What Did Feminism Do to the Dating Scene?

Posted on February 24, 2011 by


The last couple of weeks have been a boon for junkies of dating-psychology trend-pieces. Even the estimable Wall Street Journal has joined the ongoing national conversation about the economics of dating, marriage, and divorce. In last weekend’s edition of the Journal, Manhattan Institute Scholar Kay S. Hymowitz asks the question generations of women have asked since time immemorial, “Where Have the Good Men Gone?”

Hymowitz writes:

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.


It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say.

The article is excerpted from Hymowitz’s book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. While the author doesn’t exactly blame women’s lib for man’s decline, she does argue that women are essentially responsible. You see, modern women don’t depend upon men for economic or social stability anymore—so men don’t have a compelling reason to grow up:

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.

They might as well just have another beer.

Okay, so there are a couple of things wrong with Hymowitz’s argument, as several bloggers have already noted. At Huffington Post, Rob Asghar writes:

Hymowitz says young men should wake up and realize that “marriage is a financial arrangement, not just about finding a soulmate.” Certainly. But evolutionary psychology tells us this is a colder splash of reality for women’s faces than for men’s.

As near as I can tell, 1965 was the last year in which the Average American Woman thought, “Joe is kind of dorky and he’s a little overweight, but he’s really sweet and he cares about me. I think he’d be a good provider for a family. And I’m 23 already and I certainly don’t want to be the last single girl in my circle.”


Both sexes know the drill: After the Average American Woman searches in vain for her modern prince, she and her “girls” will go out Friday to blow off steam by dancing at a club, usually in one of those bizarre and impenetrable Circles of Five Women; hapless and tipsy men will queue up and attack the Dancing Circle like sperm; she will coolly dispatch the responsible, career-minded ones with mixed signals and a caution that she’s “still getting over a real jerk”; she will hook up with a felonious, faux-sensitive pornographer who is starting his own rock band; she will take a long, hot shower; and she will write a bestselling memoir titled, All Men Are Douchebags, whose royalties will fund her trip to the sperm bank.

As much as I want to find fault with Asghar, his response to Hymowitz is actually pretty funny. He also has a point: Women’s economic independence has changed the dating scene; but if men haven’t fully adjusted, maybe women haven’t either. Women don’t need career-driven mates in the same way they used to, which means they have more flexibility to decide what they want. Freedom makes everything more complicated, doesn’t it? Modern women might date “faux-sensitive” hipsters while ogling retro-superman Don Draper—so it’s not clear where the “good men” are because it’s not clear who they are. With economic independence comes woman’s ability to choose for herself  the qualities she most values in a mate—and maybe she’ll have to spend a good portion of her life figuring out which men are “good men” for her

Hymowitz doesn’t address any of this in her article; but neither do most authors of similar trend pieces. The most offensive of recent such pieces may be Tracy McMillan’s “Why You’re Not Married,” which seems like satire but isn’t, as McMillan’s subsequent Fox Business interview proves. McMillan, who’s been divorced three times, says she was “born knowing how to get married” and is therefore qualified to give women advice on how to get hitched. Maybe so! But she glosses over the rather obvious fact that most women don’t want a marriage just to have it under their belt—they’d actually like a happy partnership that lasts.

On the flipside of McMillan’s marriage essay is “Feminists Love Divorce!,” Beverly Willett’s interview with Phyllis Schlafly. There’s not really much to say about that one; the title says it all.

And, likewise, there’s no great way to close this post—because the trend pieces on dating economics continue to be posted as I write this—so I’ll end with this, because there’s no way I can write a post on “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” and not include it: