Several years ago, when I first started working in general practice,I began to notice a certain recurring type of patient. She was usually in her mid twenties, charming, intelligent, articulate and usually attractive. Engaged in some form of non-menial type of work, and earning a reasonable income, she came into my rooms with a sassy type of walk and water bottle in hand. As the consultation would proceeded I would be told of how she had been referred to me by a friend, and of how she had seen so many other doctors, naturopaths, osteopaths and other purveyors of wellness. Her symptoms usually clustered around abdominal cramps, tiredness, anxiety and chest pressure. Further questioning would reveal that she had been diagnosed at various times with chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, toxins in her body, candidiasis etc. Various therapies had been tried and large sums spent. All had failed. Could I help?
As she had been extensively investigated previously, there was usually no need for additional tests or examinations. However upon further questioning a certain pattern began to emerge.
Most of these women were by modern western standards, successful. They had a career, money and real freedom. They did not seem repressed in terms of their identity or sexuality and were independent. They were living the western women’s dream, yet were unhappy. Profoundly unhappy. When questioning them about their unhappiness, a litany of loathing and tears, more sincere than any self penitent would erupt. They were fat, they were unintelligent and they couldn't find a partner. They were ugly.
They were unlovable.
At first I was quite shocked at this complete disconnect between reality and self perception. As a young man, I would not have hesitated at once to try to make an acquaintance with any of these women. Indeed, they usually did not have a problem with meeting men at all. What they did have was a problem of meeting men who would treat them like a person instead of a means of sexual satisfaction. They were lonely and depressed; their symptoms were psychosomatic.
The pattern of their personal lives seemed to be the same. They usually had a string of liaisons more than relationships. The male leaving them after he became sexually bored, lured away by a more attractive mate or when “demands” were placed on the man. These “demands” usually usually took the form of a promise of commitment or exclusivity. It was interesting to observe that the many a woman would delay making “demands” on her partner for as long as possible as she was fearful of loosing her mate. The imperative however was the biological clock, demanding that a stable relationship be entered for the good of the offspring. It was at this point that the relationship broke down. Time to start again: all men are Bastards.
Indeed their inability to “keep” a man was interpreted by themselves as a failure of attraction or, in a psychologically negative sense, proof of their ugliness. As the cycle repeated, the ideation was verified. A course of anti-depressant medication usually improved their symptoms if not their mental state. They were sad, not mad. They were suffering from a reactive depression with the consequential psychosomatic symptoms. Their existential situation was the cause of their problems . With these girls, a bit of sympathy and understanding went a long way. Explaining to them that this was a ‘widespread’ phenomenon usually helped. Loneliness is terrible when every one else is paired up, easier when there are ‘fellow travelers’. They left lonely, but feeling symptomatically better. I had helped in a small way.
The more I pondered the phenomena, the more convinced I was that there was something seriously wrong. According to current statistics approximately twenty five percent of single people will not marry. Most of these people will live alone, most of them probably involuntarily so. There has been a boom in online dating and introduction agencies, a commercial industry to satisfy the need to be loved, but no evidence of more marriages. The epidemic of loneliness and hence depression is gigantic. This inability to form permanent relationships seems to be a modern phenomenon and from my observations, I believe its roots lie in modern social mores.
Prior to the sexual revolution of the Sixties courtship was a quite straightforward process. Friendship was easy, physical intimacy was very strictly regulated. Getting sex was difficult. Virginity was held in esteem, sex outside marriage frowned upon and rape until recent times a capital offence. The social mores dictated that a woman was expected to resist till after marriage. Any woman who was sexually permissive was ostracized and regarded as “loose” or “wanton”;a social inferior, a public disgrace.
Consequentially a man would have to invest both time and effort with a woman before things proceeded to a more intimate level. Having to spend more time meant that it was more likely that a relationship would develop. Sex when it did occur was likely to be an act between lovers rather than strangers. The more a time a man invested in a woman the greater the price of leaving and starting again, this in itself was a definite disincentive to leave. Because sex was hard to get, it was worth more. Sex was the carrot, erotic love the eventual glue.
More importantly this system of beliefs actually empowered a woman in the sense that she was the one who dictated the terms upon which intimacy occurred. A man was expected to be considerate and committed to her before he got anywhere. The fact that he didn’t wander off even though he wasn’t getting any sex made it more likely that he would stay for other reasons. When she was secure in the relationship she could be intimate, she held all the cards.
