Relationships can be oriented to sex, to romantic love and to marriage. In most cultures, there is an element of each, but the balance can change.
For much of Western history, culture was directed primarily toward marriage. A man in such a culture will be looking for a woman to be his life partner and a mother for his children. He is therefore likely to value a woman for her beauty, her intelligence and her good nature. In upper class culture it was also important for a wife to be of equal social standing, of good reputation and to be suitably accomplished.
If you read Jane Austen's novels (from the early 1800s), you notice a change in the mix. Austen continues to disapprove of relationships oriented primarily to sex; there is a condemnation of flighty younger sisters who pursue sexual flings with men of doubtful character. Propriety and family honour do still count for something in the Austen novels.
But Austen also portrays as villains (or as figures of fun or pity) those who marry in the interests of their families. We are to act more in terms of our own individual emotions and not be swayed so much by issues of family connections.
By the end of the 1800s, Western culture was more oriented to romantic love than it had previously been. What does a man focused on romantic love look for in a woman? An idealised feminine beauty, grace and goodness.
By the 1970s, second wave feminists began to demand sexual liberation. What this meant, in its historical context, was the pursuit of relationships by women without regard to marriage or to male expectations of romantic love.
It's not surprising, therefore, that feminist women often spoke negatively of women being put on a pedestal (idealised) and of marriage being an oppressive feature of a patriarchy.
And so feminism helped to usher in (with the help of male sexual liberationists like Hugh Hefner) the modern culture we have now, in which many young people are oriented to casual sexual relationships.
But there's a catch. What do men who are oriented to one night stands look for in a woman? One thing: hotness. That's what matters most if all you are looking for is sex.
And this enrages the feminists who helped usher in the sexual revolution. They complain unceasingly about women being sexually objectified. Just recently I read an article by a feminist woman on the theme of "what I want in a man". She wrote:
I want men who don't bet on sleeping with women, who don't rate women on their appearance on a scale of one to ten. I want a man who ... doesn't base his treatment of me on how hawt I am.
Feminists seem to expect men to value them for their intelligence, their accomplishments, their character, their status and so on. But to get this they would need to support a culture more oriented to marriage, in which men are selecting a life partner. This they can't do as they want to be liberated from such a culture. But it is inevitable that men who only want sex from women will mostly value sex appeal, i.e. "hawtness".
Little wonder that feminists get so angry and frustrated. They're caught in a trap and it's only likely to get worse. There is a growth in the "game" or "seduction" movement, in which men are adapting to a culture based on casual sex and picking up. Although it's possible for men who want a longer-term relationship to use these seduction techniques, those men leading it tend to be very "sexually liberated", which means that what they value in women is hotness. It doesn't matter so much to them if a woman is kindly natured, good with children, admired socially or compatible in her personality. Why should it if what they are looking for is sex alone?
Feminists aren't getting what they want. Yet, as full-blooded moderns this is what they think they are owed. They have the modern technological mindset that things should be arranged so that their own will and desire are sovereign.
What specifically do they want? Women who are oriented to marriage will be looking for men who will make good husbands and fathers. They will want men who are stable, conscientious, hard-working, loyal and family oriented. But a "sexually liberated" feminist has set herself against all this. She wants to pursue relationships without regard to marriage.
This leaves her freer to pursue socially dominant men or to seek out drama in relationships. So there are modernist women who keep pinning their hopes on a "Mr Big", even if such men never commit to them and there are women who select edgy kind of men, the bad boys who take risks or who are untrustworthy or who are capable of violence or who break the law.
The problem is that these preferences do not give women control. Pursuing casual relationships with socially dominant men or risky men puts women in a weaker, vulnerable position.
So there are feminists who seek various social technologies to give them the upper hand, so that it is they and not men who have "agency" in the relationship. They want to ensure that sexually liberated relationships ultimately play out on their terms.
What have been some key policies of second and third wave feminism? Abortion on demand has been one and this is predictable if you are a woman who wants to technologically manage a culture of casual relationships.
