By Zachary Kleinbart

I’m not particularly well-versed in feminist thought or the history of the feminist movement. I’ve never read The Feminine Mystique, nor have I attended a feminist rally. But I certainly know that “women aren’t women anymore” is an utterly ridiculous statement. So is the belief that the “dearth of (marriageable) men” is a result of the fact that women are becoming more intellectually and economically independent.

Yet Suzanne Venker’s article, called the “War on Men,” posits that the rise of the “modern woman” is causing a rift between the sexes by “chang(ing) the dance between men and women.” The proliferation of women into the American workforce and the declining number of traditional housewives have, in Ms. Venker’s opinion, triggered American men to eschew marriage.

Understanding that these statements are in fact opinions, I cannot in good conscience claim that they are wrong. However, I can certainly say that these beliefs stem from an outdated concept. According to Ms. Venker, back when women were “women,” ­­­­they didn’t compete with their male counterparts; they allowed men to exercise an instinct intimately embedded in their DNA—the instinct to protect and provide for their families. “Women,” of course, weren’t angry at this scenario. By acquiescing to the status quo, women showed that they were perfectly fine living in the classic feminine-masculine dichotomy. Modern women, in the author’s mind, have stopped living happily; they’ve gotten angry. And they have decided to “push men off their pedestal” and deny males the gift of loving a woman by means of providing her with everything she could ever dream of owning. This new attitude, Venker postulates, has caused men to be turned off by the idea of marriage. The solution is simple:

All [women] have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs. If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.

 As a man, I find this extremely offensive. As she describes me- an American male- I want marriage in order to love a woman. That part resonates well with me. But then she says that while I may want to love a woman, I have an additional desire to do so in a non-competitive manner. That is, while I may have found the love of my life, my love for her, and my desire to marry her, will ebb away when I have to compete with her economically. Never in my life have I heard a more preposterous and disgusting proposition. Marriage, Ms. Venker, is about love. Anyone that wants to marry a woman in order to earn the self-satisfaction of supporting a completely dependent family is not joining the holy bond of matrimony; he is embarking on the most egocentric quest I can imagine.

 No, this certainly cannot be the reason men get married. It is likely true that, for men, there is a DNA-driven desire to provide for our families that has biological and evolutionary roots; perhaps love of another has no evolutionary purpose at all. But in today’s world we have evolved- socially- into masculine beings with an innate desire for emotional intimacy. So while the pre-programmed “provider” genes certainly will make some men uncomfortable with economically competitive women, there is no way that in today’s world, empowering women will cause men to “retreat from marriage en masse.” On that point, Ms. Venker is misguided.

 I can assure you that we men do not like being portrayed as inherently selfish creatures with willpower and conscience so weak that we cannot accept that a woman may try to fill traditionally “masculine” roles. This generalization is simply not true.

However, my objection to the claims espoused in this article extends far beyond the points I have raised thus far. So far I have objected to how “The War on Men” defines a man’s interests. I certainly stick by those statements. But the main focus of Venker’s article was not so much on masculine desires, but upon the unfeminine modern woman who has launched this war on men. Ms. Venker describes ideal female behavior by portraying herself as both sexist and ignorant of the affects that economic independence has on the male-female relationship.

To address these issues, we must understand why women are now outpacing men in both attaining college degrees and participation in the American workforce. One major reason, which to me seems so obvious, is (in)conveniently ignored in the article. Women do this because they want the self-satisfaction, just like men. Ms. Venker states that men want to provide and protect for the ones they love.  I have to ask: where in nature does it say that women have no desire to also provide and protect for their families? Throughout history, women have admittedly been the partner responsible for nursing and watching over children. Yet this evolutionary phenomenon did not come about to stroke the egos of the males who brought in the meat and the bread. It served, rather, as a means to ensure the survival of human progeny.

In all respects, the traditional “male” and “female” roles evolved out of each and every human’s desire to provide for and protect his or her family. The established dichotomy is growing less and less pertinent as time progresses. We have a stable food supply, daycares and nannies have arisen to provide child care for working parents, and modern medicine has significantly reduced childhood mortality. As a result, it is not so necessary—evolutionarily speaking—for women to stay at home anymore. Women can now take their instincts to provide and protect into the workforce. This is not a push by angry women to detach themselves from femininity. Nor is the trend of the independent women an attempt to “push men off their pedestal.” To many women, working is the best means to provide for and protect their children. I imagine that possessing the capability to support themselves in addition to their loved ones is extraordinarily rewarding. In reality, the working woman is not deserting her “nature”—she is embracing her nature in the modern world.

Beyond that, female economic independence can help them have some control over the dynamics of their relationships with men. Not only is control a natural thing for a woman to pursue, but it is also something vital for her security within a relationship. An overlooked but sadly pervasive trend in romantic relationships is that men often use financial dependency to manipulate their partners. Unfortunately, many women are roped into staying with an abusive partner because they have no other feasible living arrangements. The horrors that can occur in such an abusive relationship cannot be properly intimated by words. What is clear is that for a woman who is educated and who works, there is always the option to leave a relationship and live on her own. There is always that economic security, which can ensure her long-term physical and emotional security. To sentence a woman to a non-working, uneducated, “feminine” life is to increase her risk for an abusive life. When people like Ms. Venker suggest that women subject themselves to these risks, it can only stem from ignorance of the dangers that women face in the romantic realm.

As I said before, I’m not a feminist. I am not writing to advance an agenda Ms. Venker so readily patronizes. However, I wanted to send a message to Ms. Venker: I appreciate your attempt at defending me from the onslaught of the so-called “war on men.” What I don’t appreciate is your advocacy of a paternalistic ideology at the expense of the freedom and happiness of women. That a woman should deny herself independence so that a man will be more prepared to marry her is not only patently false, but an unacceptably pessimistic view on human nature. Both men and women have it in their DNA to “provide for and protect their families.” Members of each gender have the ability to do so via entering the workforce. To say that only a man has the natural right to do so would be to deny an evolutionary truth. In addition, it embodies an exceptionally misogynistic view on how a man’s desires completely supersede those of a woman. As I said before, Ms. Venker, since these claims are your opinions, you cannot technically be “wrong.” However, in light of the ignorant policy you advocate, you are as close as you can get.

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Zack Kleinbart is a senior studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.  He hopes to become a constitutional and public advocacy lawyer.

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