This is not to say that prior to the sexual revolution all was right in that sphere of human relations. Although equality was proclaimed women were still treated as inferiors.
Opportunities for intellectual or business development were socially limited. Strong social pressure demanded that women be homemakers no matter how suited or unsuited to the task they were. A woman could work until she was a mother and then it was her proper place to be at home. This kept the woman economically dependent no matter how unwise or capricious her partner. Aspirations outside of this model were socially frowned upon.
Prudery was practiced as a virtue. Many an older surgeon could recount tales of female patients who would not present until a breast tumor or uterine cancer was inoperable due to excessive modesty. Death was, quite literally, preferred to sexual shame. Good women did not think about sex. The good woman was also seen as there for the sexual satisfaction of her husband, her relationship with sexual pleasure ambivalent. A dysfunctional Puritanism, which thought sex “dirty” had the unique effect of driving the joy out of chaste marriages and raising the pleasure of illicit liaisons. Like the Volstead Act, its consequences honored its intentions in the breach.
Into this climate of repressed sexuality and warped conception of female identity came the sexual revolution. The groundwork had been laid by Kinsey who suddenly made it respectable to talk about sex. Meanwhile, Freud who told us it was wrong to feel any guilt with regard to our sexual actions gave legitimacy to any sexual practice. As the societal sexual repression lifted, the pendulum swung the other way. Sexual liberation meant to be “modern”, not “reactionary”. Copulo ergo sum.
Spotting the double standard with regard to men in matters sexual, feminists, such as Greer, demanded equality. Instead of raising the bar on male behavior, they demanded that the standard be lowered for women. If men can be promiscuous so can we, indeed aggressively so they argued. No longer would the woman resist, she would lead the way. Promiscuity and license would become the sexual morals of the modern era. Apart from the churches, there was certainly very little complaint from men.
However the theory was not well thought out since it shifted the locus of power in the relationship from the female to the male. How ironic then, that it was the feminists who took the lead role in its transformation. Whereas previously a man gave relationship and then woman gave sex, now a woman gave sex hoping the man will give her a relationship. Where previously she dangled the carrot of sex he now dangled the carrot of commitment. The spoils of the sexual revolution were clearly not going to be divided equally.
As predicted men have been the principal beneficiaries of the revolution. This certainly seems the case in my practice. Most of the young men that I see today seem to have no problem finding sex and avoiding permanent relationships. Indeed the more attractive they appear; the more they seem to have an endless supply of sexual relationships. Several of my patients cannot even place a number on their sexual partners. Their relationships are casual and transient. When I ask them do they want to settle down, most don’t see the point. What is there to be gained that they do not have now except a restriction on their freedom and a possible forfeiture of their assets? There is plenty of time, things to do, experiences to have. Until then who wants to settle with one woman when the next one may be more fun. When the time is right he will find someone to settle down with. Men don’t fear commitment, men don’t want commitment. Things are fine the way they are. Men seem quite content.
The situation for women on the other hand seems to be different. While they are quite happy to dabble in the sexual revolution, most eventually want to settle with a permanent partner, get married and have children. These aspirations are present in most women from quite early on, even amongst the professionally educated (much to the chagrin of modern radical feminists). Princess Mary is hugely popular amongst young women because she represents the ideal, a happily married feminine princess with child. Romanticism is still hugely popular. Bridgette Jones, a roaring success.
There however remains a sticky problem.
With virginity and sexual reserve now attracting social opprobrium, the pressure is on to engage in sexual activity from the outset of a relationship. As Roger Scruton so elegantly put it, women have been shamed into being shameful. Everyone else is doing the same and no one wants to be a social leper. Not following the norms increases the chances that her more permissive compatriots are going to attract her mate, and she ages her sexual allure fades and the competition increases. The pressure is on. From the outset, the relationship is a sexual relationship. Indeed sometimes it is only a sexual relationship. As one of my patients succinctly if callously, described his girlfriend, “She is my regular root.”
Such a climate tends to foster the imperative in superficial attraction as opposed to the more lasting and non obvious virtues, which are the foundation of any lasting relationship. Patience and self-denial are scorned, satisfaction of impulse the ideal. Lots of ‘fun’, but ultimately the triumph of short term urge over long term need. A relationship based on appetite is a relationship that is unwanted when the appetite is satiated. As many a sobbing woman has quite rightly put it, “He was only after one thing”.
