Sexual Equality Has Created a Great Divide Between Men and Women
In the current climate, saying something like: "People who love each other should get married," will surely serve you one of the following labels: A silly little girl who hasn’t watched the movie Frozen, a demented 80-year-old who has escaped from his ward. or a Christian fundamentalist.
Think for a moment about everything you watched growing up, and the messaging was clear: men want a woman who is fun and free and who isn’t like the other girls. Not wanting to be the kind of girl others mock, posting #no drama, #nostrings, #easygoing has been all the rage, while dreaming of walking down the aisle the absolute faux pax.
With many more women in their 30s seeking to commit than men, there must be a misalignment of incentives that we don’t dare map out early enough. Fear of scaring away possible suitors leads to few women unapologetically voicing their desire, and timeline, for marriage and family. Which is unfair; men have a different biological timeframe than women and can afford to wait. They also suffer fewer consequences and have more to gain from having no strings attached.
When we enter a relationship. there is an unspoken negotiation where each party has leverage. That can be the physical desire for the other, the life you can offer. and what you can be for one other. In a woman’s’ case, youth is an important leverage; research shows features men find attractive are all signs of fertility and youth. So, finding yourself in a situation where you want more commitment than you’re receiving, it might be that somewhere along the way, you gave away more leverage than you should have.
Therein lies the crux of the issue. Driven by our biological call towards motherhood, most women inevitably want to settle down. Men on the other hand lack such adult initiation in our modern western culture; they need something pushing them like norms and expectations or a string pulling them. The problems arise when we purposefully deny the need for a string to pull.
The modern woman objects to that; if I have to leverage a man into marrying me, then he isn’t “the one.”
As women, we have excelled at speaking the language of men to succeed in dominating the dating market - through the dating technology, women get the first dates they want - and thoroughly convinced that the same things fulfill men and women psychologically in the long term.
After the birth control pill removed the difference in the physical consequence of sexual intercourse, pop culture did everything in its power to convince girls that sex can be as animalistic for them as it is for men. This, of course, is a lie as great as “we have all the time in the world to have kids.” There is absolutely an emotional element different in woman than men due to the increased release of oxytocin.
Growing up believing that there are fewer differences between us than reality dictates, women realize only too late that they have that leverage. Then it follows that a man will, as we do, eventually desire to marry and have children. With the right man, all that is necessary is giving him time and space. Another lie, because if this was true, there would not be such a disparity between women and men willing to commit and plummeting birth rates.
Countless numbers of women find themselves trapped in the situation where they are pushed through their adult initiation, ready to build a family, but are stuck with a boyfriend whose silence on commitment is as deafening as the sound of the clock ticking in their ear. They have wasted their youth on him and desperately search for any string, any leverage, that would drag him along with them to marriage.
The challenge now is to strike the balance between speaking the language of men in order to thrive in the marriage marketplace, yet not forgetting about what only a woman can offer. Letting go this knowledge means we lose our way, too.
Enraged, you might ask, how can one claim most women want something different from men?
What we want is also evident enough in our everyday choices. Take the simple act of going to the cinema. You can take your pick of modern storylines. You have your female Thor, your female Hulk, or Captain Marvel (the strongest Avenger..?) who emasculates every man in sight. The classic action hero “Top Gun Maverick” however, still dominates the Box Office and women secretly rewatch “Love Actually” every Christmas.
Regardless of our level of independence, women still prefer men who are on average 3.5 years older, a head taller, better educated, or earning more. The reverse also holds true; men find younger and physically smaller women more attractive. Men want to be called upon to protect and care for them, and we women want to let them. That is where the string should attach. Underestimate that at the peril of your own loneliness.
Raising our kids in the backlash of the sexual liberation
Just like a pendulum swings, so have the cultural trends following women's sexual liberation and as women, we have ringside tickets to the effects of its oscillations. One of them is the hyperfocus on consent which is just now spreading through western Europe as American cultural phenomena inevitably do. Now that we cannot openly seem to need protection and care, it will appear in other forms like requiring men to explicitly and at regular intervals through any act to ask consent long after the initial consent has been given. In its essence, it is no different than ascertaining the woman’s well-being and making sure she feels taken care of.
So many young adults report feeling that dating life has become so hard to manage that it causes them frustration and anxiety. Men report the consent-issue as reason to fear the dating scene. Young women have difficulty denying advances when dating, as they are competing against women who would accept those same advances in a dating market where far fewer men express willingness to commit than before. I fear for both my sons and my daughter alike.
Our lives are too long not to make completely sure that our societal norms lead to long-term mental health for most people. Not taking measures to make the pendulum slow down and center, it might crash violently over on the opposite side. That's unless the progress of modern feminism is not a pendulum but a freight train going full speed.
One measure might be showing our girls the beauty and value in the differences between them and the boys, how to wield it to encourage commitment, and to encourage sacrifice in someone they carefully select. In addition to excellent educations, instilling in young women the integrity and strength to distance themselves from the trends of the day and assert themselves in the face of the sexual liberation of others is true female empowerment and will far outperform #fun and free.
Dr. Hannah Spier, M.D. is a psychiatrist in Norway.
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