Of Course Those Women Are Happy

My last piece reported on a survey by the Institute for Family Studies that finds very “feminine” women to be happier and more fulfilled than others.  To that survey, my friends in the men’s movement might respond thus:

Of course those women are happy.  For the last 40 years at least, they’ve heard a non-stop barrage of messages to the effect that women can not only do no wrong, but their every act is brilliant, heroic or both.  Plus, it is precisely her sex that makes those acts so remarkable, i.e., it’s less the act itself that’s important than that a woman performs it.

Messages in popular culture lauding women long ago became routine.  In everything from TV ads to movies to contemporary literature, if there’s a character who represents the moral conscience of the piece, that character is all but bound to be female.  Not just moral, women are also strong and resolute.  If violence is called for, we routinely see a 125-lb woman knock the stuffing out of a 250-lb man.  Possible?  Only for Supergirl, whom all women seem, sometime in the 80s, to have become.

Meanwhile, in the non-fictional world, a woman’s considered a miracle worker for accomplishing relatively modest feats.  Did she start a small business?  Good for her, but nowadays, she’s likely to be called a heroine who’s overcome incalculable odds.  Did he?  His male privilege allowed him to do something any fool could have.  That sentiment, that began as an ooze, now gushes forth in public discourse.

The IFS write-up of its survey thoughtfully provides a current example.

More recently, news is filled with the stories of brave Ukrainian women confronting Russian soldiers, some with no more than the moral force of their indignation at the unjustified attack against their homes and families.

Was it “the moral force of [Ukrainian women’s] indignation” that turned the Russian army away from Kyiv?  Or was it the courage and guns of the men who put their lives on the line?  In fact, those Ukrainian women make up the great majority (along with children and the elderly) of those who’ve fled the country and who are exempt from the military conscription that nets every able-bodied man over the age of 16.  Those men and boys have, for the last six weeks, faced the invaders, doubtless with indignation, but more importantly with missiles, rifles and RPGs.  Many have died or been maimed for their trouble.  Yes, some Ukrainian women have taken up arms, but they did because they chose to, not because the state made them. 

Where was the feminist outcry when the conscription order was issued at the start of the Russian invasion?  I suppose it must have been drowned out by the bombs, because I certainly didn’t hear it.  Or perhaps by the din of the news media lauding the bravery of Ukrainian women.

So of course those especially feminine women surveyed by the IFS are happy. For decades they’ve been told they’re a gift from Divine Providence to the human race.  How could they not be happy after marinating in such universal praise that’s directed, laser-like, at the specific fact that they’re women.  Many of them have never lived in a world without that message.

And let’s not forget that, during all the time we’ve been praising women, we’ve done the opposite with men.  Men have not only been reviled as violent, immoral, stupid and buffoonish, they’ve served as a foil for women.  However men are described, and it’s usually negative, women are the opposite.  Pejorative depictions of men in pop culture are actually becoming more common, not less.  Pauline Harmange published a book entitled “I Hate Men” to widespread acclaim and translation into 17 languages.      

More important is not just the way we describe the sexes but how we treat them on an everyday basis.  Did a woman commit a crime?  She’ll almost certainly be treated far more leniently at every phase of the criminal justice process than a similar man who committed a similar crime.  And, if at all possible, she’ll be described as the victim of some dastardly man or, that old reliable fallback, the patriarchy.  

Does she want to go to college?  She’ll be the recipient of countless scholarships, grants and programs provided exclusively to women.  True, doing so violates state and federal laws, but, hey, it’s all in a good cause - support for women – right? 

Are 60% of college students women and only 40% men?  Nothing to see here, move along.  Elementary and secondary school teachers have been shown by the OECD to grade boys more harshly than they do girls, but once again, the cause is just, so no problem. 

Domestic violence?  For decades, we’ve known that women hit their male partners as often or more often than vice versa, but we continue to pretend they don’t.  There are about 1,500 DV shelters in the U.S. for women and three for men.  

Despite decades of information demonstrating the importance of fathers to children, family courts continue to kick dads to the curb, denying them any meaningful role in their children’s lives, to the profound detriment of both.  Adoption laws in most states are aimed frankly and directly at getting fathers out of their children’s lives.

Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

So it’s no surprise that women who particularly identify as feminine should feel particularly happy about themselves and their lives.  How could they not?