As I see it, it is this redefinition of the sexual relationship which is at the bottom of my patients' problems. My female patients see sex as a physical and emotional act, an act within a relationship. In the thinking of my patients, these two concepts are intertwined . While sex may be fun, being loved by someone is much more important (more often than not the sex is mediocre but they still enjoy being in a relationship). Indeed this need for being loved leads to women placing themselves in truly terrible and abusive relationships rather than being alone.
In men generally, the sex is an act on its own. It is why a man can have sex with a prostitute but still say he loves his wife, an idea foreign to most women. In the man’s mind, sex is an act separate to the relationship.
The old moral climate was conducive to the development of friendship between man and a woman, the new way, more to the masculine way of thinking. A man does not need to work on the relationship at all in order to get sex, as all the benefits are there already. Indeed our society seems to laud the liaison and not the relationship. There is no need to stick it out when the situation gets tough, as real friends do.
This is not to say that in today’s day and age that people do not meet and fall in love. Extending the length of education, a culture of obligatory self-gratification and economic factors, have all played a role in delaying a stable commitment. Sex is not the only motivator in relationships and good relationships sometimes start with early sexual liaisons. The problem seems to be that it is more difficult and the cultural environment is not conducive to the formation of permanent relationships. A whole genre of literature has developed on the subject of the male who won’t commit. Articles in women’s magazines speak of men’s fear of commitment and have sought to analyse the problem. Movies have regularly showed our heroine passing through useless relationships only to finally meet her mate. Sex in the City was as much about unsatisfactory personal relationships as it was about satisfactory sex.
The feminist movement in the sixties sought to liberate women through a changing the conception of female sexuality essentially by adopting the male standard as the ideal, in effect “masculinising” it. For many of my patients this ideology encourages them to act in a manner that they are not comfortable with. While the traditional conception of womanhood limited women through repression, the current feminist notions essentially mutilates her by trying to change her nature. The perceptive feminists have realized that in order for a woman to be truly liberated she must renounce her need to be loved by a man. By ridding herself of that need she would then be truly independent. The only problem: she would not be herself. The feminist way to happiness is through excision of a woman's heart: a change in her nature. Such is the idiocy of the preached gospel.
Therein lays the paradox of the feminist movement. Sexually in order to be happy, a woman must adopt the behaviors of a man. Imitation of men is the path to Nirvana. In Feminism’s victory, it’s total defeat.
Perhaps this is the reason why modern feminism is loosing its appeal to younger women. The women I see don’t want to be men. They don’t want to be feminists either. They want to be women. They want to be themselves. They want to be desired and cared for. They want the house, the kids, the marriage and if necessary the career. However the feminist program has succeeded and the separation of sex and commitment is now complete: The sisters are doing it to themselves.
Curiously both the Traditionalists and the Feminists are united in the view that a woman’s need to be desired is a weakness. The traditionalists want to exploit the situation; the feminists want to cut off the need. Both views are wrong and both do injury to women. A women’s need for a stable relationship is a virtue, in many ways it is the motive force for people to form the stable unions--families-- which are the fundamental unit of our society. This need to be loved is the glue of our civilization. Until sex outside the context of a permanent commitment is preached as a vice it will be practiced as a virtue.
Even Germaine Greer, who lived the Feminist philosophy with gusto has re examined her Bohemian days in the Sydney Push and come to the conclusion that her early sexual permissiveness served her partners more than herself. She and her colleagues were not equal; her sexual partners the clear beneficiaries. In that dawn of the sexual revolution, the social pathology of the present.
In her later years, Germaine Greer (The ideology of Feminism incarnate.) attempted to have a child without success, due in part, to the medical legacy of her sexual abandon. One is tempted to think of St Thomas Aquinas who thought the good fruitful and evil sterile. Though in a way she was not barren. Germaine Greer as one of the flag bearers of the sexual revolution and her ilk, bequeathed a social legacy that modern women are indeed products of. As they sit opposite to me anxious, fatigued, lonely and miserable I cannot but feel that their pain is, in the main, a product of the current sexual mores. They are the children of the revolution; they have become Germaine’s Daughters.