Liberty, Equality, Sexuality
Contrary to the popular prejudice that America is a nation of unintellectual and anti-intellectual people, where ideas are at best means to ends, this country is actually nothing but a great stage on which theories have been played out as tragedy and comedy. Our story is the majestic and triumphant march of two principles, the principles of freedom and equality, which give meaning to all that we have done or are doing. Everything that happens among us is a consequence of one or both of our principles—a triumph over some opposition to them, a discovery of a fresh meaning in them, a dispute about which of the two has primacy, and so forth.
Now we have arrived at one of the ultimate acts in our drama, the informing and the reforming of our most intimate private lives by our two principles. Sex and its consequences—love, marriage, and family—have finally become the theme of our national project. And perhaps nowhere is the drama being played out with greater poignancy than among the privileged young, the students at our better colleges and universities.
The change in sexual relations, which now provide an unending challenge to human ingenuity, came over us in two successive waves in the last two decades. The first was the sexual revolution; the second, feminism. The sexual revolution marched under the banner of freedom; feminism under that of equality. Although they went arm in arm for a while, their differences eventually put them at odds with each other, as Tocqueville said freedom and equality would always be.
This is manifest in the squabble over pornography, which pits liberated sexual desire against feminist resentment about stereotyping. We are presented with the amusing spectacle of pornography, clad in armor borrowed from the heroic struggles for freedom of speech, and using Miltonic rhetoric, doing battle with feminism, newly draped in the robes of community morality, using arguments associated with conservatives who defend traditional sex roles, and also defying an authoritative tradition in which it was taboo to suggest any connection between what a person reads or sees and his sexual practices. In the background stand the liberals, wringing their hands in confusion because they wish to favor both sides and cannot.
The sexual revolution presented itself as a bold affirmation of the senses and of undeniable natural impulse against our puritanical heritage, society’s conventions and repressions, bolstered by biblical myths of original sin. From the early 60’s on, there was a gradual testing of the limits on sexual expression, and they soon melted away (where they had not already disappeared without anybody’s having noticed). The disapproval of parents and teachers of youngsters’ sleeping or living together was easily overcome. The moral inhibitions, the fear of disease, the risk of pregnancy, the family and social consequences of premarital sexual intercourse and the difficulty of finding places in which to have it—everything that stood in the way suddenly was no longer there. Students, particularly the girls, were no longer ashamed to give public evidence of sexual attraction or of its fulfillment. The kind of cohabitations that were dangerous in the 20’s, and risqué or bohemian in the 30’s and 40’s, became as normal as (previously) membership in the Girl Scouts.
I say “particularly the girls” because young men were always supposed to be eager for immediate gratification, whereas young women, inspired by modesty, were supposed to resist it. It was, indeed, a modification or phasing out of female modesty, now defined as mere convention or habit, that made the new arrangements possible.
The immediate promise of the sexual revolution was, simply, happiness understood as the release, in a great continuous Bacchanalia, of energies that had been stored up over millennia during the dark night of repression. However, the lion roaring behind the door of the closet turned out, when that door was opened, to be a little domesticated cat. In fact, seen from a long historical perspective, the sexual revolution might be interpreted as the recognition that sexual passion is no longer dangerous in us, and that it is safer to give it free course than to risk rebellion by restraining it. I once asked a class how it could be that not too long ago parents would have said to wayward daughters, “Never darken our door again,” whereas now they rarely protest when boyfriends sleep over in their homes. A very nice, very normal, young woman responded, “Because it’s no big deal.” That says it all. This passionlessness is the most striking effect, or revelation, of the sexual revolution, and it makes the younger generation more or less incomprehensible to its elders.
In all this, the sexual revolution was precisely what it said it was—a liberation. But some of the harshness of nature asserted itself beneath the shattered conventions: the young were more apt to profit from the revolution than the old, the beautiful than the ugly. Formerly, a veil of discretion had had the effect of making these raw and ill-distributed natural advantages less important in life and marriage. But now there was little attempt to apply egalitarian justice in these matters (along the lines, say, of the older Athenian women in Aristophanes’ The Assembly of Women, who, because of their very repulsiveness, have a right to enjoy handsome young men before beautiful young women do). The undemocratic aspects of free sex were compensated for in our harmless and mildly ridiculous way: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was preached more vigorously than formerly; the cosmetics industry had a big boom; and education and therapy in the style of Masters and Johnson, promising great orgasms to every subscriber, became common. My favorite was a course in sex for the elderly offered in a local YMCA and advertised over the radio with the slogan “Use It or Lose It.” These were the days when pornography slipped its leash.
