Much in the same way we’re questioning whether the state of our political discourse is turning us into more violent, less kind people, I’m questioning whether the way we talk and write about male-female relationships is making us heartless.
Salon.com is my go-to outlet for bone-chillingly dark news about how men and women get along. On Salon last week I came across coverage of the authors of a new book and academic study, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying. They find that young women’s academic and professional success has come at a great cost to women's sexual bargaining power. As Salon author Tracy Clark-Flory writes:
“When it comes to relationships, they say men are calling all the shots -- which means less commitment and more sex.”
Study authors Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker describe the "price of sex" as the cost -- to men -- of romance, status, stability and commitment that men exchange for access to sex in a relationship. The price of sex, meaning the ease with which men can access sex, has become cheap, according to their research. Men don’t need to even pretend to want to buy the proverbial milk.
I think the study has valid points and that one of feminism's legacies is that the scale right now is really out of balance. Things are changing so fast between the sexes. We're out of whack when it comes to how women and men deal with each other and until we can talk about this we won't progress.
I’m now married with children but recently committed enough to have fully experienced the friends with benefits approach to being single. I believe sex should have more value than it does, for both men and women.
Everything has a cost. But I’m concerned about the huge cost we pay every time we read a negative article that furthers the Battle of the Sexes. Men and women’s good will towards each other takes a hit with every new media revelation and we need to think twice.
For example, a huge spate of literature right now purports that because of economic shifts and women’s increasing achievement, men are no longer necessary as breadwinners or really, leaders. Author of the explosive “End of Men” article Hanna Rosin writes,
“I came to the conclusion that we have reached this new point in history, where the power dynamics between men and women are shifting rapidly, not by preformed ideology but by connecting the data points: college graduation rates, job projections, marriage patterns, pop culture images. When you open your eyes to the evidence, you can see that so many of our assumptions about the natural order between men and women are no longer relevant.”
Well, if I read such drastic predictions about my sex, I’d want to assert some power any way I could. And indeed, authors Regnerus and Uecker find that even a “sub-optimal” man -- a high school dropout with no job, can get many female sexual partners. This shows, according to the study, that the price of sex is cheap, and women don’t need to consider a partner as a possible good candidate for marriage or fatherhood to sleep with them.
So, one side says to women, succeed and prepare to pay a price in your personal life. That's not going to make anyone happy, men or women. A nation of one-night stands is not healthy.
The "End of Men" acolytes would say, as Joan Williams does, "men have a choice: either feel inadequate or get a lot more creative.’" But I don't think that's realistic in the short term.
Women and men are so confused about gender roles, and it seems we're taking it out on each other. Yes, women are the majority of students but every study shows aggressive women pay a huge social price. Look at all the work on gender and negotiation; women who "ask" like a man would face a social backlash and get less out of negotiations. Women are more sex-positive than ever but sexual violence is on the rise. Women earn half the family's paycheck but still do more than half the childcare and housework. It was an election "Year of the Woman" but Boehner and a male-controlled team are about to send reproductive rights back 50 years and perhaps Jared Lee Loughner shot Representative Giffords in part because he resented powerful women. Why? And if so many men are running around thinking, "I'm an endangered species," is that a good thing for women or for society? I don't think so.
We live in this crazy world where apparently women with education, money and self-esteem debase themselves to get men. And we live in a world where marriage is still the ultimate goal for many women, even while these young professional women out-earn men. It's painful to ask women to excel but then act like Scarlett O'Hara when it comes to dating but it's not enough to ask men to grow up and accept the way things are.
The whole cultural dialogue is ignoring the fact that men and women, basically, can like each other, that we can be a team. That at the end of the day, we often want the same thing. We're so caught up in making it about power (power being the currency of a patriarchy) and negotiating to get what we want. Yes, women need power to truly become equal. But sometimes I think we forget we're all human.
If you would like to discuss these issues and more, please visit my new not for profit, www.rolereboot.org where you'll find materials for your book club or other small group to talk about the price of sex, end of men, and other juicy topics.
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