F. Roger Devlin Critiques Wendy Shalit’s Books

Roger Devlin writes: Shalit is, of course, emphatic on a man’s lack of all sexual rights before the wedding. Referring to a girl whose boyfriend began “pressuring” her for sex after eight months of courtship, her assessment is: “If he’s pressuring you for sex, he probably doesn’t love you.” (GGM, p. 29) Now, courtship is typically an interaction in which the man seeks sexual surrender from the woman and the woman seeks assurance of commitment from the man. Would the author sympathize with a man who reasoned: “If a woman is pressuring me for commitment, she probably doesn’t love me”? It does not sound like it: elsewhere, she approvingly quotes a woman who is “mortified” that when girls “hint to their boyfriends about marriage [they] find themselves dumped like garbage.” (RM, p. 227) She even refers to the authority of another of her old etiquette books to show that “a young woman could assume that a man wanted to marry her if he simply spent a good chunk of time with her.” (GGM, 28) (I’m guessing eight months would count as “a good chunk of time.”) In other words, women have the right to expect commitment from men, but men are bad when they seek sexual surrender from women; women’s instincts are morally valid, but men’s are not. (Moreover, Shalit never says a word about the legitimate male fear of divorce, which may well be why the young man in her anecdote was “pressuring” his girlfriend about sex rather than simply proposing marriage.)

An old-fashioned fellow might agree with the author’s disapproval of premarital sex, but probably on the assumption that she would at least acknowledge the husband’s claims after the ceremony. This assumption would be mistaken, however. Once the couple is married, the wife’s sexual desires and the duty of the husband to satisfy them become her exclusive concern. (RM, p. 114-15) When she comes across a case of a couple where the man was the party less eager for physical intimacy, her sympathy is once again with the woman; she asks: “If he has no interest in a mutually satisfying relationship, why not just leave?” (GGM, p. 177)

I believe Shalit is by no means unusually narcissistic, as women go. Most do take for granted men’s obligation to put women’s needs and desires before their own, and thus to feel no particular gratitude when men do so. Many women have no idea, for example, how intense a young man’s sexual urges can be, and are not inclined to treat this powerful force of nature with the necessary respect. Shalit never seems aware that men feel “pressured” by their own sexual urges, or that a normal, healthy young man who has dated a girl for eight months before making these urges known has already demonstrated a fair amount of self-control.

Lack of a sense of moral reciprocity and of an ability to empathize with men leads many women, in fact, into a kind of schizophrenic attitude toward male desire. Most of the time they complain about how annoying it is and seem to wish it would go away entirely. But they do, of course, want some man to marry them. In other words, men’s sexual desires are supposed to be weak enough never to inconvenience women, but at the same time strong enough that they gladly exchange all their independence and most of their income whenever some woman does, after all, decide to take a mate. The desideratum would appear to be a man whose natural urges are like a faucet that women could turn on and off at their own convenience.

It is true that actual men fall short of this “dildo ideal,” as it might be called. No restoration of feminine modesty is going to change the situation, however, or eliminate the need for women to compromise with men. Children who insist on having everything their own way eventually learn that no one wants to play with them anymore; women who follow Wendy Shalit’s advice of “waiting and keeping their standards high” may find that the wait lasts all the way to menopause.

When the sexual revolution began, women imagined that the “slavery” of marriage was unfairly standing between themselves and endless erotic fulfillment. Forty years later, many are imagining instead that the availability to men of sex outside marriage is standing in the way of their wedding. “If other women were not sluts,” they reason, “the man of my dreams would be forced to discover my true value and come crawling to me with a diamond ring.” One of the interviewees from Shalit’s first book, for example, complains: “After three dates when I wouldn’t sleep with [a certain man], he dumped me, just like that! If you ask me, it’s because it’s way too easy for them. Why should they waste time with a girl like me when they can get it for free?” (RM, p. 104)

Now, how does the woman know this is the reason he “dumped” (stopped courting) her? Never once have I heard a woman say: “I am such a pain in the derriere that after just three dates men are charging for the exit.” Appealing to the supposed universal availability of sex has become a way for women to avoid facing the reality of rejection. Men break off courtships for all kinds of reasons: they may sense that a particular girl might not be faithful, is not careful with money, has too many bad habits, or just plain is not for them. Holding out for wedding rings is not going to solve these women’s problems and allow them to live happily ever after. If we could wave a magic wand and cause extramarital sex to disappear overnight, many women would be shocked to discover that handsome movie stars were still not flocking to their doorsteps with flowers and chocolates.