Needless to say, women have problems.  No one suggests that the women studied by the IFS don’t.  But that’s the point; everyone encounters the hardships and disappointments of everyday life, but only half the population is informed daily that, simply because of a biological trait, they’re superheroes. 

Having done that, we then conduct a survey and are astonished to find that the same half of the population is pretty happy with themselves.


1 comment

Paul Nathanson

I, too, have been following this story. Here are some entries from my journal.

6 March 2022: Today, I found myself bored with the war in Ukraine: bored, lying down comfortably in front of my TV, eating my blue-corn tortilla chips and feeling bored by a war. Yes, bored. That does my self-esteem no good, let me tell you. It’s not exactly the war itself that bores me but the relentlessly repetitive reporting on it. And several things about the reporting are not merely boring but infuriating.

It’s true that some “journalists” actually report and analyze without resorting to sentimentality, but most can’t resist the temptation to do so. It’s the sentimentality that I can’t stand. Londoners didn’t whine or complain or demand pity during the blitz. I can’t even imagine myself in similar circumstances, frankly, but I can at least admire their confidence and restraint. So far, no one—no one at all—has explored the difference between victims of World War II (and all earlier wars) and those of this new one—or at least what we know of them from journalists.

Long ago, in 1940, Edward R. Murrow interviewed Londoners during the Blitz, putting out the fires and cleaning up the rubble. No one whined or complained or demanded pity amid the ruins—at least not to him or in public. The Londoners simply got on with they lives as well as they could. They did what they had to do, if not in their offices or factories then in the streets clearing away rubble, taking in strangers whose houses had been bombed, caring for the wounded or piling baby carriages with aluminum pots and pans to donate for use in airplanes, stopped whatever they were doing for cups of tea, or merely posting letters. By countless acts of will, it was business as usual.

But Londoners also did what they wanted to do between the air raids. They went to concerts in underground tube stations (bomb shelters), tended their kitchen gardens and even got married in crumbling churches.

Some children were evacuated from London to the countryside (or overseas), it’s true, but most remained there throughout the war. Throughout the Blitz, they continued going to school every day. In class, they learned how to wear gas-masks (far more disturbing ones than any Covid ones in our time). Nonetheless, they had their own ways of getting on with their lives. Some enjoyed reading on the steps of bombed-out book stores. Others played with their teddy bears or dolls.

The Blitz was definitely something to fear, even though most people, both children and their parents, managed to “keep calm and carry on.” Nonetheless, it must have left some of those children with emotional scars (in addition to the sorrow of losing members of their families). And yet I’ve read nothing at all to indicate that most or even many of London’s children grew up after the war to be more fearful or more neurotic than the “snowflakes” of later generations.

But here, at last, is my point in this lengthy entry. Posters in London tube stations during the Blitz noted, accurately, that “London can take it.” But how many cities of today, even London, could? Why have so many people, at least in America, forgotten what courage looks like? Countless photos captured all of these things, after all, for the world to see. [The ones that I collected don’t copy onto this format.] Countless letters, diaries and memoirs made the experience known to everyone.

Moreover, the tone of confidence, resilience and restraint was set for British men and women by the king and queen themselves. “The children won’t go without me,” said the queen. “I won’t leave the king, and the king will never leave.” No wonder that her daughter, now queen, has exemplified the value of duty ever since.

Was this a unique feature of the English? Would their calm courage have been impossible in other countries? Is the courage of that time impossible today? More specifically, is it somehow impossible for the Ukrainian refugees?

So far, no journalist has said much about the suffering of conscripted Ukrainian men. After all, they’re the ones in most immediate peril. It’s true that interviewing soldiers in the midst of battle would be more difficult than interviewing refugees. Nonetheless, journalists managed to do precisely that during other wars, including World War II and, to some extent, even the American Civil War.

8 March 2022: Here’s something else that bothers me about reporting on the war in Ukraine. Yes, war is hell. Yes, the Russians have invaded a neighboring country. Yes, they kill people. But what, precisely, is an “atrocity” (let alone “genocide”)? It’s true that the Russians indulged in mass rape while advancing toward Berlin. That really was an atrocity, partly because it was brutal but also because it did nothing to achieve any military goal and was therefore an end in itself. (Ditto, of course, for the Nazi death camps taking precedence over military goals.) Allowing rape, or even encouraging it, had only one purpose: adding to the suffering—that is, revenge. The Russians might yet resort once again to rape, it’s true, but journalists are now describing, more generally, what happens in every war: people, whether soldiers or civilians, are injured and killed. For some reason, many people referred to the bombing of villages during the Spanish Civil War as “atrocities.” Hence Picasso’s famous Guernica. Did anyone use that word for the bombing of London or Coventry (let alone Berlin or Dresden) and prosecute the pilots as war criminals? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so.

