Nature's Impossible Women's-Lib Problem

Is feminism causing the end of modern Western Enlightenment culture?

A standard political trope is that the idea that the left wants society to "move forward" to newer and better modes, whereas conservatives want to keep things the way they've always been or even "turn back the clock."  How often have we been told that a Republican wants to return our culture to the 1950s?

The implication, of course, is that conservatives are racists who want blacks and women kept "in their place" the way Jim Crow laws and cultural norms did back then.  No doubt somewhere in this nation of 320 million, there's somebody out there who believes that - but among the real conservatives you are ever likely to meet or hear from, pretty much all of them agree that the civil rights movement was profoundly American, long overdue, and a Good Idea overall. They may very well disapprove with the "victim culture" that evolved over the half-century following, but the basic principle of equality is accepted by nearly every conservative.

What about the feminist movement?  There, opinions are mixed: a great many conservatives do find our debauched, sexually libertine, anti-family culture to be appalling, and place blame on the strident independent womyn who think they need men like a fish needs a bicycle.  Again, though, the general idea that a woman, in principle, should be free to choose to "opt out" of family life and pursue a commercial career if that's what she wishes is subscribed to by just about everyone.

Most conservatives believe that each individual adult person - male or female, black or white, poor or rich - should have the liberty to make their own lives pretty much however they choose and largely free from outside interference including government interference no matter how well-intentioned, although not at the expense of others.  For example, they don't think that welfare moms have the unlimited right to force the rest of society to pay the costs of raising, educating, and incarcerating however many fatherless babies they choose to have.

Making your own way in the manner you choose, as long as it's at your own expense, is the definition of freedom.  If you believe that all people are created equal, it's hard to reach any other conclusion.

So here's a truly scary though: What if fundamental, unavoidable aspects of human nature are such that it's impossible for a society organized on that basic principle to survive?

Jobs Americans Won't Do

Any of us could name a hundred ways our lifestyles have changed for the better from those of our ancestors of 200 years ago.  Just about everything we see, touch, or handle in the course of a day would be nearly unrecognizable to George Washington, or even Abraham Lincoln.

What's less visible is how our views of what is normal have also changed.  Within almost living memory, it was expected without question that a newly married couple would shortly have children, and a couple who'd been married any great length of time would have a sizeable brood.  A tiny family of one or two children was an object of pity - clearly there was something wrong, either medically or with the marriage itself, because if you had a healthy marriage, children just naturally happened.

How different things are today!  A family of six children, unremarkable if not below-average to our forebears, is now the object of astonished stares when parading through Wal-Mart.  The invention of modern methods of birth control have given women and men the ability to prevent babies without handicapping their personal lives.  So many have chosen that option that most Western countries have reproduction rates far below the number required to replace the previous generation.

Why don't most people choose to have large families anymore?  One happy reason is that not nearly so many infants die of childhood diseases.  Back in the day, it was not uncommon for a woman to give birth a dozen times, but for only three or four of her children to survive to adulthood.  Even allowing for this difference, though, that's still more surviving children than most families have nowadays.

Another obvious reason is the change in our economy.  In an agricultural society, children become useful surprisingly quickly: even a toddler can help shuck corn or weed the garden.  In our modern world, in contrast, a middle-class family can expect to have to invest nearly a quarter-million dollars in raising a child to adulthood with no real expectation of ever seeing any financial return since we've lost the age-old expectation for children to care for their elderly parents.  Even this vast sum doesn't account for the near certainty that having children will reduce the mothers' earnings over her lifetime.

In effect, children have become a luxury lifestyle accessory, like a fancy car, that most people want but few can really afford.  This effect increases every year in a vicious cycle: as there are fewer children around, society gets accustomed to children being an optional extra and no longer feels the need to accommodate those who choose to have them.

When virtually everybody got married and virtually every marriage produced children, every institution in society was designed around the assumption of the presence of children in the lives of their adult members if not on their physical premises.

Today, it's quite possible to design and staff jobs that simply can't be performed by someone with family responsibilities, because there is an ample supply of people without them.  Yet that ever more marginalizes those who choose to take on a family, reducing their number still further.

The Most Important Job in the World?