Feminism; by contrast, to the extent that it presented itself as a liberation, was much more a liberation from nature than from convention or society. Therefore, it was grimmer, unerotic, more of an abstract project; it required not so much the abolition of law as the institution of law, along with political activism. Instinct did not suffice. The negative sentiment of imprisonment was there, but what was wanted in its place was unclear. The programmatic language shifted from terms like “living naturally” (with reference to very definite bodily functions) to vaguer terms such as “self-definition,” “self-fulfillment,” “establishing priorities,” “fashioning a life-style,” etc.
Although feminism sees the position of women as flowing from nurture and not nature, the movement is not founded on nature. Its crucial contention is that biology should not be destiny, and biology is surely natural. And as for the contention that women’s roles were always determined by human relations of domination, like those underlying slavery, the least that can be said about this thesis is that it would not seem to be confirmed by the bodily desires of all concerned, as was the sexual revolution. What is certain is that feminism has brought with it an unrelenting process of consciousness-raising and -changing. This process begins in what is probably a permanent human inclination, and is surely a modern one—the longing for the unlimited, the unconstrained—and ends, as do many modern movements that seek abstract justice, in forgetting nature and using force to refashion human beings to secure that justice.
Feminism is in accord with and encourages many elements of the sexual revolution, but uses them to different ends. A woman who can easily satisfy her desires and does not invest her emotions in exclusive relationships is also thereby liberated from the psychological tyranny of men, to do “more important things.” Feminism has thus acted as a depressant on the Bacchanalian mood of the sexual revolution. Just as smoking and drinking overcame puritanical condemnation only to find themselves, after a brief moment of freedom, under equally moralistic attacks in the name not of God but of health and safety, so sex had a short day in the sun before it had to be reined in to accommodate the feminist sensibility. As a people, we are good not at gratifying ourselves but at delaying gratification for the sake of projects which promise future good. In this case the project is to overcome what is variously called male dominance, machismo, phallocracy, patriarchy, etc.—a set of arrangements to which men and their female collaborators still seem very attached, inasmuch as so many machines of war must be mounted against them.
Male sexual passion has become sinful again, because it culminates in “sexism.” Women, it is said, are made into objects, they are raped by their husbands as well as by strangers, they are sexually harassed by professors and employers at school and at work. All these crimes must be legislated against and punished. What sensitive male can avoid realizing how dangerous his sexual passion is? Is there perhaps really original sin? Men, it turns out, had failed to read the fine print in the Emancipation Proclamation.
The new interference with sexual desire is more comprehensive, more intense, more difficult to escape than the older conventions, the grip of which was so recently relaxed. The July 14 of the sexual revolution was really only a day between the overthrow of the ancien régime and the onset of the Terror. The new reign of virtue, accompanied by relentless propaganda on radio and television and in the press, has its own catechism, inducing an examination of the conscience and the inmost sentiments for traces of possessiveness, jealousy, protectiveness—all those things men used to feel for women. There are, of course, a multitude of properly indignant censors equipped with loudspeakers and inquisitional tribunals.
Central to the feminist project, as to the sexual revolution, is the suppression of modesty. But the sexual revolution wanted modesty out of the way so that men and women could get together bodily, while feminism wants them to be easily able to get along separately.
In the old dispensation, modesty was the female virtue, because it governed the powerful desire that related men to women, providing a gratification in harmony with the procreation and rearing of children, the risk and responsibility of which fell naturally—that is, biologically—on women. Although modesty impeded sexual intercourse, its result was to make such gratification central to a serious life and to enhance the delicate interplay between the sexes, in which acquiescence of the will is as important as possession of the body. Diminution or suppression of modesty certainly makes it easier to attain the end of desire—which was the intention of the sexual revolution—but it also dismantles the structure of involvement and attachment, reducing sex to the thing-in-itself. This is where feminism enters.
