"The conservative minds of the Heritage Foundation have found a way for Republicans to shrink the gender gap: They need to persuade more women to get their MRS degrees." So wrote the Washington Post's Dana Milbank about a panel that featured Mollie Hemingway, Karin Agness and yours truly.
It was so nice of Milbank to attend -- a shame that his mind was so clenched shut that he could hear only what his prejudices led him to expect, rather than what we actually said. Hate to interrupt a good sneer, but the panel wasn't about the gender gap; it was about feminism.
Milbank focused narrowly on the political implications of our talk and couldn't resist descending to the most tired leftist cliche, namely that "the consensus was that we ought to go back in history." The left cannot shake is starry-eyed confidence that history has a vector -- that forward is always toward the sunny uplands of equality, prosperity and happiness -- and backward is always a descent. Tell that to Germans in 1933 or Cambodians in 1975. Ask a newly captured slave onboard a ship in the middle passage if he wanted to "go back in history."
Speaking for myself and not my fellow panelists, I do believe that feminism took a number of wrong turns since the 1970s -- rejecting marriage, embracing the sexual revolution, cheerleading for abortion without any restrictions, vehemently denying that young children pay a price when they are placed in institutional care, recycling bogus statistics like the 77-cents myth, spurning the accomplishments of conservative heroines like Margaret Thatcher and Condoleezza Rice, demonizing men as oppressors. It's a long list.
But most of my talk at the Heritage Foundation wasn't especially partisan or even political. I was quoting the social science that scholars across the political spectrum agree upon -- namely, that a focus on women's progress and glass ceilings and "leaning" this way and that misses the most important news: Men are falling behind. A larger percentage of women than men finish high school. Women now earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 63 percent of master's degrees, and 53 percent of doctorates. Men are earning less and dropping out of the labor force at alarming rates. Women are earning more and taking a larger percentage of managerial and supervisory posts.
The decline of marriage hurts men as well as women and children, but its effects are not evenly distributed. Among the college-educated, divorce has declined and unwed childbearing is rare. By contrast, among high school dropouts, most women will have their first child before getting married and rare is the unmarried couple who remains together for life.