Columnist Ross Douthat has stirred up a hornet's nest by commenting on a new study suggesting that being the parent of a girl may nudge people toward the Republican Party. Douthat speculated that watching daughters cope with a "social landscape in which sex has been decoupled from marriage" and in which young men cruise through the sexual marketplace, leaving broken hearts in their wake, may cause mothers and fathers to embrace more conservative mores regarding love and sex.
Well, based on the sulfuric response, Douthat has transgressed gravely. Ann Friedman, writing in New York magazine, thunders:
"Are we supposed to believe that the solution to a biological double-standard is a sexual double-standard? That women who want it all later in life must spend their youth prim and sexless, waiting for men to prove that they've got themselves together both professionally and emotionally? There's one little problem: We like sex. None of us are going back to a world in which we only put out once he's put a (promise/engagement/wedding) ring on it."
Every generation believes it has discovered sex. But Friedman's heated denials notwithstanding, women (on average) want different things from sexual relationships than men, and recent generations of women have been ill-served by feminism's embrace of the sexual revolution. Feminists posited that women and men were identical in their sexualities, and that only an absurd double standard had required men to treat women respectfully.
When modern feminism debuted in the 1960s, it didn't just urge women to be like men; it encouraged them to be like the worst men -- carelessly promiscuous, vulgar and selfish. Some men treated women as disposable pleasure vessels. Feminists regarded this not as a disgrace but as a challenge. Women who behaved the same way toward men were hailed as feminist pioneers.
How do we know that women are more interested in committed relationships than in casual sexual encounters? Only an age that has lost touch with common sense would ask, but as it happens, there is social science evidence. Consider the differences in behavior in which men outnumber women and vice versa, i.e., the sex ratio. As James Q. Wilson noted in "The Marriage Problem," at various times and places, when marriageable men greatly outnumber marriageable women, monogamy and sexual restraint prevail. That's because men are forced to compete on women's terms. The reverse is true as well. When men call the shots, because women greatly outnumber men, monogamy declines and promiscuity increases.