The two great social adventures undertaken by the United States in the last century have been first racial and, second, sexual integration. Racial integration hasn’t worked well, because the races are simply too different. Blacks have progressed economically, but they remain deeply hostile to whites, and apparently incapable of assimilating.
One may wonder: Will sexual integration work better? Or are there intractable sexual differences, whose existence we refuse to admit, that will bollix things? Believing that something ought to work is not the same as establishing that it will.
The premise of the current adventure is that men and woman are fungible — that, perhaps after a bumpy start, and with the temporary encouragement of affirmative action, the sexes will work happily, and interchangeably, side by side. Any doubts regarding the probability of this sunny consummation are held to represent the most retrograde of social thought.
These were of course precisely the premises of racial integration.
To phrase it differently, can anyone who has been married believe that the countless incompatibililities, and ways of thought opaque to the other sex, will somehow vanish in public life?
For example, the sexes handle disagreement differently. Men keep conflict carefully impersonal. They know that conflict can quickly become physical. It’s how men are. In the past, quarrels led to fighting and, perhaps, death. Today, even in the office, push a man too hard and he will revert to the instinctive: “What is your freaking problem?” The body language, unnoticed but decidedly read, will say, “Shut up or escalate.”
Men don’t like to do either. They keep disagreement abstract. It is safer.
Women by contrast prefer the personal and emotional. When a woman is angry, she becomes personally disagreeable in ways that would leave a man picking up his teeth. Men, wired to avoid the personal, to regard personal attack as serious, do not know what to do in the face of uncontrolled anger, tears, or emotionalism. In private life, they flee. At work, where women have real power, shrugging it off doesn’t work.
By instinct men back down from angry women when, today, backing down isn’t a good idea. This may be the determining idea of the coming century.
Further, men like hierarchy. In a sense it permits impersonality: You obey the rank, not the man. From a man’s point of view, the effect is to promote efficiency, to allow a focus on the job at hand, while avoiding personal conflict.
Women neither like nor respect hierarchy, particularly male hierarchy, and their mere presence short-circuits it. Sexual tension is inescapable among humans. Sex generates equality. A male colonel regards a male private as a subordinate. Instinctively he regards a female private as a woman. Both feel the age-old contract, that women trade sex for anything they want, and men trade anything they have for sex. Most women in varying degrees will use the equation, while insisting otherwise. Men can’t. The greater the degree of hierarchy, the greater the divisiveness.
The key word in all of this is instinct: We are wired to behave in these ways. When footsteps are heard downstairs at night, it is invariably the man who grabs the pistol and goes to adjust the burglar. A man, with a little encouragement, will open doors for a woman, take her coat, hold her chair. Only with the aid of powerful drugs could one imagine a woman doing these things for a man.
For that matter, until recently men routinely paid for dates. Now women will often split the tab?but the woman never routinely pays. A man with an adequate salary will usually, and without objection, support a woman who doesn’t work, but the reverse is almost never true.
This isn’t simple gold-digging. Rather, women seem by instinct to expect to be cared for by men, and men expect to do it. It no longer makes economic sense. The instinct remains.
The conflict between the instinctive desire to be protected, and the political determination to have no part of it, plays a large part in sexual politics. Note the near-hysteria of the hostility to Deadbeat Dads ? that is, men who don’t meet the expectations of instinct.
We are dealing with inbuilt behavior, and telling ourselves it is politics. Note that women unendingly demand more funding for medical research into diseases peculiar to women. Yet it is common knowledge that men die some seven years earlier than women, suggesting starkly that men, not women, need more research. Never in fifty years on the planet have I heard any woman, ever, say, “My god, our men are dying. We must do something.” Why not?
Either (a) women are grotesquely selfish or (b) they are wired to look after their own physical well-being, and that of the children, while letting men take care of themselves. Since women do not in general seem to be selfish, I’ll take (b).
Finally, and crucially: The women’s movement today is no longer a quest for equality. It was, but isn’t. It has become instead a drive for revenge, for power, and for domination over and humiliation of men. It is never phrased this way, of course. For tactical reasons, feminists trade in the highly solvent currency of rights, justice, discrimination, and victimhood. Men say little. They cannot afford psychologically to admit the extent to which they are being walked on.
But think about what is actually happening. For example, the campaign to force Virginia Military Institute first to accept girls and second, to retain pregnant ones, was hardly founded on a pent-up desire among women to be in the infantry. The intent was to humiliate a profoundly male institution, and force men to swallow it. It worked.
The campaign of humiliation has succeeded all across the country, too wildly for easy explanation. Males in offices tremble in fear of charges of harassment. Powerful editors are afraid to be alone with a woman in their offices. A female officer in the military can complain that a morning run is demeaning, whereupon the Pentagon will obediently stop the runs. Think carefully about this: The Joint Chiefs of Staff are afraid of a woman who doesn’t feel like running. Something strange is happening.
The truth is that men are crawling like neutered poodles, and feminists are quietly laughing. They are instinctively contemptuous of men they can push around, which today means almost all of them. It’s fascinating, twisted, almost kinky. One thinks of a dog rolling over to bare its throat to appease a bigger dog.
Whatever it is, wherever it is going, it is not as simple as we pretend. It is not even close.