The Battle of Sex in the Modern World

The war between the sexes has become a stalemate. Men had been on the offensive by wielding most of the power in relationships for thousands of years, but women had been turning the tide back over the last forty. The result? Now, the two armies have stopped moving. They have completely separated from each other, sitting motionless while staring at each other across a no-man’s land of loneliness and broken hearts.

How do I know this? I read the headlines.

A majority of marriageable women are living without husbands. An increasing number of single women are purchasing homes by themselves. The total number of single Americans is also growing. More men say they never want to get married. In Britain, there are more single men than unattached women. Hundreds of websites offer advice for singles ranging from picking up a one-night stand to finding the love of one’s life.

More and more dating websites exist for those who are unable to find a partner. (In business parlance, the size of the market is increasing.) There are dozens of blogs on dating on just this one list. Teenagers, college students, and recent graduates are hooking-up rather than forming significant relationships. Men and women are marrying at increasingly older ages — now twenty-seven for men and twenty-five for women. “Starter marriages” are becoming more common.

Well, what’s going on?

First, we need to understand the basic mentalities of men and women in the context of evolutionary psychology. For tens of thousands of years, men were the providers of resources and protection while women took care of hearth and home. Nature programmed men to spread their seed as far as possible while women wanted men to stay and take care of their children. So, society founded the institution of marriage to get men to stay with the children. (I believe there are spiritual aspects to marriage as well, but its practicality cannot be overstated.)

These needs and desires were programmed into our societies — and our brains — over millennia. Men and women needed each other because each half of a couple provided things that the other could not. Women wanted men who would provide resources, and men wanted fertile women who would bear and raise their children. Women date up; men date beauty. Forty years of feminism cannot change these subconscious attitudes.

Over the last several decades, however, the roles have changed. Women have become independent, and men have become less necessary. (New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd even wrote a book with that as its title.) The end result — and the reason for the increasing prevalence of singleness — is simple. Men and women feel that they no longer need each other, and this attitude is separating men and women.

Feminism’s Unintended Consequences

What caused this? Feminism. More specifically, the unintended consequences of feminism. Feminism helped women to overcome their lowly, undeserved status as non-voting citizens whose only duties were to get married and have kids, but like every social movement, it has had effects that no one could have foreseen.

First, we must start with women. After all, women make the choices in the dating game: Women choose which suitors have a chance, but men hit on every single girl above a certain general threshold of attractiveness. When a man makes the “first move,” he is usually responding to a subconscious sign of interest that the woman has already sent. This is an important principle. Women make most of the choices in the dating scene because they must be picky: They only have one fertile egg per month, and they literally live with the consequences of sex. Now that women are becoming equal to — and even surpassing — men in school and in the workplace, they can take care of themselves. They do not need a provider.

However, this conflicts with the subconscious attitudes that women have. Girls are raised with tales of a perfect Prince Charming who will rescue them. They idolize their fathers (for better or worse, depending on what type of men they were). They are treated like princesses. Most importantly, they have the evolutionary impulse to date up. They want someone amazing. Women, indeed, want it all. (This attitude can lead to more regret later in life when they realize that no one can have it all.)

This desire, however, works against a woman’s interests. Women are progressing along a set path — high school, college, graduate school/career, marriage, and then family — and only worry about having fun while they are teenagers and twentysomethings. Marriage and family now seem to be burdens to delay as long as possible rather than wondrous joys. The irony of the situation is that women have the greatest chance of attracting a partner before the age of twenty-five, roughly when they are most attractive. Biology, after all, is working against them. There is nothing wrong with getting married in college or graduate school and waiting to have children, but this thought rarely crosses anyone’s mind.

Focusing on one’s career for a long time also poses another risk. The more successful a woman becomes, the smaller the pool of acceptable men becomes. In other words, successful, career-oriented women price themselves out of the market unless they date men who earn less money or have less education. Authors like Barbara Whitehead complain that there are no good men left, but the reality is simple: Men have not fallen; women have risen. It is hard to “date up,” for example, when one graduates from Harvard and works on Wall Street. Many successful women are unhappy because they feel that they must hide their success, or they subconsciously resent their husbands or boyfriends if they earn lower salaries. Feminism, in a nutshell, has made women pickier.