Whatever became of marriage? Cultural conservatives blame the decline of marriage on the sexual revolution, which destroyed the chastity of women. Men don’t marry, say the conservatives, because sex is available outside marriage.
There is, of course, something to this view, but it is hardly the whole story. Sex has always been available outside marriage. Call girls are cheaper than wives, and a prostitute costs no more than a date.
Men married for love, children and family. They would still do so, only the culture—and women—have changed.
When I inquire of men in their thirties why they remain unmarried, a few give the hedonistic answer, but most deny that they are unable to make commitments and assume responsibility. Marriage, men say, has been undermined by a lack of female and societal commitment.
The fickleness of women, men argue, is no longer constrained by concerns with reputation and by laws that require real grounds for breaking up a marriage and a family.
A wife can walk out at any time—with another man if she wishes—and take your children, your house, half of your pension and half of your income. If you make a fuss over child custody, she can gun you down with accusations of child molestation.
Even if a father is awarded joint legal custody, the mother usually has actual custody. It is up to her whether the father’s visitation rights are honored.
Professor Stephen Baskerville at Howard University in Washington, D.C., is an expert on family courts. For most men, divorce and its aftermath are a Gestapo experience. There’s not a man alive who doesn’t know someone who has been through the experience. Indeed, the experience never finishes with a man.
Men say that women’s lack of commitment is evident in the fact that the vast majority of divorces, family quarrels and acts of domestic violence are initiated by women. Yet, from start to finish, men are regarded as the villain. Society’s image of divorce is the successful executive who dumps his dowdy wife for a young blonde bombshell. The propaganda is ubiquitous that domestic violence means men beating women.
Men maintain that the position of a husband in a marriage is untenable. Formerly, there was a division of labor and authority among the spouses. Today, working wives have financial independence, and divorce laws and family courts give them the upper hand in any dissolution of the relationship. Husbands know this and, consequently, have lost their share of authority. The wife cracks the whip, and when she is no longer pleased, she leaves with your assets.
I have listened to men debate what can be done. They doubt Baskerville will succeed in reforming family courts and don’t believe that heterosexual men will organize politically like feminists and homosexuals.
Recently, I heard the view expressed that multiculturalism would provide a solution. Men will return to marriage, a young man said, when the bride brings a large dowry that remains the husband’s property regardless of what happens to the relationship. The dowry would offset the risks that make it foolish for men to marry.
Heads nodded in agreement, but one spoke out, saying that more would need to be imported from India’s customs. He had in mind child betrothals and child brides. It was the only way in this day and time, he said, to acquire a wife who didn’t have the sexual experience of a prostitute by the time she reaches marriage age.
Conservatives are right—but for the wrong reason—that the sexual revolution has undermined marriage. Men see women as damaged goods and feel funny about marrying a woman who might have shared a bed with a number of the wedding guests.
It is called the double-standard, but many men believe that promiscuity does not suit women. They believe that a woman who has had many partners cannot bind emotionally with a husband. She is never his. The emotive ties that bind a woman to a man are lost to professionalism or to indifference.
None of this is to deny that individual men can be jerks, neglectful and abusive, but the decline of marriage is not caused by personalities.
Women think men don’t care, but men are far more aware of the problem than women. I was a young professor when it all started and watched a campus turn into a brothel. The male students were perplexed, even the left-wing ones who had been taught to regard female chastity as oppression. I still remember the resident Marxist who, high on peyote, came to me to complain that “nice girls are ruining themselves.”