Female modesty extends sexual differentiation from the sexual act to the whole of life. It makes men and women always men and women. The consciousness of directedness toward one another, with all the attendant attractions and inhibitions, informs every common deed. As long as modesty operates, men and women together are never just lawyers or pilots together. They have something else in common—ultimate ends or, as we now say, “life goals.” Is winning this case or landing this plane what is most important, or is it love and family? As lawyers or pilots, men and women are the same, subservient to the one goal. As lovers or parents they are very different, but inwardly related by sharing the naturally given end of continuing the species. Modesty is a constant reminder of their peculiar relatedness and its outer forms and inner sentiments, which impede the self’s free creation or capitalism’s technical division of labor. It is a voice constantly repeating that a man and a woman have work to do together that is far different from that found in the marketplace, and of far greater importance.
This is why modesty was the first sacrifice demanded by Socrates in Plato’s Republic for the establishment of a city where women would have the same education, live the same lives, and do the same jobs as men. If the difference between men and women is not to determine their ends, if it is not to be more significant than the difference between bald men and men with hair, then, says Socrates, they must strip and exercise naked together just as Greek men do.
With some qualifications, those of today’s feminists who know of this passage in Plato praise it. They look upon it as prescient, for it culminates in an absolute liberation of women from the subjection of marriage and child-bearing and -rearing, which become no more important than any other necessary but momentary biological event. Socrates provides birth control, abortion, and day-care centers, as well as marriages that last a day or a night and have as their only end the production of sound new citizens to replenish the city’s stock, cared for by the city. He even adds infanticide to the list of conveniences available.
Socrates’ radicalism extends to the relation of parent and child. The citizens are not to know their own children, for, if they were to love them above others, then the means that brought them into being, the intercourse of this man and this woman, would be judged to be of special significance. Then we would be back to the private family and the kinds of relatedness peculiar to it.
Socrates’ proposal especially refers to one of the most problematic cases for those who seek equal treatment for women—the military. These citizens are warriors, and he argues that just as women can be liberated from subjection to men and take their places alongside them, men must be liberated from their special concern for women. A man must have no more compunction about killing the advancing female enemy than the male, and he must be no more protective of the heroine fighting on his right side than of the hero on his left.
Equal opportunity, then, and equal risk. The only concern is the common good, and the only relationship is to the community, bypassing the intermediate relationships that tend to take on a life of their own and were formerly thought to have natural roots in sexual attraction and love of one’s own children. If that common good should disappear, the only alternative for the individual is a return to pure individuality, pure isolation.
In this light we can discern the outlines of what has been going on recently among us. Conservatives who have been heartened by the latest developments within the women’s movement are mistaken if they think that the movement and they are on common ground. Certainly both sides are against pornography. But the feminists are against it because it is a reminiscence of the old love relationship, which involved differentiated sexual roles—roles now interpreted as bondage and domination. Pornography caters to and encourages the longing men have for women, and its unrestrained satisfaction. This is what feminist anti-pornographers are against, not the debasement of sentiment or the threat to the family. And that is why they exempt homosexual pornography from censorship, for it is by definition not an accomplice to the male-female tyranny and even helps to undermine it.
Actually, feminists favor the demystifying role of pornography, which unmasks the true exploitative nature of the old relationships as, for Marxists, capitalism exposed the true nature of feudal relationships. The feminists’ purpose is not, however, to remystify the worn-out systems but to push on toward the realm of freedom. They are sure that love in the old way is dead, and they are now wiping up the last desperate, untutored, semi-criminal traces of a kind of desire that no longer has a place in the world.
It is, in short, one thing to want to prevent women from being ravished and brutalized because modesty and purity should be respected and women’s weakness protected by responsible males; but it is quite another thing to protect them from male desire altogether so that they can live as they please. Feminism makes use of conservative moralism to further its own ends. This is akin to, and actually part of, the fatal old alliance between traditional conservatives and Marxists, which has had such far-reaching effects for more than a century. The two had nothing in common but their hatred of capitalism, the conservatives looking back to the revival of throne and altar in the various European nations, and to piety, the Marxists looking forward to the universal, homogeneous society and to freedom—reactionaries and progressives united against the present, feeding off the inner contradictions of the bourgeoisie.
