"So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?"
Columnist Maureen Dowd posed those questions in Sunday's New York Times Magazine in an essay adapted from her forthcoming book: "Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide."
Entertaining as usual, Dowd explored her premise that many women end up unmarried and childless because they're successful by reviewing women's evolution since her college days, which happen to have coincided with my own. We both came of age as women's lib was being midwifed into the culture by a generation of women who felt enslaved by homemaking and childbearing.
Now, in the span of a generation, all that business about equality apparently isn't so appealing to a younger generation of women, who are ever inventive as they seek old ways to attract new men. Dowd writes:
"Today, women have gone back to hunting their quarry, with elaborate schemes designed to allow the deluded creatures (men) to think they are the hunters."
Dowd, herself unmarried and childless, wonders whether being smart and successful explains her status. She observes that men would rather marry women who are younger and more malleable, i.e. less successful and perhaps not so very bright.
No one vets the culture with a keener eye than Dowd. Her identification of trends - especially the perverse evolution of liberated women from Birkenstock-wearing intellectuals into pole-dancing sluts - is dead on. But while she sees women clearly as they search for identity in a gender-shifting culture, she doesn't seem to know much about men.
Men haven't turned away from smart, successful women because they're smart and successful. More likely they've turned away because the feminist movement that encouraged women to be smart and successful also encouraged them to be hostile and demeaning to men.
Whatever was wrong, men did it. During the past 30 years, they've been variously characterized as male chauvinist pigs, deadbeat dads or knuckle-dragging abusers who beat their wives on Super Bowl Sunday. At the same time women wanted men to be wage earners, they also wanted them to act like girlfriends: to time their contractions, feed and diaper the baby, and go antiquing.
And then, when whatshisname inevitably lapsed into guy-ness, women wanted him to disappear. If children were involved, women got custody and men got an invoice. The eradication of men and fathers from children's lives has been feminism's most despicable accomplishment. Half of all children will sleep tonight in a home where their father does not live.
Did we really think men wouldn't mind?
Meanwhile, when we're not bashing men, we're diminishing manhood. Look around at entertainment and other cultural signposts and you see a feminized culture that prefers sanitized men - hairless, coiffed, buffed and, if possible, gay. Men don't know whether to be "metrosexuals" getting pedicures, or "groomzillas" obsessing about wedding favors, or the latest, "ubersexuals" - yes to the coif, no to androgyny.
As far as I can tell, real men don't have a problem with smart, successful women. But they do mind being castrated. It's a guy thing. They do mind being told in so many ways that they are superfluous.
Even now, the latest book to fuel the feminist flames of male alienation is Peggy Drexler's lesbian guide to guilt-free narcissism, "Raising Boys Without Men." Is it possible to raise boys without men? Sure. Is it right? You may find your answer by imagining a male-authored book titled: "Raising Girls Without Women."
Returning to Dowd's original question, yes, the feminist movement was a hoax inasmuch as it told only half the story. As even feminist matriarch Betty Friedan eventually noted, feminism failed to recognize that even smart, successful women also want to be mothers. It's called Nature. Social engineering can no more change that fact than mechanical engineering can change the laws of physics.
Many of those women who declined to join the modern feminist movement learned the rest of the story by becoming mothers themselves and, in many cases, by raising boys who were born innocent and undeserving of women's hostilities.
I would never insist that women have to have children to be fully female. Some women aren't mother material - and some men don't deserve the children they sire. But something vital and poignant happens when one's own interests become secondary to the more compelling needs of children.
You grow up. In the process of sacrificing your infant-self for the real baby, you stop obsessing and fixating on the looking glass. Instead, you focus your energies on trying to raise healthy boys and girls to become smart, successful men and women.
In the jungle, one hopes, they will find each other.