex for marriage, she says almost nothing about getting girls married. Her strategy for them amounts to “some day your prince will come.” Since she focuses exclusively upon young women, it is not clear what she would say to the millions of lonely career women who have followed this advice to the letter and “find themselves” being overtaken by menopause still waiting for the tailspinning man of their dreams to appear.
The author quotes with approval a number of allegedly modest young women for saying “I haven’t found anyone worth marrying yet.” This is not self-respect but self-conceit, and I do not buy it. A man picked randomly off the street today would often be as good as whatever bloke such a girl eventually settles for, assuming she manages to settle in time at all.
Another of Shalit’s allegedly modest women says: “I’m abstinent because I have a goal in life. I want to be a doctor or a registered nurse. If I have a baby or something that blocks my goal, I’m not going to be able to achieve that. So being focused and staying in school is my main goal right now.” For young women like this, notes Shalit, “having a baby symbolizes being ‘stuck’” (GGM, pp. 65–66). The author does not seem to perceive that this is merely feminist careerism and antinatalism as usual, and has nothing to do with modesty.
Women are at the peak of their sexual attractiveness to men in their early twenties for a good reason: this is also the peak of their fertility, which begins a steep, irreversible decline around age 26. Shalit herself apparently delayed marriage until about 28. In parts of Scandinavia — that vanguard of Western decadence — the average age for women at first marriage has now passed 30. One of Shalit’s modesty activists had her first child at 37, and she pooh-poohs the woman’s friends who had warned of the dangers by simply noting that the baby in this particular case was born healthy. Some years ago, a survey discovered that 89 percent of younger, high-achieving women believe they can safely postpone pregnancy until their forties. In 2002, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine attempted to correct such misconceptions with a campaign of public-service ads; the project was abandoned because of opposition from feminist groups.
In the America of the 1950s — the baby boom — the average age for women at first marriage sank as low as 20. I emphasize the word “average”: plenty of girls were younger, marrying right out of high school or even before. To this day, marriage at 16 is legal for girls in all 50 states (with parental consent). During the Christian Middle Ages, a bride was often a bit younger still. Most Americans today have no idea how bizarre their horror at “teenage pregnancy” would have seemed in other times and places.
On a final note, and as a service to The Last Ditch’s female readers, I would like to reveal what makes a man commit. It is in fact an extremely simple matter, although carefully unmentioned in women’s magazines: children. A normal man feels morally committed to a woman who is bearing him children he can feel certain are his. The survival of our civilization may depend upon women’s speedily reacquainting themselves with this ancient and timeless reality.