Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (the author of The Divorce Culture) is one of the premier scholars writing about marriage and family. Her most recent treatise, Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman (New York: Broadway Books, c. 2003) explores why so many highly successful career women–particularly in their 30s–fail so frequently to find a good man who will settle down and make a lasting commitment to marriage. As she puts it: “This book is about a contemporary crisis in dating and mating. It explains why some of the best educated and most accomplished young single women in society today are discontented with their love lives, why romantic disappointment has emerged as a generational theme, and why many of these women have come to believe that ‘there are no good men left'” (p. 2).
The women she interviewed, researching the book, reveal their cultural milieu in the language they use to describe the loss of romance. The poetry and song of traditional courtship has disappeared. The traditional system, rooted in the concept of covenant, maintaining vows for a lifetime, has been replaced by a libertarian system, characterized by momentary interests. One no longer “falls in love” or finds the “love of my life.” Instead, there is much talk–using the more cerebral and “scientific” jargon of psychology–about “relationships,” about “being in a relationship.” The “M” word, marriage, is rarely mentioned–”perhaps because they’ve been warned that talk of marriage can seem needy or desperate” (p. 4). And that’s precisely what the young career women resist being! To admit one actually needs a man, that one cannot live a fully satisfactory life one one’s own, rubs against all the feminist ideology most of them have absorbed.
They illustrate the enormous success of the “Girl Project” launched in the ’70’s and symbolized by the application of Title IX to athletics. “Rather than prepare girls for future adult lives as wives and mothers, the Girl Project’s aim has been to prepare them for adult lives without dependence on marriage” (p. 77). So girls began studying harder and now constitute a majority of students in colleges and universities. Rather than look for husbands, increasing numbers of them focus singularly on preparation for work. They have successfully moved into medical schools, law schools, business schools, and in some of these graduate programs now constitute a majority of students. They engage in athletics and serve in the military. Success in the workplace has come, with bewildering speed, to America’s young women.
Yet, when the truth is told, most of these young women really want to marry and have children. Indeed, a 2001 Gallup Poll indicated that 89 percent of them thought it “extremely important” to do so (p. 6). The novels they voraciously buy and read reveal the depth of these young women’s hunger for a spouse. Whitehead seriously studied the “Chick Lit” which has proven so popular in recent years. Great literature it is not. But it does demonstrate the indestructible desire in the heart of most women. Thirty years ago, when nearly 90 percent of the nation’s women married before they reached the age of 30, such aspirations were obviously satisfied. Today, nearly one-fourth of all women are unmarried at that age. There are today 2.3 million college-educated single women in the 25-34 age group–compared with 185,000 in 1960 (p. 25).
Not finding a husband, however, does not mean these women are sexually chaste! The average age of their first sexual intercourse is 17, and “the majority of young women today will live with a boyfriend before they live with a husband” (p. 11). Cohabitation has become a widely practiced–and socially acceptable–pattern for folks in their 20s. It’s the “signature union of the emerging relationships system” (p. 116), and more young women first live together with a man than marry one. “Women often have sex with their boyfriend before they get to know him well as a human being” (p. 29). Though initially exciting and satisfying, women (unlike men) ultimately find cohabitation a dead end road. All too often, what they thought was a commitment that would merge into marriage was, from the man’s perspective, simply an attractive arrangement providing free sex and homey comforts. Understandably, “the benefits of cohabitation for men help to explain why there is no courtship crisis for high achieving young men” (p. 124). Indeed, Whitehead laments: “If a corps of mischievous social engineers had deliberately set out to create confusion and uncertainty in the new single woman’s search for love, they couldn’t have come up with a more effective device than cohabitation-as-courtship” (p. 127).
Single women frequently find themselves dating–or living with–”Mr. Not Ready.” After investing much energy and attention to a series of “Mr. Not Readys,” they remain unwed in their 30s. Conversely, the family-oriented single men, rather than courting career women, more often select “younger women who are not as committed to serious careers or not as far along in their careers as she is” (p. 36). They discover, as a greeting card says: “‘Why are men like parking spaces? All the good ones are taken'” (p. 40). Putting marriage on hold while you pursue a career until you’re 30 may very well mean losing the opportunity to marry and have children.
By consenting to cohabit women discourage their “lovers” from marrying them. “Because men see marital commitment as a status, they take seriously the formal, legal, and public events, ceremonies, and rituals that mark the change in their status from ‘not married’ to ‘married.’ They assign far less weight to the informal, intimate, and private gestures and understandings that serve, for a woman, as benchmarks along the way to marriage” (p. 143).
Having described and explained the plight of the women she’s studied, Whitehead has little to say concerning a solution. She–like her two unmarried daughters, now in their 30s–resolutely defends the career track that seems to create the very problem she laments. Though she observes the problems associated with cohabitation, she makes no moral judgment concerning it. If what Christians traditionally called “living in sin” is wrong to Whitehead it’s only because it fails to lead to a more permanent “relationship” wherein children can be born and reared. Her morally indifferent social science simply fails to provide any reason to condemn the very social patterns so manifestly harmful to both men and women. Yet, for painting an honest portrait of women without “good men” she must be praised.
