Ross Douthat’s utopia: Weeping couples hauled to the altar.
I know I’m a bit late to the party in mocking/criticizing Ross Douthat’s lame column once again arguing, as he likes to do, that many to most of the world’s problems could be solved if women stopped fucking. Launching off a study that found, in 1994, that having a daughter made parents (not just dads) more likely to be Republican, he describes the “satisfied tingle” he got thinking about how lovely it is to discover that having a daughter made you more, not less, likely to be a misogynist. Not his exact words, but basically his point: He was ecstatic to discover that having a daughter makes you more likely to want to strip women of basic reproductive rights and embrace the viewpoint that women are better off being tightly controlled than free to make their own decisions.
Waldman’s portrait of Nate’s romantic life is sympathetic enough to have earned her fan mail from young men. But it’s precisely because Nate is sympathetic rather than toxic that the “Nathaniel P.” phenomenon — or what Rebecca Traister has dubbed “the scourge of indecisive men” — is a hard problem to escape. Indeed, it seems like one of the hidden taproots of well-educated women’s work-life-balance angst, and one of the plausible explanations for declining female happiness in a world of expanded female opportunity.
And lurking in Waldman’s novel, as in many portraits of the dating scene (ahem, Lena Dunham, ahem), is a kind of moral traditionalism that dare not speak its name — or that can be spoken of only in half-jest, as when the novelist Benjamin Kunkel told Traister that the solution was “some sort of a sexual strike against just such men.”
Because Kunkel is right: One obvious solution to the Nathaniel P. problem is a romantic culture in which more is required of young men before the women in their lives will sleep with them.
And the way to “require” that of men is to strip women of their rights, so that they are making their decisions in a narrow range of options created by desperation. Men, of course, will never willfully partner off with women, in Douthat’s world. It’s unstated why, but we all know what the implication is: Women are subhuman harpies that are so unbelievably irritating and tedious that the only way to talk men into tolerating their presence is to dangle the possibility of sex in front of them. And if they can get sex without having to put up with women on a more permanent basis, they’ll take that opportunity. Why women should take a deal which involves having our human rights stripped from us in hopes that we can use that as leverage to get men who can’t stand us to move into our homes, I have no fucking clue. “Babies” seems to be Douthat’s answer, but it’s clear Republicans want to help persuade us by making it so hard to make a living you need to trade vagina for financial security.
Misogyny: You embrace it because you just love your girls that much. Nothing says “Daddy loves you” than teaching girls that they have nothing to offer a man but their bodies, and that if it weren’t for that, men wouldn’t even pretend to like them at all.
Anyway, a lot of great people had some fun with Douthat’s idiocy, but one thing that’s gone undiscussed is that Douthat never actually explains how the formula that leads from voting Republican to making sure your daughter is married off young for her own good works. He hints at it with the phrase “sex has been decoupled from marriage but biology hasn’t been abolished”, and we’re all to know what he means. But he never actually says it, because saying it out loud starts to expose some of the false assumptions built into the anti-choice formula. But here, I’ll spell out the argument for how voting for Repubicans leads boom! to women’s, uh happiness:
Of course, that’s just the likeliest scenario. Here is the idealized version of how it works:
Cue “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. Even if the system works as intended, it’s a raw deal for women. But, as we actually know from history, the claim that you can convince men who don’t really like you to be devoted husbands by oops-a-pregnancy or by holding out on sex is questionable, at best. Men left wives without divorcing them and men abused wives without even having to worry slightly about the consequences in the “good old days”. Illegal abortion was widespread. Oh yeah, and the notion that women could create a sexual monopoly to pressure men into marriage is laughable bullshit, because inevitably what happens if you have extreme sexual restrictions on “good girls”, there’s an explosion in prostitution because men, being the dominant class is society, never have been willing to accept this silly notion that their access to sex should be strictly controlled by women. Maintaining the monopoly is actually impossible because the black market is competitive.
Oh yeah, and the system doesn’t work unless you assume women don’t want sex themselves, but only see it as a bargaining chip for male attention. The overwhelming biological and historical and sociological evidence shows that’s not true at all. It also assumes that men don’t and can’t find women to be pleasing people they want to be with, which is something that ordinary couples with egalitarian values are disproving every day.
It may very well be true that having daughters makes you more conservative, but if so, that shouldn’t give anyone a “satisfied tingle”. That should be crushingly depressing, because it shows how deeply ingrained misogynist beliefs about what women are worth and capable of are so widespread. The good news is having these arguments in public does move the needle and get people to reconsider why they think the way they do and why that might not be the best way to approach these issues.