And then there is the issue of rape, which is an obsession with some feminist women. What's important to note here is that the obsession is not with criminal rape - with the few men who act against the law to violently attack women. Feminist women are far more interested in "date rape" - with some feminists openly advocating the idea that women could be given absolute power in relationships through date rape legislation.
Here's how one feminist woman believes she could get 100% personal sovereignty in sexual relationships via date rape laws:
Imagine that all women are considered by the courts to abide in a perpetual state of non-consent. “No” becomes the default position, and does not require re-stating at any time. In fact, “consent” would not apply to women at all; we would exist as inviolable entities, 100% human beings with full personal sovereignty, the way men do now. We could, if the idea didn’t gag us with a spoon, have as much heterosex as we want, but the instant we don’t want, the dude becomes, in the eyes of the law, a rapist. This shifts the onus onto the dude not to be a barbarian. He can reduce his risk of being sent to the gulag by ceasing to rape, dominate, prod, cajole, shame, nag, or act like a prick. He can avoid it altogether merely by keeping it in his Dockers.
But, again to the frustration of feminists, the date rape tactic isn't working. In part, this is because most people still think of rape as a serious criminal offence rather than as a social technology. Therefore, most people are inclined to defend men who unfairly suffer the accusation. So there are feminists who want to tone down the criminal aspect of a rape accusation. Catherine MacKinnon, for instance, once wrote that,
Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated. You might think that's too broad. I'm not talking about sending all of you men to jail for that. ["A rally against rape" Feminism Unmodified]
Note that it is a woman's feelings or will, rather than any clearly defined act, which defines rape, thereby giving women the ultimate power and control in a relationship and that MacKinnon seeks to downplay the idea that all men would suffer criminal sanctions.
Here's another example:
I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire. [Robin Morgan 1974]
Rape here is redefined in terms of female agency; what matters is not a lack of consent but that what happens is a product of female, not male, desire.
Most women, it should be said, do not follow feminists in rejecting marriage in principle. It's common, though, for women to think of their 20s as being "sexually liberated" and then to finally orient themselves toward marriage in their 30s. This means that they seek different qualities in men, or perhaps even different kinds of men, at different times of their life.
Consider this online advice to men about what women look for:
Forget about the theory that women like bad boys. While this may be the case with some women in their twenties, most mature women have had their fill of bad boys. Monroe women and any other women are now looking for a nice, kind, caring and thoughtful man.
This switching of preferences in a woman's 30s won't always work. It means that when men are in their youthful prime (ages 15 to 35), they will be asked to adapt to women who aren't oriented to marriage and who are looking for casual relationships with bad boys. By the time women are ready to switch it will often be too late. Many men will have grown out of their instinct to be husbands and fathers and some might harbour resentments towards women. Women who have spent a decade or more pursuing the drama of casual relationships might find it difficult to settle into a more predictable pattern of married life.
And it represents too a waste; the person we are supposed to have the most significant connection to, our spouse, will not be the person we share our youthful passions with.
Should we then return to the situation of the 1980s in which culture was oriented more strongly to romantic love? No doubt this was a more spiritualised and less crude culture of relationships, but it was inadequate in its own way. What kind of wisdom or foresight does a man require for romantic love? What kind of concern will he have in his relationships for his family, his community or his tradition? None. He can be a fool for love.
There's an English film, Love Actually, which even celebrates this aspect of a romantic culture. It portrays couples who fall romantically in love in ways which dissolve all other considerations. The Prime Minister falls in love with the tea lady. An English writer falls in love with, and commits his life to, a Portuguese woman he cannot speak to. One couple fall in love whilst acting in a pornographic film.
The evidence seems to be that it's difficult to integrate the romantic and sexual lives of men and women outside a culture that has a serious orientation to family. Feminists thought that they could control the outcomes of the sexual revolution in favour of female agency, but many seem to be angrier than ever about a culture of relationships that they themselves largely instigated.