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Providing a very personal perspective, bringing to the discussion the wisdom of a lifetime, incorporating insights derived from rearing four children and taking delight in 10 grandchildren, Midge Decter has written a “memoir of my life as a woman,” An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War (New York: ReganBooks, c. 2001). Born to a Jewish family in St. Paul, MN, during the Depression, she stands rooted in an America largely vanished but still worth remembering and emulating. As a teenager, of course, she would hardly have agreed, for she left home as quickly as possible (dropping out of the University of Minnesota) and moved to New York to “make her way in the world.” There she met and married her first husband, with whom she had two children. Subsequently, when that marriage dissolved, she married Norman Podhoretz, the lasting “love of her life” and bore him two children. In the midst of all this, she worked at various jobs, lived in both suburbs and the inner city, and thought much about the society surrounding her.
She especially pondered “the true Woman Problem. Not the oppression of women, to say the least a laughable proposition in the United States of America, nor the glass ceiling that so many have been relentlessly calling attention to, but rather a seemingly never-to-be-mediated internal clash of ambitions: the ambition to make oneself a noticeable place in the world and the ambition to be a good mother” (p. 51). She began to discern the problem when highly successful women, in private conversation, overflowed, like broken dams, with assorted grievances regarding their husbands (or their lack thereof). She then began to study women’s literature, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, a best-seller that she found “both intellectually and stylistically very crude. It was also unbelievably insulting to ordinary housewives, written on the level and in exactly the kind of lingo previously used by a number of pop sociologists to denigrate the postwar lives of the ordinary people” of America (p. 69). At the time, Decter failed to see that Frieden’s book was more than simply “another in the series of generally left-inspired attacks on the nature of American society” (p. 71). It was, in fact, along with the anti-war protests and other manifestations of the rebellious ’60s, a thoroughly pernicious attack on the culture only strong families can sustain.
Decter sensed that as women following Frieden became more vitriolic and aggressive, men retreated into silence, lest they be judged anti-female. And yet, ironically, “the movement that began with the claim that it was out to make a real revolution in women’s lives began to define the various forms of male withdrawal from combat as victories, whereas the truth was they were for the most part expressions of the deepest (and in most cases to this day unrecognized) contempt” (p. 90). As she read and thought and observed, staying at home with her youngsters, she decided to write a book, titled The New Chastity, “in which I faithfully stuck to the movement’s own sources and then compared it with the truths I knew on my own pulse about what women want and how they feel” (p. 93). Published in 1972, calling into question the most passionately held articles of faith in the feminist movement, this book instantly catapulted Decter to something of a celebrity status–a woman willing to dispute the claims of the women’s movement! For her efforts NOW gave her its “Aunt Tom” award, a badge of honor for her in the culture war just begun!
Her militancy solidified during the following decades as she watched the children of her “liberal” friends suffer under their parents’ ideological fantasies. “It is,” she laments, “harrowing to remind oneself of the wreckage visited upon the children of the famous baby boom who grew up among the so-called enlightened classes” (p. 106). Drug addictions, psychiatric treatments, lesbian experimentats, diet disorders–all symptoms of something seriously awry in the nation’s homes. Summing up her views, she wrote Liberal Parents, Radical Children, an indictment of those who give children everything the need, of a material sort, and neglect the most important things, such as teaching them manners, how to treat members of the opposite sex, how to live right
At the same time she began to critique feminism, she and her husband slipped away from the liberal political ideology they had long espoused. The McGovern presidential campaign in 1972 signified the “capture of the Democratic party by the hard Left” (p. 122). A personal conversation with President Jimmy Carter revealed an intransigent opposition to the moderate views of Decter and her husband. So in the ’70s they left the Left! They “had to rethink most of what we had once thought, not only about politics but about a whole slew of things that fall under the category of what you might call the Natue of Man and God” (p. 125). Consequently, Norman Podhoretz’s “neo-conservatism,” articulated in Commentary, helped guide the ascendant conservative movement that triumphed with Ronald Reagan.
Because she’s known both the satisfactions of professional success and family bonds, she weeps to watch young women choosing careers rather than marriage: “How sad it is,” she says, in a passage that rather sums up her treatise, “that the movement claiming to liberate women and given them control over their own lives should have adopted a program in which they deprive females of one of the most significant means of tasting power and control. All the law and medical degrees in the world will not make up for what women have been losing in their relations with men, for to become tough and demanding as feminism has defined the process of their taking control is as nothing compared with being hungered for and, later on in life, indispensable” (p. 196).
Astute, engaging, filled with the wisdom of a maturity, An Old Wife’s Tale could help young women hoping to discover how to become one!
If you need to be alarmed about the future of the nation’s youths, read Meg Meeker’s Epidemic: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids (Washington: LifeLine Pressc. 2002). A medical doctor who practiced pediatric and adolescent medicine for 20 years, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a fellow of the National Advisory Board of the Medical Institute, she brings to this treatise both the data and the passion needed to alert us to a momentous problem. In Elayne Bennett’s judgment, “I truly believe Epidemic is the most important book that anyone who lives or works with teenagers should read, and read now. Not only does Meg Meeker vividly explain the problem, she explains the solution.”
