If you were to believe feminists we live in an oppressive patriarchy in which women lack equal rights.
And yet when it comes to relationships we are clearly playing not by men's rules, or even equal rules, but by women's rules.
Western culture once viewed individuals as having, like other creatures, an animal nature, but unlike other creatures, the faculty of reason. The idea was to use reason to guide our nature to higher ends or purposes. Human freedom was associated with self-restraint of baser impulses and desires, and with the cultivation of virtue and character.
But the formula has changed. To be liberated now means having an autonomous individual will, so that we are free to act on our desires or impulses, no matter what they might be (we are no longer even meant to judge these desires, we are supposed to be "non-judgemental").
And so a young woman will be told that she is being "empowered" by acting according to her desires or impulses, no matter what they are. It is her "right" to do so, a part of her autonomy. The culture of rational self-restraint has been overthrown (as described in my How Free is Cardi B? post).
There are three noticeable aspects of this experiment in liberating female impulse from a culture of prudential reason:
1. When women's primal nature is exercised unrestrained, there are observable patterns in their relationship choices at different stages of life.
2. Society is organised to enable these female choices.
3. Liberating and enabling these impulses has negative effects.
I'm going to make a foray into territory I usually avoid, by attempting to observe how women process relationships. I'll be drawing on the work of Rollo Tomassi in doing this. I can't endorse everything he has written (if for no other reason than I haven't read all that he has written). However, his way of describing the patterns in female behaviour fits closely with what I have experienced and observed. I therefore believe it to be useful knowledge that should be widely known (there is a useful graph illustrating his ideas embedded in this post.)
The underlying observation, on which the rest depends, is that there is a dual nature to women's sexual strategy. The kind of men that women are attracted to sexually are often different to the kind of men that women rely on for support in establishing a family. Rightly or wrongly, the first kind of men are usually termed "alpha" and the second "beta".
If a young women is "liberated" to do so (i.e. liberated to follow her impulses, no matter what they are), she will often choose to spend her younger years attempting to attract the alpha males who she responds to sexually. Rollo suggests that this "party years" phase is at its peak from roughly ages 20 to 26 (I have heard women of my own age refer to it as their "wild years").
Who are these alpha men? It varies a bit, but it will include men who are edgy in their looks and behaviour, who are self-confident in dealing with women, who have a reputation as "players", who are muscular, who have a visible level of drive and ambition, who have some kind of social status (e.g. play in a band) and who don't play by the rules.
Women don't necessarily expect that relationships with these "exciting" men will be more than sexual. In this phase, women are using the sexual power they find themselves with to compete to be chosen by such men. As long as the women still think of themselves as young and attractive enough to vie for the attention of such alpha males they may well prefer a "sex in the city" lifestyle in which they aren't tied down to any one man. They like the experience of exercising their sexual power; some don't want it to end.
And does our society support women acting on these impulses? Rollo would say that we live in a "feminine primary social order", i.e. one that enables women's sexual strategies rather than men's. And he appears to be right. What is it, after all, that feminists call for at this stage of life? Younger feminists call for free abortion on demand, free and affordable contraception and for an acceptance of female promiscuity (e.g. the "slutwalk" movement). These are clearly aimed at enabling the party years phase of a woman's life.
Feminists are not really advocating for equality here. What they are doing is supporting women to act freely on their impulses, whatever they are. They are being "liberationists" in the sense that they are liberating women from prudential reason, from the self-limitation of desire. They are supported by the liberal state in doing so, in part, because they are able to argue for this as an expression of a woman's individual autonomy ("my body, my choice"). It is likely, as well, that the liberal state is supportive of women's traditional commitments being dissolved via sexual revolution, as this brings women more completely under the rule of a liberal, technocratic ordering of society.
Traditional societies never permitted the party girl phase to be so unrestrained. They were correct in this as:
1. It delays family formation, so that women's most fertile years are wasted, contributing to below replacement fertility levels.
2. Women spend their formative years engaging promiscuously in sex, damaging their ability later on to successfully pair bond, hence a higher rate of divorce.
3. Family oriented men are likely to be rejected for an extended period of time, leading to resentments or demoralisation, with less incentive to commit to careers.
The party girl phase ends when women start pushing up to their later 20s and can no longer compete as easily with younger women. They go through what Tomassi calls an "epiphany" phase, in which they are ready to stop competing sexually and instead focus on forming a family. In this phase, they might start considering men they had previously rejected, men who are conscientious, loyal, hard working and family oriented - so-called beta males.
It's common for women in this situation to start to ask where "all the good men are". They might surprise themselves by giving a chance to a man "they wouldn't normally go for." They might find themselves telling such a man that he is "not like all those other men" and that "all she ever wanted was to get married and have children". Her previous experience with men will be downplayed as she adopts a different persona.
The men in this age bracket (say 30s) will in the meantime be told they have to start "manning up" and take on traditional family responsibilities. If they are men who have been previously overlooked, they might be surprised at their newfound popularity. They might even have the experience of fielding interest from several women, something very different from when they were younger. They are suddenly and unexpectedly in demand.
Things might go well for a period of time. A woman might genuinely in this phase of her life be looking forward to marriage and motherhood and so hold her beta male fiancee in high regard.
