As we approach the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's feminist magnum opus, "The Feminine Mystique," we can have a perspective on feminism that was largely unavailable heretofore.
And that perspective doesn't make feminism look good. Yes, women have more opportunities to achieve career success; they are now members of most Jewish and Christian clergy; women's college sports teams are given huge amounts of money; and there are far more women in political positions of power. But the prices paid for these changes -- four in particular -- have been great, and they outweigh the gains for women, let alone for men and for society.
The first was the feminist message to young women to have sex just like men do. There's no reason for young women to lead a different sexual life than men, they were told. Just as men can have sex with any woman solely for the sake of physical pleasure, women ought to be able to enjoy sex with any man just for the fun of it. The notion that the nature of a woman is to hope for at least the possibility of a long-term commitment from a man she sleeps with has been dismissed as sexist nonsense.
As a result, vast numbers of young American women had and continue to have what are called hook-ups, and for some of them it's quite possible that no psychological or emotional price has been paid. But the majority of women who are promiscuous do pay prices. One is depression. New York Times columnist Roos Douthat recently summarized an academic study on the subject: "A young woman's likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished."
Long before this study, I had learned from women callers to my radio show (an hour each week -- "The Male-Female Hour" -- is devoted to very honest discussion of sexual and other man-woman issues) that not only did female promiscuity coincide with depression, it also often had lasting effects on women's ability to enjoy sex. Many married women told me that in order to have a normal sexual relationship with their husbands, they had to work through the negative aftereffects of early promiscuity -- not trusting men, feeling used, seeing sex as unrelated to love and disdaining their husband's sexual overtures. And many said they still couldn't have a normal sex life with their husbands.
The second awful legacy of feminism has been the belief among women that they can and should postpone marriage until they develop their careers -- and that only then should they seriously consider looking for a husband. Thus, the decade or more during which women have the best chance to attract men is spent being preoccupied with developing a career. Again, I cite women callers to my radio show over the past 20 years who have sadly looked back at what they now, at age 40, regard as 20 wasted years. Sure, these frequently bright and talented women have a fine career. But most women are not programed to prefer a great career to a great man and a family. They feel they were sold a bill of goods at college and by the media.
And they were. It turns out that most women without a man do worse in life than fish without bicycles.
The third sad feminist legacy: So many women -- and men -- have bought into the notion that women should work outside the home that for the first time in American history, and perhaps world history, vast numbers of children are not primarily raised by their mothers or even by an extended family member. Instead they are raised for a significant part of their childhood by nannies and by workers at day care centers. Whatever feminists may say about their only advocating choices, everyone knows the truth: Feminism regards work outside the home as more elevating, honorable, and personally productive than full-time mothering and homemaking.
And the fourth awful legacy of feminism has been the de-masculinization of men. For all of higher civilization's recorded history, becoming a man was defined overwhelmngly as taking responsibility for a family. That notion -- indeed the notion of masculinity itself -- is regarded by feminism as the worst of sins: patriarchy.
Men need a role, or they become, as the title of George Gilder's classic book on single men describes them, "Naked Nomads." In little more than a generation, feminism has obliterated roles. If you wonder why so many men choose not to get married, the answer lies in large part in the contemporary devaluation of the husband and of the father -- of men as men, in other words. Most men want to be honored in some way -- as a husband, a father, a provider, as an accomplished something; they don't want merely to be "equal partners" with a wife.
In sum, thanks to feminism, very many women slept with too many men for their own happiness; posponed marriage too long to find the right man to marry; are having hired hands do much of the raising of their children; and now find they are dating boy-men because manly men are so rare.
Feminism exemplifies the truth of the saying, "Be careful what you wish for -- you may get it."