Analyzing the basement

Jennifer Roback Morse
|
Posted: May 15, 2006 12:05 AM

OK, I really stirred up a hornet's nest last week with my attack on in-house divorce, written in response to a decent-sounding husband who was "Sleeping in the Basement." Several themes emerged from my inbox and the comments section at the bottom of last week’s column.

1. Several women defended their lack of interest in sex, citing the laziness and neglect by their husbands. I agree that wanton callousness toward your partner’s needs is wrong. It should go without saying that this is equally true whether the man neglects the woman or the woman neglects the man.

Unfortunately, it needs to be said because virtually every major university in this country has a Women’s Studies Department that spends full-time teaching effort and millions of taxpayer dollars emphasizing men’s wrongs against women. Women have full sanction in this culture to nag, criticize and complain about their husbands, who are required to suffer in silence.

The husband who comes home from work, opens a beer, counts the kids’ noses and plops down in front of the TV went out of style in the ‘70's. When that kind of guy demands sex, his wife understandably feels ill-used. We don’t seem to see that lout’s female counterpart: The wife who greets her husband at the door with a litany of complaints about her day, their kids and his performance. It’s about time she went the way of the leisure suit and the lava lamp.

2. Sex differences really are significant. The egg-heads in the academy who are trying to create a gender-neutral society ought to read some of the letters in my inbox. These people have no clue how much misery they are creating.

It is fine to say we should lighten up about gender roles in the public square and in the market place. If the question is, who gets to be an accountant or who gets to vote, I’m OK with gender being irrelevant. But sex and child-bearing are the most gendered things we do. We can’t possibly expect gender-neutrality inside the home.

Men have stronger sex urges than women, throughout their lives. Women’s libido quite often falls after giving birth. Mothers are understandably focused on the care of their child, and sex becomes a lower priority. Husbands can easily feel displaced.
Men and women alike would be better of if they faced gender differences, rather than trying to suppress or deny them. Men could make allowances for their wives’ reduced interest in sex, instead of taking it personally. Women could make an extra effort for their husbands. No one is well served by society’s continual claims that the normal condition of the human race is for men and women to be equal in all things at all times.

3. I was deeply moved by the sadness and desperation among my correspondents. In a few cases, one spouse was obviously mentally unstable. I can not in good conscience offer advice from a distance to people dealing with mental illness, domestic violence or substance abuse. But the vast majority of my correspondents reported nothing of that kind. They would like to improve their marriages, and in principle could do so, but they can’t figure out what to do. Again and again, I told people, "Don’t give up. Love is worth the effort."

Gender differences are opportunities to serve each other, not sources of potential exploitation. Men and women can each use their respective excellences to serve the marriage and each other.

Women have the gift of empathy: we can place ourselves in another person’s position and imagine how they feel. We can use that gift in the service of our marriages. Imagine how painful it must be for your husband to feel neglected, unloved and unwanted, if he is sleeping in the basement. Allow yourself to care about how he feels, and resolve to do something about it, even if you don’t know exactly what that will be. That is what love means: to love is to will and to do the good of the other.

And men, don’t give up on your wives. The male gift, as Harvey Mansfield says in Manliness, is to risk his life to save his life and the lives of others. You may have to risk your marriage in order to save your marriage. True manliness does not require bravado or boasting or bossing anybody around. Insist on keeping sex in your marriage. Insist, persistently, perhaps quietly, always respectfully, but insist.

And next week, I promise, I’m going to write about something tame, like the Coming Collapse of Western Civilization.