In the United States women are, I think for the first time in history, gaining real power. Often nations have had queens, heiresses, and female aristocrats. These do not amount to much. Today women occupy positions of genuine authority in fields that matter, as for example publishing, journalism, and academia. They control education through high school. Politicians scramble for their votes. They control the divorce courts and usually get their way with things that matter to them.
If this is not unprecedented, I do not know of the precedent. What will be the consequences?
Men have controlled the world through most of history so we know what they do: build things, break things, invent things, compete with each other fiercely and often pointlessly, and fight endless wars that seem to them justifiable at the time but that, seen from afar, are just what males do. The unanswered question is what women would, or will, do. How will their increasing influence reshape the polity?
Women and men want very different things and therefore very different worlds. Men want sex, freedom, and adventure; women want security, pleasantness, and someone to care about (or for) them. Both like power. Men use it to conquer their neighbors whether in business or war, women to impose security and pleasantness.
I do not suggest that the instinctive behavior of women is necessarily bad, nor that of men necessarily good. I do suggest that that the effects will be profound, probably irreversible, and not necessarily entirely to the liking of either sex. The question may be whether one fears most being conquered or being nicened to death.
Consider what is called the Nanny State by men, who feel smothered by it, but is accepted if not supported by women, who see it as protective and caring. (Yes, I know that there are exceptions and degrees in all of this, and no, I don’t have polling data.) Note that women are much more concerned than are men about health and well-being. Women worry about second-hand smoke, outlawing guns, lowering the allowable blood-alcohol levels for drivers, making little boys wear helmets while riding bicycles, and outlawing such forms of violence as dodge ball or the use of plastic ray guns. Much of this is demonstrably irrational, but that is the nature of instincts. (Neither is the male tendency to form armed bands and attack anyone within reach a pinnacle of reason.)
The implications of female influence for freedom, at least as men understand the word, are not good. Women will accept restrictions on their behavior if in doing so they feel more secure. They have less need of freedom, which is not particularly important in living a secure, orderly, routine, and comfortable life. They tend not to see political correctness as irritating, but as keeping people from saying unpleasant things.
The growing feminization accounts for much of the decline in the schools. The hostility to competition of any sort is an expression of the female desire for pleasantness; competition is a mild form of combat, by which men are attracted and women repelled. The emphasis on how children feel about each other instead of on what they learn is profoundly female (as for that matter is the associated fascination with psychotherapy). The drugging of male schoolchildren into passivity is the imposition of pleasantness by chemical means. Little boys are not nice, but fidgety wild men writ small who, bored out of their skulls, tend to rowdiness. They are also hard for the average woman to control and, since male teachers are absent, gelded, or terrified of litigious parents, expulsion and resort to the police fill the void. The oft-repeated suspension of boys for drawing soldiers or playing space war is, methinks, a quietly hysterical attempt to assuage formless insecurity.
The change in marriage and the deterioration of the family are likewise the results of the growth of political power of women. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen, but it is assuredly happening. Divorce became common because women wanted to get out of unsatisfactory marriages. In divorce women usually want the children, and have the clout to get them. But someone has to feed the young. Thus the vindictive pursuit of divorced fathers who won’t or can’t pay child support. And thus the rise of the government as de facto father to provide welfare, tax breaks, daycare, and otherwise behave as a virtual husband.
When women entered a male workplace, they found that they didn’t much like it. Men told off-color jokes, looked at protuberant body parts, engaged in rough verbal sparring as a form of social interaction, and behaved in accord with rules that women didn’t and don’t understand. Women had the influence to change things, and did. Laws grew like kudzu to ban sexual harassment, whether real or imagined. Affirmative action, in addition to being a naked power grab, avoids competition and therefore making the losers feel bad. It degrades the performance of organizations, sometimes seriously, but performance is a preoccupation of males.
Men are capable of malignant government, whether authoritarian or totalitarian, as witness North Korea or the Russia of Stalin. I don’t know whether women would behave as badly if they had the power. (I’d guess not.) But women have their own totalitarian tendencies. They will if allowed impose a seamless tyranny of suffocating safety, social control, and political propriety. Men are happy for men to be men and women to be women; women want us all to be women.
The United States becomes daily more a woman’s world: comfortable, safe, with few outlets for a man’s desire for risk. The America of wild empty country, of guns and fishing and hunting, of physical labor and hot rods and schoolyard fights, has turned gradually into a land of shopping malls and sensible cars and bureaucracy. Risk is now mostly artificial and not very risky. There is skydiving and scuba and you can still find places to go fast on motorcycles, but it gets harder. Jobs increasingly require the feminine virtues of patience, accommodation to routine, and subordination of performance to civility. Just about everything that once defined masculinity is now denounced as “macho,” a hostile word embodying the female incomprehension of men.
A case can be made that a feminized world would (or will) be preferable to a masculine. Perhaps. It is males who bomb cities and shoot people in Seven-Elevens. Yet the experiment has not been made. I suspect we will have the worst of both worlds: a nation in which men at the top engage in the usual wars and, a step below, women impose inutterable boredom.
Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.