Indeed, I have heard men remark on the oddity that sex seems to be the only card women have to play in the dating game any more. They do not know how to manage a household, raise children, or treat a husband. Instead, like prostitutes, they think entirely in terms of maximizing the return they get on sex. Even Shalit acknowledges an inability to cook at the time of her marriage. (That apple pie recipe of hers begins, “You will need two frozen premade pie crusts …”) A renewed focus on feminine modesty, while welcome, will not by itself prepare young women for their domestic duties. The attitude that “I’m too good to sleep around” in the absence of anything to offer men besides sex may result not in any epidemic of marriage proposals but in widespread spinsterhood enlivened only by occasional readings of The Vagina Monologues, the lesbian-feminist play in which women gush over how wonderful their own private parts are.

But let us consider Shalit’s own account, culled from anecdotes and women’s magazines, of the sexual situation women face today. The humble corporate drone who has to fear harassment charges and loss of livelihood if he winks at the girl in the next cubicle will feel as if he stepped through Alice’s looking glass when he reads this material. Here is a realm in which men have reduced women to struggling to see who can offer them the most and the best sex, frantically searching the Kama Sutra for some new position or technique that will manage to gratify their cloyed appetites. The men who inhabit this world are concerned not that women remain faithful, but that they do not become “clingy.” Cosmo supports them, advising women to scurry out the door immediately after sex for fear of intruding on the Big Important things their man has to do that day that do not involve them — and that may well include a tryst with another girlfriend. “It’s sad to see that this is what it’s come to,” says one woman: “that guys will raise the bar and girls will scramble to meet it. Women just want to know what they have to do to get these guys to fall in love with them.” (GGM, p. 176) One young woman explains: “If I don’t do whatever [my boyfriend] wants and he broke up with me for some reason, two days from now he’d have somebody else. That’s just how it works.” (GGM, p. 177) “The men who share these women’s beds,” says Shalit, “are treated like kings or princes whose authority comes from God himself, whereas the women’s own feelings and even their health concerns are restricted in the extreme.” (GGM, p. 81) Shalit advises one such woman to “run, not walk, to the nearest exit, trying not to trip over all the naked women on her way out.” (GGM, p. 79)

All these stories certainly make it appear that, in the brave new world of the sexual revolution, the man’s position is stronger than under monogamy while the woman’s is weaker. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me pose a simple question that Shalit never considers. It used to be that there was roughly one girl for every boy; if men now have harems, where are the extra women coming from?

The answer is equally simple and obvious. Most men do not have harems, of course, and there are no more women than formerly. Some men have harems because women “liberated” from monogamy mate only with unusually attractive men. This situation demonstrates not the weakness of the woman’s position but its strength. If the male sex instinct were the primary determinant of mating, the overall pattern would be the most attractive women getting gang-banged.

In order to understand what is really going on, it will be necessary to shine a harsh light on a matter women instinctively prefer to keep under wraps: the female sex drive. Shalit almost never refers to it, and there is even a certain appropriateness about this, since such reticence is part of the feminine modesty she is trying to reestablish. But it means a veil is drawn over some important circumstances that must be honestly confronted if marriage and the natural family are to be restored as social norms.

When a young girl becomes erotically aware of boys, she is endowed by nature with a set of blinders that exclude the majority of them — including many who can make good husbands — from her sight. What gets a male within her narrow range of vision is called “sexual attractiveness.” What is it?

It is not possible to find out by asking women themselves. They will insist until they are blue in the face that they want only a sensitive, respectful fellow who treats them right. “Intelligence, kindness, personality [and] a certain sense of humor” make up Wendy Shalit’s list of supposedly sought-after male qualities. (RM, p. 116) In a passage on the decline of male courtesy she delivers the following ludicrous assertion deadpan: “When … a man does dare to open a door for a woman, he is snapped up right away.” (RM, p. 156)

When women claim to be seeking kindness, respect, a sense of humor, etc., they mean at most that they would like to find these qualities in the men who are already within their erotic field of view. When a man asks what women are looking for, he is trying to find out how he can get into that field of view. Women do not normally say, either because they do not know themselves or because it embarrasses them to speak about it. The advice they do give harms a lot of lonely men who mistakenly concentrate their mating effort on showing kindness and courtesy to ungrateful brats rather than working to gain the things females actually respond to.