Another problem with the investment in raising a child is how long it takes and how inescapable it is.  By bringing a child into the world, you are committing to a massive two-decade capital investment program that you cannot escape, no matter what, without being an inhuman monster.

The problem is that most of us have little idea of exactly what we will be doing two years from now, never mind two decades.  With the bills mounting up and ever-increasing costs of everything related to a family, the obvious desire is for any additional source of income.

And, sure enough, that source appeared in the 1970s: the wife.  Before then, the vast majority of married mothers stayed at home with their children.  Over the forthcoming decades, mothers left their children to the tender mercies of daycare and school and entered the paying workforce.

As Harvard Prof. Elizabeth Warren detailed in her book The Two-Income Trap, this hasn't worked out as well as expected: by doubling the supply of labor via wives entering the workforce, it halved the value of labor, so now both partners' combined earnings pretty much equal what one alone got before.  Because everyone has done it, though, everyone else has to do it, at great personal cost.

So today, despite most mothers preferring to stay home with their kids, most work instead because they have to financially.  Raising one, two, four, or eight children is a challenge, but trying to do it in addition to a full-time job is the stuff of nightmares and nervous breakdowns.  Understandably, most mothers choose not to push it and keep motherhood to a minimum.

But that's led to several generations of children who've enjoyed far less familial interaction with adults or with siblings than their forebears.  Sure, there are adults in the daycare, but they come and go without warning and for reasons invisible to a child.  Children have a deep need to form long-term bonds with family members who aren't going anywhere over many years, and no paid professional can be a complete substitute.

Children also were traditionally socialized through interactions with older and younger siblings, but most modern children don't have any, or at most one or two.  Is it any wonder we see so many "special snowflakes" who have a very difficult time interacting with the real world, preferring instead to communicate via electronic media rather than in person?  Having never interacted much physically with close trusted relations where there's an underpinning of love no matter what is said, are we surprised that they think of words they don't like as the equivalent of violence?

Demography Is Destiny in the Long Run

The idea of a society whose every generation contains fewer members than the previous cohort would have been unimaginable throughout most of human history, out side of disasters like plague or foreign conquest.  Today, it's the norm: China, Japan and most of Europe are shrinking fast.

This isn't always obvious from the numbers, but is made manifest in the streets.  By the numbers, Europe has plenty of people both young and old.  But who those people are is quite different by age: the old are Italian, German, French, etc., whereas the young are mostly named Mohammed.

If the future belongs to those who show up for it, then the future won't contain an Italy, Germany, or France, in the sense of having a particular people with a particular historical culture.  Oh, the geographical place on the map isn't going anywhere, but it will be occupied by an entirely alien people with a completely different culture, residing amidst the collapsing monuments of vanished giants.

America hasn't gone quite so far down this road, but as our leftist media loves to celebrate, a majority of our children are now of differing ethnicity which likely means different cultural backgrounds.

By definition, this means that Western culture is a failed dead-end: in due time, it will vanish and be replaced by something else through sheer math.

We've pointed out that Hugh Hefner's businesses offered women opportunities for platonic appearance-based careers which liberated them from the classical duties of homemaking.  We found a description of this in a letter to the October 21 Economist:

An insider's view on Hefner
Thank you for remembering Hef.  In the late 1960s I worked as a Bunny (not Bunny girl as stated in your obituary of Hugh Hefner in the October 7th issue) and lived in the Playboy Mansion in Chicago.  Those of us who stayed there called it The House.  At a time when sexual harassment of female employees was considered the norm, Hef was alone in treating women with respect.  The dormitory we lived in had a "no men allowed policy" and that included Hef and the rest of his staff.  We were paid well and many of us went on to other careers: Deborah Harry founded Blondie, Lauren Hutton graced the covers of fashion magazines, and I became a librarian.

In times past, someone writing about a woman's accomplishments would have spoken of her children.  By the late 60's, however, many women were judging themselves by their careers.  It's clear that this former Bunny thought in terms of career development instead of finding a father for her future children, if she even had any.

It's been obvious for years that having children would harm a woman's career, and could pretty much end it if she stayed home to care for them for any length of time.  We constantly hear about the "wage gap" in which men are supposedly paid more than women.  Now that there are enough childless women in the workforce to make valid comparisons, we find that today's young female college graduates earn more than men their own age.  Recent research shows that the wage gap comes with motherhood - childless women who work the same hours are paid as much as men if not more.  Just another reason not to reproduce!