This journalistic and political strategy makes it necessary to add “innocent” to “civilians.” But what does that word actually mean? From the perspective of those who are invaded, “innocence” is defined by being unarmed. This means that armed adults cannot be innocent and are therefore fair game as targets—even though the state forces them by law (or through shame) to bear arms. From that of the invaders, though, no adults are innocent. All are enemies, because they resist invasion—even if they don’t use military weapons to do so. This is true especially in modern times, because industries on the homefront actively support soldiers in the trenches and even make modern warfare possible.

But some people really are innocent. I draw the line, therefore, at children. Deliberately killing children, who have nothing to do with either causing or maintaining wars, surely is atrocious. I hear a lot about the Russians shelling schools, hospitals and apartment buildings. Maybe they do so deliberately, which is what terrorists do, but I’m not sure how anyone knows which urban targets are purely military ones.

9 March 2022: Bettina Arndt has written a brilliant essay on precisely what I’ve been thinking about. Her essay is brilliant partly because it says plainly what should be—but seldom is—self-evident. That’s how double standards work; the hypocritical illusion disappears with the application of careful observation and common sense. She mentions the profound moral problem of placing more value on female lives than on male ones, so I’ll add a few comments on some equally ignored considerations: (1) demographic ones; (2) practical ones; and (3) cultural ones.

The morally primitive idea that female lives are “worth” more than male lives (never mind egalitarian rhetoric to the contrary) could make demographic sense—nor moral sense but demographic sense—only in societies that practice polygyny, which means that men take many wives. After a war that kills most men, each male survivor can marry many women. And each wife bears as many children as possible to replenish the population. That’s not the case in monogamous societies. After World War I, for instance, millions of Western women simply remained unmarried and childless.

After World War II and more recent wars, some women have remained unmarried but nonetheless had children (partly due to the celebration of and political power of single mothers). But that hasn’t worked out very well, because millions of fatherless children have left us with monumental problems. Countless social scientists have documented these extensively. The fact is that children need both mothers and fathers (who are not interchangeable, because they have very different functions within the family).

In short, no Western country is going to adopt polygyny. And no society at all is going to flourish if it trivializes fathers as luxuries at best (assistant mothers) or denounces them as liabilities at worst.

As for practical considerations such as the ability of women to function effectively in modern warfare, it’s true that most women are bigger and stronger than most men (although some women are bigger and stronger than some men). But not all soldiers carry bodies around, not even in combat. Most tasks can be done effectively by either men or women—especially as guerillas.
And as for cultural considerations, one obvious change since World War II has been the rise of feminism. The sight of teary-eyed young women fleeing en masse from Ukraine, abandoning their men to repel the invaders on their own, therefore, requires an explanation. Maybe Ukraine is not really a Western country, and feminism has not yet taken hold there. But many Asian countries are now feminist without being Western. I have another suggestion. Maybe romanticism has finally, after more than 250 years, defeated rationalism and thus overtaken feminism not only in the West but also in Ukraine. Feminism is rooted not only in rationalism (by way of Marxism), after all, but in romanticism (by way of nationalism) as well. Romanticism would explain the supremacy in both feminism and wokism of (a) feeling over thinking, (b) the journalistic reliance on subjectivity and sentimentality instead of on objective reporting, © the hedonistic fixation on pleasure and self-indulgence as an end in itself, and (d) the “safetyism” that insists on therapeutic protection from even “micro-aggressions” (let alone from bombs).

10 April 2022: I’ve already mentioned a moral argument about the female Ukrainian refugees as a moral problem. I’m still developing another moral argument about it, which I’ll outline here. But hostility toward this argument comes from conservatives, not liberals. See, this is why no one likes me! I’m not a reliable team player. I don’t see conservatism as an end in itself but one means to a greater end. I see myself, my identity, in connection with thinking for myself, not promoting a party line.

