Sunday, April 10, 2005

Do women need protecting?

When I was in my mid-20s and looking for Miss Right I observed a troubling phenomenon. Many women seemed to be rejecting the kind of men they could have serious relationships with. It was as if you would be rewarded as a man if you showed yourself to be an addict, or a player: you had to find some way to prove that you were ineligible for a long term relationship.

It's the kind of observation you can never be sure about and which you usually keep to yourself. Still, I've seen evidence at times that tends to confirm what I thought the situation to be. The most recent proof comes from the pen of Sarah Wilson, a journalist for the Melbourne Herald Sun. In an article (18/1/04) about modern relationships she confesses that,

For the greater part of my mid-20s my love life consisted of a gnarly string of dalliances with inappropriate men.

This was no stroke of bad luck; I would handpick them according to their dysfunctionality...

Every one of them epitomised what I was not after in a relationship. Which meant that I would never fall for them and get hurt.

Sarah Wilson admits though that her strategy of avoiding hurt didn't work,

If I were to be honest with myself, I'd say the "not quite relationship" is impossible to pull off once you hit your 20s ... when it ends, being dumped, is being dumped.

It's also impossible to invest energy─emotionally or sexually─in a bloke and not give part of yourself ... [it] always ends in tears.

It doesn't really surprise me that Sarah Wilson chose inappropriate men as boyfriends to try to cushion the blow of relationship breakups. The romantic aspirations that young women nurse seem to be especially vulnerable to disappointment or betrayal.

There is some confirmation of this in a recent British study on relationships and mental health. The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that "Enduring first partnerships were associated with good mental health ... partnership splits were associated with poorer mental health ... Women seemed more adversely affected by multiple partnership transitions and to take longer to recover from partnership splits than men."

Looking back

Perhaps what has happened in recent years helps to explain why things were arranged differently in earlier times.

We've seen above how modern girl Sarah Wilson, having become used to falling for men and then getting hurt, responded defensively by dating only the most dysfunctional men she thought she could never fall for.

In the nineteenth century there was some attempt to protect young women from casual relationships. One positive result of this is that the Sarah Wilson's of that era did not have to protect themselves emotionally by consorting with inappropriate men.

In fact, the rewards went to functional men. There was even a saying in the nineteenth century that "Beauty in a wife is a reward for goodness in a husband". There was, in other words, an encouragement for men to follow their better instincts.


Could we be more protective of young women in our own times? The main problem in doing so is that it goes against basic liberal principles.

Liberals want people to be self-created by their individual reason and will. This means that for a liberal it is important that people be unimpeded to act as they desire. It also means that liberals don't like to recognise the influence of gender on men and women.

Therefore, it's difficult in a society dominated by liberalism to argue for a policy based on the specific nature of women and which implies that there needs to be some limitation on, or direction to, individual behaviour.

Even so, it's important for both men and women that we do become more protective of young women. Although the romantic instinct in men and women is natural and strong, it won't survive everything.

It is a warning sign when women start to deliberately choose dysfunctional men as boyfriends that the romantic instincts of women are under excessive stress.

We should be concerned to protect young women so that they can sustain their romantic feelings to an age at which they are settling into lasting relationships with men.

(First published at Conservative Central 19/01/2004)

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