The Cold War Between the Sexes

It might seem like these demographic effects are glacially slow, and that we might develop better ways to adjust over time.  The examples of countries further along the path don't give grounds for optimism.

For as long as there has been recorded history, it's been a truism that men want sex and are willing to do just about anything to get it.  As President Reagan once observed, ''men would still be walking around in skin suits, carrying clubs'' if it weren't for women.  The whole point of buying a house, central heating, air conditioning, appliances, and all the other accouterments of modern living is presumably to keep women in the mood.

What, then, are we to make of the growing trend in Japan of men who have no interest whatsoever in sex?  An astonishing quarter of young Japanese men feel this way, as do almost half the women.  Overwhelming majorities of the young are not in a relationship, and many never have been.  According to a Japanese relationship counselor:

"Both men and women say to me they don't see the point of love. They don't believe it can lead anywhere," says Aoyama. "Relationships have become too hard."

In the United States, a relationship definitely can lead somewhere: to prison, or to bankruptcy.  Until the Trump Administration reversed course, our Federal government encouraged colleges to create star-chamber rules which could expel men merely accused of sexual misconduct, without evidence, trial, or even a chance of defense.  Today, we see the arresting spectacle of vastly rich and powerful people receiving mob justice over similar accusations, again without evidence, proof, cross-examination, or any of the due process we expect in our search for justice.

Are some of the accused guilty?  Without doubt.  Yet lynchings never stop with just the guilty.  Today's young man knows that his life can be instantly ruined by a baseless accusation from a girl who may simply have changed her mind.  What sane man would put himself in that situation?

Of course, when it comes to sex, most young men aren't necessarily sane.  If the penalties are harsh enough and incidents common enough, however, even hormone-suffused frat brothers will learn eventually and lay off of women - particularly at work.  Is that truly what women want, in a world where, after college, most people meet new people at work?

It is clear that most men want sex far more than women do; so on average, men will tend to be more aggressive about it.  But if, in understandable defense of women's rights to autonomy, we remove the ability for men to be at all pushy, then there won't be any sex (as in Japan and Scandinavia), no descendants, and no future for the nation.  A country that has to broadcast public-service commercials begging citizens to have sex and hopefully babies is in deep trouble.

The Past Is The Future

So, we appear to have only two choices before us.

We can stay on the path Western culture has trod for at least a century, of increasing autonomy and authority for women.  This demonstrably leads to fewer and fewer children. less and less father involvement, more and more wealth - and eventual cultural oblivion.

Meanwhile, the poor world looks enviously at our increasingly empty palaces.  As is happening now in Europe, they'll move in and take over from the leftover octogenarians who won't be able to stop them, or as we increasingly see amongst our elites, not even care to.  Western culture will then be literally dead, replaced by something alien and in large part inhumane.

Or, we can turn the clock back at least to the 1950s if not the 1890s, and re-establish traditional gender roles and expectations, with the hope that traditional family growth and stability would also return.  Would this cost women a great deal of the independence they've fought for over the past centuries?  Let's be blunt: yes, it absolutely would, which is a terrible price to ask them to pay.

But if we don't, then it's looking increasingly likely that what takes the place of Western liberties, is a barbarian "culture" whose view of women's rights dates back to the 700s - in other words, as property in all but name.

Compared to that, the life of a 1950s housewife seems like Nirvana.  If those are the only two choices available, only a fool would choose the other one, but that's just what our modern leftists are doing, whether or not it's what they intend.

We at Scragged don't believe that a woman should have a baby unless she really wants to.  Regardless of feminist propaganda, recent biological research is showing how very different men and women are when it comes to day-to-day parenting.

And as generally productive and intellectual sorts, we mostly tend to sympathize (gulp) with women who'd rather pursue careers than take the lifetime income hit that comes from motherhood.  The problem is that, as appealing as this might be to the individual, in the aggregate - well, it's clear where our civilization will go if high-powered women decide not to bother passing on their genes to the next generation, or if men don't want to help them do so.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

You have described the problem, but your solution is extremely impractical. We need to lower the costs of children, not impose them by reverting to the rules of 1950.