Of course fundamentalists and feminists can collaborate to pass local ordinances banning smut, but the feminists do so to demonstrate their political clout in furthering their campaign against “bourgeois rights,” which are, sad to say, enjoyed by people who want to see dirty movies or buy equipment to act out comically distorted fantasies. It is doubtful whether the fundamentalists gain much from this deal, because it guarantees the victory of a surging moral force that is “anti-family and anti-life.”
Similarly, some conservatives are heartened by recent feminist discussion about the differences between men and women and about the special fulfillment of “parenting.” These were, it is true, forbidden subjects at earlier stages of the movement, when equal rights was the primary theme. But this discussion has really only been made possible by the success of those earlier stages. A feminine nature or self may indeed be conceded now, but it has been definitely shaken loose from its teleological moorings. The feminine nature is not held to be in any reciprocal relation to the male nature, and they do not define one another. Women do have different physical structures, but they can make of them what they will—without paying a price. The feminine nature is a mystery to be worked out on its own, which can now be done because the male claim to it has been overcome.
The fact that there is today a more affirmative disposition toward childbearing does not imply that there is any natural impulse or compulsion to establish anything like a traditional fatherhood to complement motherhood. The children are to be had on the female’s terms, with or without fathers, who are not to get in the way of the mother’s free development. Children have always been, and still are, more the mother’s anyway. Ninety percent or more of children of divorced parents stay with their mothers, whose preeminent stake in children has been enhanced by feminist demands—and by a consequent easy rationalization of male irresponsibility. So we have reproduction without family as its necessary implication—if family includes the presence of a male who has any kind of a definite function. The return to motherhood as a feminist ideal is only possible because feminism has triumphed over the family as it was once known, and women’s freedom will not be limited by it. None of this means returning to “family values” or even bodes particularly well for the family as an institution, although it does mean that women have become freer to come to terms with the complexity of their situation.
By now the exhilaration of liberation has evaporated, for it is unclear what exactly was liberated or whether new and more onerous responsibilities have not been placed on us. And this is where I come back to today’s university students, for whom everything is new. They are not sure what they feel for one another, and are without guidance about what to do with whatever they may feel.
The students of whom I am speaking are aware of all the sexual alternatives, and have been so from very early on in their lives, and they believe that all sexual acts are licit which do not involve real harm to others. They do not think they should feel guilt or shame about sex. They have had sex education in school, of “the biological facts, let-them-decide-the-values-for-themselves” variety, if not “the options-and-orientations” variety. They have lived in a world where the most explicit discussions and depictions of sex are all around them. They have had little fear of venereal disease; although it remains to be seen what effect AIDS will have, the wave of publicity about herpes a couple of years ago had almost no discernible psychological fallout. Birth-control devices and ready abortion have been available to them since puberty.
For the great majority, sexual intercourse was a normal part of their lives prior to college, and there was no fear of social stigma or even much parental opposition. Girls have had less supervision in their relations with boys than at any time in history. They are not precisely pagan, but there is an easy familiarity with each others’ bodies and less inhibition about using their own for a broad range of erotic purposes. There is no special value placed on virginity in oneself or in one’s partners. It is expected that there were others before and, incredibly to older folks, this does not seem to bother them, even though it provides a ground for predictions about the future. They are not promiscuous or given to orgies or casual sex, as it used to be understood. In general, they have one connection at a time, but most have had several serially. They are used to coed dormitories.
Many live together, almost always without expectation of marriage. It is just a convenient arrangement. They are not couples in the sense of having simulacra of marriage or a way of life different from that of other students not at present so attached. They are roommates, which is what they call themselves, with sex and utilities included in the rent. Every single obstacle to sexual relationships between young unmarried persons having disappeared, these relationships have become routine. To strangers from another planet, what would be the most striking thing is that sexual passion no longer includes the illusion of eternity.