In this case, I actually agree with feminists, the ones who actually care about sexual equality, albeit for a very different reason. To put it bluntly, sexual equality cannot work if equality refers to the interchangeability of men and women. That’s because men and women are not the same in all ways (although they are in most ways). And what makes the sexes different is not entirely due to cultural conditioning or “social construction.” Nature itself requires us to create cultures of complementarity, therefore, not of interchangeability.

So far, that sounds reasonable enough to anyone who acknowledges scientific descriptions of reality, let alone reality itself as we know it in everyday life (which is clearly not the case, I must add, for some feminists or for all transgender and woke ideologues). That brings me to a more complicated part of my argument: institutionalizing sexual differentiation in ways that are acceptable to both sexes—and doing so not only on psychological or practical grounds but also on moral grounds.
To be blunt, once again, every human society is founded not on the unmediated natural order (sex) but rather on a cultural order (gender) that accounts for the natural order. As Rousseau understood (albeit naively), every society is founded on a social contract. The Marxists refer to one between economic classes. The feminists refer to one between the sexes, and I agree with them at least about that. I disagree with the feminists, however, about the content of this social contract and how it came to be. Most feminists care about its benefits for women but are indifferent (at best) about its benefits for men (although many feminists camouflage that imbalance with empty rhetoric of equality). For me, both sexes must have vested interests in the continuity of society and of the culture that supports it. For that to happen, both sexes must be able to make one or more contributions to society that are, as I keep saying, distinctive, necessary and publicly valued. Otherwise, neither sex can have a healthy collective identity and, therefore, no society cannot endure. At the heart of any social contract must be reciprocity.

And that, in turn, brings me to the most controversial part of my argument. I think that men today find it increasingly difficult to make any contribution at all, specifically as men, to society. I disagree with liberals who insist on replacing complementarity, which has been universal both historically and cross-culturally, with interchangeability. But I disagree also, and viscerally, with those conservatives who insist on a form of complementarity that defines men, ultimately, as warriors and therefore as “expendable” or “disposable.” I disagree for two reasons, (1) practical and (2) moral.

Evolutionary psychologists read their own theories back into the remote past (often for some political purpose). We have no evidence for any primeval philosophy that tried to legitimate the different experiences of either men or women, let alone to ascribe more value to one sex or the other. Evolutionary psychologists, whether academic or popular, argue nonetheless that women evolved to gestate, lactate and care for infants. Men evolved to protect and provide resources for women and infants. But I suggest that our earliest ancestors, both men and women, simply did whatever they could do or whatever they had to do for the sake of collective survival. Life was very precarious for everyone, and that was true long before the advent of agriculture, raiding and then warfare. Men were often eaten by predatory animals. Women often died in childbirth. Period. They didn’t sit around envying each other or pitying themselves.

And then there’s the theory that biology itself makes women more valuable than men, because men can sire many children but women can gestate only a few. If many men were killed in battle, presumably, the few survivors could marry many women and each woman could have many children to replenish the population. That would make biological sense, sure, but only in societies that allow polygyny. We don’t live in that kind of society, which would turn women into incubators (and men into weapons). We certainly didn’t after World War I and World War II, when many women remained war-widows or single (which meant, in those days, childless). And guess what. The only modern society that has ever actually implemented this theory was Nazi Germany, with its stud farms to improve and replenish Aryan stock! It’s worth noting here, by the way, that the early evolutionary psychologists were Social Darwinists.

In moral terms, no social theory that ascribes more value to one group than to another makes sense, certainly not in any tradition that has contributed to modern society. You’d have to look far and wide to find a moral tradition of denying that every human life is of infinite and equal value. This anomaly has endured even in the West, it’s true, but only on two conditions: (1) disguising reality; and (2) a theological interpretation of it.

Our own society has hidden the alleged expendability of men (which would otherwise have been both morally and psychologically unacceptable) by bribing or rewarding them with symbolic and material privileges that are not accessible to women.

Moreover, it has offered theological significance to those who died in battle by calling, them “martyrs” who sacrifice themselves for the community or the state—think of the imitatio christi tradition—even when the community or the state actually sacrifices (conscripts) them.

Neither condition, however, would be possible today. So, if any conservative is going to argue for re-gendering society by turning men into “expandable” or “disposable” weapons, instead of de-gendering it by turning both men and women into interchangeable cogs, I’d require some evidence that both conditions were still possible, let alone desirable, in an egalitarian and largely secular society. I see no such evidence.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published