Thursday, May 24, 2012

Manly Thor's Day Special: Tumbling idols

Here is a claim for your consideration:
If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we'd be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on. Instead, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (which collects data well into adulthood), none of these things is occurring. Not one.The terms of contemporary sexual relationships favor men and what they want in relationships, not just despite the fact that what they have to offer has diminished, but in part because of it.
I would guess that a lot of people will find that easy to agree with with. At the risk of angering more than a few people, I'd suggest that that claim is not only wrong, it's insanely wrong.

For starters, what was the point of feminism. Before feminism there was a time in our history when there were more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter (so short they were usually non-existent) cohabitations and more marrying going on. And that time was precisely a time when women had far less control over pretty much everything in their lives including how their relationships transpired.

I'd add something that I and others keep repeating over and over again to little avail which is that two thirds of divorces are instigated by women. If women really so desperately want marriage, someone ought to tell them because they sure don't act like it.

The quote above is an essay from Slate's "Double X" section by the way. That section is intriguingly subtitled, " What women really think about news, politics, and culture".  And that is kind of funny because we get something more or less the opposite of that. The simple fact is that the more control women have gotten over their relationships, the less common those things have become and I'd suggest there is a very simple reason for this: women don't want these things nearly as much as a lot of people would like to believe.

The essay in question is called
Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they're failing in life
As I have said many times before, it's funny how the people who claim to be the strongest proponents for women keep telling women that they are still losing. In this case the proponent is a guy named Mark Regnrus* and he is making a familiar argument that sex has gotten too cheap for men. Meaning not that it has been robbed of its human and dignifying qualities (although that has happened) but rather the related point that it is too easy for young men to get:
 ... despite the fact that women are holding the sexual purse strings, they aren't asking for much in return these days—the market "price" of sex is currently very low.
And that should sound familiar because it's a point I've made many times myself.
Regnerus, however, is keen to blame pretty much anyone but women for this.
There are several likely reasons for this. One is the spread of pornography: Since high-speed digital porn gives men additional sexual options—more supply for his elevated demand—it takes some measure of price control away from women. The Pill lowered the cost as well. There are also, quite simply, fewer social constraints on sexual relationships than there once were. As a result, the sexual decisions of young women look more like those of men than they once did, at least when women are in their twenties. 
That point about the pill ought to look familiar by the way. It was advanced by a Catholic economist named Timothy Reichert  two years ago in a publication called First Things (Reichert's argument is considerably more rigorous and better researched than that of Regnerus by the way). But both men's claims  suffer from the same problem, which  I identified in response to Reichert, and that is that they don't take female agency seriously. The bottom line is simply this: if sex has gotten cheaper then women have to have played a role in driving the price down.

Why do they hold back on this point? Quite simply because we tend to cling to a myth about men and women that says that women are morally superior creatures especially when it comes to sexual matters. Regenerus comes very close to the truth when he continues the argument I cited above about why sex has become cheaper,
The price of sex is low, in other words, in part because its costs to women are lower than they used to be.
But he won't follow the logic through. Let me help by restating what he has said here in different terms:  Once birth control and abortion became easily available, the apparent moral differences between men and women disappeared. Which is to say, they never were moral differences to begin with.

So long as babies were a likely result of sex, women demanded "more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying". The second that connection was severed, women stopped demanding these things. (It also made a difference that parents and other authorities had far more control over women's lives and it harder for them to give away sex cheaply.)

How to solve this? Well, one option would be to turn the clock back but I doubt many people will like that. Instead, I'd make two suggestions: that women stop de-legitimizing men's sexual desires and that we all stop discounting women's moral agency by always treating them as perennial victims of every change and start recognizing that they are largely responsible for their own fates.

You get a hint of the how my first suggestion might apply in the following remark from Regenerus:
Finally, as my colleagues and I discovered in our interviews, striking numbers of young women are participating in unwanted sex—either particular acts they dislike or more frequent intercourse than they'd prefer or mimicking porn (being in a dating relationship is correlated to greater acceptance of and use of porn among women). 
Let's turn that one around, what about all those poor men who are having sex less frequently than they would like? Are you inclined to sneer at that? Why? Why is it a problem that women are having sex more frequently than they would like and having to do things that don't appeal to them but not that men have sex less frequently than they would like and don't get to do things they would like to do? Are men children who need to have sex doled out to them the same way children are given treats whereas women's desires are sacrosanct therefore there is no need for them to compromise and meet men half way when it comes to sex?

I guess another way of putting is that what is presented as a problem here is not a problem at all. The simple fact is that women who want relationships nowadays have to take men's desires seriously. That's a good thing.

The second suggestion is like unto the first: If this is a problem for women then why can't we leave it for them to solve it for themselves? If they have moral agency, creativity, independence and all this university education then they ought to be able to figure out something. And if they can't it's nobody's fault but their own. 

* The spelling of Regnerus' name has been corrected. And earlier version had incorrect spelling. 

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