Ross Douthat, he of the thesis that feminism is the root of all women's unhappiness, has a new thesis: it also causes marital unhappiness and infidelity. Yeah, 'cause that never happened before Feminism ruined Marriage.
Douthat contrasts the essays by Sandra Tsing Loh and Cristina Nehring about the end of their marriages with the frenzied (and potentially career-ending) passion of — sorry for this mental image! — Mark Sanford and John Ensign. Douthat says:
So which is the real America? Is it Tsing Loh's dystopia, where everyone "works" grimly on their relationships, and post-feminist husbands happily cook saffron-infused porcini risotto but rarely practice seduction on their wives? Or is it tabloid country: The land of Jon minus Kate, and governors who vanish to "hike the Appalachian Trail"...
Ah, those "post-feminist" husbands, who cook in lieu of "seducing" their wives (note to Douthat: many women would consider a man cooking saffron-infused porcini risotto a form of seduction). Because, naturally, it is more naturally the man's role to initiate sex and the woman's role to pretend, at least initially, that she doesn't want it.
But Douthat's not done with condemning all that sexual equality that feminism hath wrought!
But both do put their finger on a post-sexual revolution paradox - namely, that the same overclass that was once most invested in erotic experimentation ended up building the sturdiest walls against the passions it unleashed.
In other words, the wealthy and privileged women with jobs and such (i.e. feminists and, by extension, Democrats) are frigid ice queens once they get bored with porn and premarital sex, while passion is reserved for Real Americans who didn't buy into that feminism claptrap about equality in the first place!
Douthat's got your number, ladies — safe sex is boring! Risking pregnancy is exciting!
The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there's often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate "safe sex" segues into the upwardly-mobile security of "companionate marriages" - or, if you're feeling more cynical, "consumption partnerships."
Yes, unwanted pregnancy and being stuck in boring dead-end jobs is what more Americans need to encourage more passion in their relationships. (What is up with Douthat's seeming obsessive opposition to contraception, anyway? Is this just a rhetorical way to get the women who sleep with him to agree not to use condoms or something?)
By comparison, Douthat just loves how Real America conducts its personal life!
This tameness has beneficial social consequences: When it comes to divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, Americans with graduate degrees are still living in the 1950s. It's the rest of the country that marries impulsively, divorces frequently, and bears a rising percentage of its children outside marriage.
Ok, so, let's make sure I understand this correctly. Feminism (and safe sex) make for boring relationships designed only for upward social mobility, which is good for society and bad for relationships; but sexual freedom has empowered the lower class to make poor decisions about marriage and having a bunch of unsafe sex that Douthat doesn't like in the first place? So, he likes feminism, but he hates it? Is feminism Douthat's mom and does he have an Oedipal complex?
Douthat's got a solution to the problem he's yet to define really well, but which seemingly boils down to the fact that smart, career-oriented women don't have enough wild sex (possibly with Ross Douthat) and dumb sluts have too much.
Our meritocrats could stand to leaven their careerism with a little more romantic excess. (Though such excess is more appropriate in the young, it should be emphasized, than in middle-aged essayists and parents.) But most Americans, particularly those of modest means, would benefit from greater caution and stability in their romantic entanglements.
So, if you're young, career-oriented and, um, female, you should try less hard to get to the top of your profession and try to fall obsessively in love — but only if you're young and, naturally, childless. If you're poor, though, keep it in your pants and that ring on your finger.
Or, I don't know: maybe people regardless of their economic class should attempt to live their lives without listening to Ross Douthat's expectation of what would make them happier?
The Way We Love Now [NY Times]