Tax policy throughout the West is anti-children. It needs to be restructured to encourage talented, successful people to have more kids. Tax deductions for children need to lower your tax rate, instead of being a lump sum deduction. A family with a stay at home mom, or dad, should pay at a much lower rate than dual income couples.

Allow grandparents to provide child support and claim the deductions. They have the money, but currently transfers over $14.000 per year per person are subject to gift tax.

We also need to reconsider child labor laws, which prevent children from providing any value. The traditional school summer vacation was intended to allow children to help plant and harvest crops. An adjustment to the daily school schedule would allow after school jobs. Most modern jobs don't involve the danger of the mines and factories kids used to work in. Child labor laws protect kids from dangers that are no longer there.

Tax policies have consequences. The reason Medieval buildings in Europe have 2nd stories that jut out over the ground floor is because the ground floor area was taxed. The start of the craft beer boom was a tax law change allowing individuals to produce beer for their own consumption. I think tax policies are a large part of declining birth rates.

November 29, 2017 1:40 PM

"well, it's clear where our civilization will go if high-powered women decide not to bother passing on their genes to the next generation, or if men don't want to help them do so."

Well, sir, it is not that clear cut.

The limiting reagant for procreation is women, since they have the womb (until we find ways to artifically grow a human child). If society wants to promote healthy family and procreation, then they have to change the way they treat women and treat women as the most valuable thing on the planet. It does not make sense to go the other way. But conservative men know that women have the ultimate bargaining chip, hence resorting to keep them in the 1950's mode, under-educate them, and oppress them so they do not know to use that bargaining power.

Monogamous pairing is relatively new in human history. You don't need one man + one woman (one for one ratio) for a peoples to propagate successfully, you only need one man for multiple women. So even if 25% of men are not interested in marriage, relationships or sex, its NOT a problem. Most men who are educated and wealthy do not share this lack of interest in procreation. Most men who lose interest in sex and marriage, are quite frankly, losers. And women who lose interest have too high of expectations and won't accept that a lot of men are losers.

November 30, 2017 11:58 AM

It seems that feminist anti-children, pro-career propaganda is having an effect.

Ms. Patton, who graduated from Princeton in 1977 and is now a human resources consultant in New York, said in an interview that she wrote her letter after attending a conference on Princeton’s campus, where she took part in a discussion about careers with a group of female students. At one point, she asked the young women if any of them wanted to marry and have children. They at first appeared shocked by the question, then looked at one another for reassurance before, she said, “sheepishly” raising their hands.

“I thought, ‘My gosh, what have we come to that these brilliant young women are afraid to say that marriage and children are significant parts of what they view as their lifelong happiness?’ ” Ms. Patton said.

“They have gotten such strong, vitriolic messages from the extreme feminists saying, ‘Go it alone — you don’t need a man,’ ” she added.

But, in fact, many of the Penn women said that warnings not to become overly involved in a relationship came not from feminists, but from their parents, who urged them to be independent.

“That’s one thing that my mom has always instilled in me: ‘Make decisions for yourself, not for a guy,’ ” one senior at Penn said.

A friend of hers, who attended a nearby college and did have a serious boyfriend, said that she felt as if she were breaking a social taboo. “Am I allowed to find the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with when I’m 19?” she said. “I don’t really know. It feels like I’m not.”

December 2, 2017 8:14 PM

If you want women to stay home with the children, start granting them financial incentives to do so. Instead of limiting a woman's welfare to what her man can provide for her, give her rights to healthcare and a pension for her old age for her contribution of child-rearing to society. I am not advocating complete financial support from the state---just a level of support that helps women feel that the nation values their role as mothers.

December 4, 2017 1:24 PM

@caroline P

That is how the welfare system works, and it ends up giving us fatherless obs who're burning down our cities. Not all that good.

As I understand it, that's been tried for married couples in Germany and the birth rate didn't budge. It seems that no amount of money can pay a woman to raise a child. It appears that she either has a strong desire to do it or she doesn't.

This is self-correcting - if we don't raise enough well-trained people to maintain our technology, we will lose it and go back to more primitive ways of living.

December 5, 2017 4:40 AM
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