Fortunately, we do not have to depend upon female testimony. It is with women as with politicians: if you wish to understand them you must ignore what they say and watch what they do. Plentiful evidence gathered over a vast range of history and culture leaves no room for doubt: women are attracted to men who possess some combination of physical appearance, social status, and resources.

In the environment in which we evolved, the careful choice of a mate was critical to a female’s success in passing on her genes. If her man was not strong enough to be a successful hunter, or not of sufficiently high rank within the tribe to commandeer food from others, her children might be in trouble. The women who were reproductively successful were those with a sexual preference for effective providers. A kind of erotic “tunnel vision” was selected for, which causes women to focus their mating effort on the men at the top of the pack — the “alpha males” with good physical endowments, social rank, and economic resources (or an ability to acquire them). Today the female preference for tall men, to give just one example, no longer makes much sense, but they, and we, are stuck with it.

What women instinctively want is for 99 percent of the men they run into to leave them alone, buzz off, drop dead — while the one to whom they feel attracted makes all their dreams come true. One of the keys to deciphering female speech is that the term “men” signifies for them only the very restricted number of men they find sexually attractive. All the dirty articles in Cosmo about “giving him the sex he craves” and “driving him wild in bed” concern this man of her dreams, who by some amazing coincidence usually turns out to be the man of some other girl’s dreams as well.

During their nubile years, many women are at least as concerned with turning male desire off (i.e., telling the 99 percent to drop dead) as with turning it on (getting Mr. Alpha to commit): they get more offers of attention than they have time to process. Cunning feminists, many of them lesbians, have exploited this circumstance to the hilt, convincing naive young women they are being “harassed.” Quietly observing the furor over so-called harassment during the past two decades, I wondered how these women could fail to realize that the men of whom they were complaining constituted their pool of potential husbands and that they could not afford to alienate all of them. Clearly, I overestimated their intelligence. And Wendy Shalit does not distinguish herself in this respect either; she uses the term “harassment” as freely and uncritically as any man-hating feminist could wish.

But surely North America’s leading spokesman for feminine modesty would never encourage young women to date simply on the basis of their sexual urges?

Well, let’s see. At one point in her first book she is discussing a woman’s use of the controversial drug Prozac to help her “date calmly.” She then blurts out: “Maybe a woman shouldn’t be dating calmly — maybe it should be dizzying and tailspinning and all the rest. Maybe the floor should drop.” (RM, p. 165) What she is describing here is female sexual arousal; it takes an emotional form. Her statement is the precise female equivalent of a man saying: “Men shouldn’t date calmly — they should date only young hotties with fantastic legs, hourglass figures, etc.” What would Wendy Shalit think of that advice?

Now, let me be clear: I do not have any objection per se to every woman being able to marry a stunningly handsome, successful man who makes her swoon in blissful passion eternally, yada, yada; I am merely pointing out that the world does not work this way, and men are not to blame that it doesn’t.

Moreover, there is nothing in the definition of marriage about the man (or woman) being attractive. That is because the marriage vow lays out the duties of the two spouses. Duty implies possibility. A man usually can, with considerable self-control and sacrifice, remain faithful to a single woman and support her and the children; he cannot become a romance novel hero and turn his wife’s life into a perpetual honeymoon.

The traditional answer to the question, “How do I get Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome to commit?” is, “You probably won’t.” Those men go fast, and they usually go to the most attractive females. But that does not, of course, guarantee the contentment of those females either: four women walked out on Cary Grant. Part of the folk wisdom of all ages and peoples has been that sexual attraction is an inadequate basis for matrimony.

Monogamy means that women are not permitted to mate with a man, however attractive, once he has been claimed by another woman. It does not get a more attractive mate for a woman than she would otherwise get; it normally gets her a less attractive one. “Liberated,” hypergamous female mating — i.e., what we have now — is what ensures highly attractive mates for most women. But, of course, those mates “don’t commit” — really, are unable to commit to all the women who desire them. The average woman must decide between having the most attractive “sex partner” possible and having a permanent husband. If she were serious about seeking commitment, in fact, the rational procedure would be to seek out a particularly unattractive man, i.e., one for whom there is the least possible competition. This thought seldom occurs to young women, however.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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