For some years the marriage might go reasonably well. Husband and wife will buy a house together and raise their young children. If there is a difficulty it might be in the wife's lack of genuine sexual interest in her husband. She might not say this openly, not when she is looking to secure things with him, but it will emerge in an unwillingness or an inability to either have sex or to connect with her husband in sex. This is part of that difficulty of women having a "dual nature" in finding some men sexually attractive, but others attractive for family formation.
The next phase Rollo calls alpha reinterest. He sees it as happening typically in a woman's late 30s, though in my observation it reaches a critical point when a woman's youngest child is semi-independent (e.g. old enough for school). For some women, this phase is very powerful. She might, despite being middle-aged with children, want to return to her clubbing days. She might become a devotee of the 50 Shades kind of literature. Importantly, she might not just want her husband to act a little differently, she might want him to be a completely different kind of man. What she wanted in a man a decade previously is not what she wants now. It is possible too that she doesn't want someone else to marry, she just doesn't want to be married - she wants to go back to the intoxicating party years phase.
Some of these women will start to prepare to divorce. They won't tell their husbands of any discontent, because they don't want to save their marriages. They want their husband to be someone else and they want to be single again (some women will choose to stay married, though, perhaps because they fear the loss of comfort or security, or they are worried about how family and friends will react, or they might be concerned about their children).
Once again, the "feminine primary social order" steps in and enables these women to divorce with as little fallout as possible. It will usually be women who retain the family home, who have most of the custody of the children, and who receive income transfers from their former spouse. Many divorced men find themselves shunted out of their families, but still expected to fulfil the provider role for their ex-wives. They are financially propping up the new lifestyle of their ex-wife, as she seeks out an "alpha" relationship dynamic, the one she is familiar with from her formative years.
Efforts to reform family law have often been vociferously opposed by feminists. There are feminists who strongly support equal parenting during the marital life phase, but who are strongly opposed to it in the divorce phase.
Is it good for society to allow a woman's alpha reinterest to lead to divorce? I would have thought the answer to be clearly no. The childhood of the children involved will be disrupted; some of them will lose contact with their fathers. Some will be exposed to temporary boyfriends of their mother who will be a risk to their well-being. Some ex-husbands don't recover from the sudden impact of so many stressors: loss of spouse, children, home, assets and income. The women themselves will often need to be supported financially by the state as single mothers. Nor do these women always think clearly about their real prospects in the dating world after divorce.
My intention in writing this is not to discourage anyone from marrying - a good marriage is still a blessing in life. It's more to help spread the message that liberation from rational self-restraint is not compatible with a stable culture of marriage, in part, because it liberates women to pursue certain predictable impulses, as Rollo has described them.
The best response would be to return to the social standards, the cultural norms, the economic policies, and the family laws which once reinforced "prudential reason" as against "immediate impulse/instinct". Until this happens it seems to me that men who want to marry might be advised to do the following:
1. Try to combine at least some "alpha" traits, at least those compatible with family life, along with the family guy "beta" ones. There's no reason, for instance, why a family man can't demonstrate masculine energy in being driven to reach life goals and to have ambitions (not necessarily career ones). Similarly, there is no reason why a family guy can't aim for muscularity and physical health.
2. Avoid choosing a woman who has neurotic personality traits. Women who rank high in neuroticism are "prone to having irrational ideas, being less able to control their impulses, and as coping more poorly than others with stress". These women will be least able to successfully regulate their baser impulses during the course of life. The problem for men is that it's not always easy to identify these women; in happy times, they may exhibit a lot of attractive traits. Some of the "gives" are that they will be more irritable than most people, as they do not handle even low levels of stress well and often overreact to low level setbacks; and they might have a poor history of maintaining all sorts of relationships (work, friendships, romantic) because they are prone to irrational thinking. Long engagements are wise with these kind of women: even if they are able to mask neurotic thoughts from their partner, over time these thoughts will sabotage the relationship. Two, or perhaps even three, year engagements are advisable.
3. Women who exhibit self-control and conscientiousness are more likely to succeed in relationships. In other words, what matters more than a woman's feelings in the moment toward you, are her settled personality traits. People with conscientious personality traits are more likely to "take obligations to others seriously".
4. Women who come from warm, intact, loving families and who have good relationships with their fathers do seem, in my observation, to be more likely to want a committed relationship with a man at an earlier age. These women often pair bond more readily, and at an earlier age, so a man might need to be ready at an early age to succeed with one of these women.
5. Men should not be too taken in by the sudden interest they might receive when women reach the epiphany phase. Much sober-minded screening needs to take place.
6. It's not wise for a man to invest everything in family. As important as it is, for himself and for society, a man's sacrifices are no guarantee of a lasting marital bond. Have other areas of life that also give a sense of purpose, achievement and identity.
7. It's not healthy for men to devote everything to winning female desire. If men were only to compete to prove their desirability to women, then masculine character would not fully develop. Women are not sexually attracted by character and virtue in men. The heroes in female romantic fiction are generally darkly natured cads, who have inherited high status and who act on impulse to take what they want. Masculine character develops when men work together in public life for the public good (polis life). That's when men have the opportunity to measure each other through criteria of loyalty, honour, probity, courage or service.
One final point: men have to exercise their higher rational and moral natures without overly suppressing their primal, biological, instinctual natures. Men might find that their love of a wife is based in their higher nature, but for her to sexually desire him requires that he has retained something of his primal masculine nature.