In Part One Meeker declares “the epidemic is here.” She blends both personal anecdotes and statistics to point out the pervasiveness of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In 1960, syphilis and gonorrhea were the two STDs that concerned physicians, and both of them could be treated if detected early. Forty years later, there are dozens of them–perhaps 100!–and some have no known cure. “Every day, 8000 teens will become infected with a new STD” (p. 3). Of the sexually active teens, fully one-fourth carry a STD. A British study indicates “that almost half of all girls are likely to become infected with an STD during their very first sexual experience” (p. 12).
More than 45 million Americans carry an incurable herpes virus! And kids engaging in oral sex, taking it to be “safe” since no pregnancy results, easily spread herpes throughout the population. Sadly, President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky “gave new meaning to the word ‘sex,’ and taught an entire nation of teenagers that as long as you didn’t have ‘vaginal penetration,’ you really weren’t having ‘sex'” (p. 145). “HPV, one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases,” directly causes “99.7% of cervical cancer cases and the deaths of nearly 5000 women each year” (p. 16). Some 75% of sexually active people now carry HPV! AIDS continues to haunt us, and increasing numbers of women how carry the HIV infection.
Accompanying the physical problems, STDs also inflict grave emotional harm on youngsters. Amazingly, Meeker has “asked hundreds of teenage girls whether or not they like having sex, and I can count on one hand those who said they did” (p. 78). Severing the act from the lasting context of love and marriage renders it heartbreaking, for sex is ultimately “a spiritual experience” (p. 81). Consequently, one of the main reasons for teen “depression is sex” severed from its proper context (p. 63). Suicide now ranks as the third leading cause of young people’s deaths. Fully one-third of our teens have contemplated suicide! Rather than a joyous experience, sex has become a source of incredible pain!
“One classic example of how kids turn this rage inward is the preponderance of body piercing. Punching holes in intimate parts of their bodies, such as their lips, tongue, belly button, or even vagina, sends a message to the world: ‘I am hurting this intimate part of myself because I don’t like who I am.’ When girls pierce the sexual parts of their bodies, their labia and nipples (some so severely that they’ll never be able to nurse a baby), they’re saying: ‘I am cutting on my womanhood. This is anger turned upon the self'” (p. 72).
All of this results, Meeker declares, from the sexual revolution birthed in the ’60s. “With the coming of that revolution, my own generation demanded previously unheard-of-sexual freedom and promiscuity. We may have gotten what we thought we wanted, but the ride wasn’t free. Countless children are now paying the price” (p. 33). Yet it’s reinforced by the dominant powers of our culture. Young women are “encouraged to expose every inch of skin they can get away with,” but “in doing so, girls are taught that their bodies are not worth protecting” (p. 73). This, Meeker says, violates one of the most basic feminine instincts, for like self-preservation the preservation of one’s virginity is “hard-wired into our psyches” (p. 73).
Television, arguably our most influential medium, broadcasts highly sexualized programs, with men and women sexually active, but only one percent of folks having sex on TV are married! (p. 126). “On television today, teens are exposed to homosexual sex, oral sex, and multiple partner sex” (p. 126). All this is done under the artifice of “artistic expression” or “free speech.” How, ironic, Meeker notes, for “Selling sex to teens is just as bad as selling them cigarettes and alcohol. Can you imagine the public outrage of parents if movies, magazines, and music incorporated glamorous smoking imagery to the same degree they do sexual content?” (p. 140).
The sexual revolution, of course, has been fueled by birth control devices. For years Dr. Meeker cheerfully prescribed contraceptives for teenagers, thinking they would insure the vaunted “safe sex” encouraged by the culture. She failed to envision how contraceptives would contribute to the proliferation of STDs. “While we physicians handed out oral contraceptives, chlamydia rates rose. While we gave injections of Depo-Provera, the numbers of HPV rose. And while we handed out condoms to teens, we say syphilis outbreaks and genital herpes climb” (p. 95). The proverbial law of unintended consequences seems demonstrated herein. For though contraceptives prevent births they routinely fail to provide even minimal protection against STDs. Condoms, especially, though they may protect against some diseases, have little value in preventing the spread of many of them. Importantly, in giving teenagers condoms, adults have informed them that they aren’t expected to control their desires. Since they’re going to “do it,” just make sure their activities cause the least harm!
Epidemic paints a bleak portrait! What little hope there is for our kids, as one might expect, comes from better parenting. Kids need trustworthy parents who know what they believe and live in accordance with their beliefs, who care for them, who insist on good behavior. Importantly, kids want strong family structures. “Kids like having someone they love set high standards because it demonstrates faith that they can meet these standards” (p. 220). Other adults–in family, church, school, or neighborhood–also help. Sexually active teens are seeking something lacking in their lives. If that something is satisfied by loving adults, they are less likely to go astray. And they will be spared the anguish of the epidemic sweeping the nation.