Men and women are now used to living in exactly the same way and studying exactly the same things and having exactly the same career expectations. No man would think of ridiculing a female premed or prelaw student, or believe that these are fields not proper for women, or assert that a woman should put family before career. The law schools and medical schools are full of women, in numbers that are beginning to approach their proportion in the general population. There is very little ideology or militant feminism in most of the women, because they do not need it. The strident voices are present, and they get attention in the university newspapers and in student governments; but, again, the battle here has been won. Women students do not generally feel discriminated against or despised for their professional aspirations. The economy will absorb them, and they have rising expectations. They do not need the protection of the National Organization for Women. Sex no longer has any political agenda in universities except among homosexuals, who are not yet quite satisfied with their situation. But the fact that there is an open homosexual presence, with rights at least formally recognized by the authorities and almost all students, tells us much about current university life.
Students today understandably believe that they are the beneficiaries of progress. They have a certain benign contempt for their parents, particularly for their poor mothers, who were sexually inexperienced and had no profession to be taken as seriously as their fathers’. Superior sexual experience was always one of the palpable advantages that parents and teachers had over youngsters who were eager to penetrate the mysteries of life. But this is no longer the case, nor do students believe it to be so. They quietly smile at professors who try to shock them or talk explicitly about the facts of life in the way once so effective in enticing more innocent generations of students. Freud and D.H. Lawrence are very old hat. Better not to try.
Even less do students expect to learn anything about their situation from old literature, which, from the Garden of Eden on, made coupling a very dark and complicated business. On reflection, today’s students wonder what all the fuss was about. Many think their older brothers and sisters discovered sex, as we now know it to be, in the 60’s. In a course on Rousseau’s Confessions, my students were astounded to learn that he had lived with a woman out of wedlock in the 18th century. Where could he have gotten the idea?
There are, of course, works of literature which affect a generation profoundly but have no interest at all for the next generation because their central themes prove ephemeral, whereas the greatest literature addresses the permanent problems of man. Ibsen’s Ghosts, for example, lost all its force for young people when syphilis ceased to be a threat. As Aristotle teaches, pity for the plight of others requires the possibility that the same thing could happen to us. Now, however, the same things that used to happen to people, at least in the relations between the sexes, do not happen to students any more. And one must begin to wonder whether there is any permanent literature for them, because they do not believe that there are permanent problems. Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are adulteresses, but the cosmos no longer rebels at their deed. Anna’s only son today would probably have been awarded to her in the amicable divorce arrangements of the Karenins. All the romantic novels with their depictions of highly differentiated men and women, their steamy, sublimated sensuality, and their insistence on the sacredness of the marriage bond just do not speak to any reality that concerns today’s young people. Neither do Romeo and Juliet with their struggle against parental opposition, Othello and his jealousy, or Miranda’s carefully guarded innocence. St. Augustine, a seminarian told me, had sexual hang-ups. And let us not speak of the Bible, whose every No is now a Yes. With the possible exception of Oedipus, they are all gone, and they departed in the company of modesty.
When young people today have crushing problems in what used to be called sexual relationships, they cannot trace them back to any moral ambiguity in man’s sexual nature. That, after all, was what was erroneously done in the past.
The best point of entry into the very special world of isolation or separateness inhabited by today’s students is the astonishing fact that they usually do not, in what were once called love affairs, say, “I love you,” and never, “I’ll always love you.” One student told me that of course he says “I love you” to girlfriends, “when we are breaking up.” It is the clean and easy break—no damage, no fault—at which they are adept. This is understood to be morality, respect for the other person’s freedom.
Perhaps young people do not say “I love you” because they are honest. They do not experience love—too familar with sex to confuse it with love, too preoccupied with their own fates to be victimized by love’s mad self-forgetting, the last of the genuine fanaticisms. Then there is distaste for love’s fatal historical baggage—sex roles, making women into possessions and objects without respect for their self-determination. Young people today are afraid of making commitments, and the point is that love is commitment, and much more.
When marriage occurs it does not usually seem to result from a decision and a conscious will to take on its responsibilities. The couple have lived together for a long time, and by an almost imperceptible process, they find themselves married, as much out of convenience as passion, as much negatively as positively (not really expecting to do much better, since they have looked around and seen how imperfect all fits seem to be). Among the educated, marriage these days seems to be best acquired, as Macaulay said about the British empire, in a fit of absent-mindedness.
Part of the inability to make sexual commitments results from an ideology of the feelings. Young people are always telling me such reasonable things about jealousy and possessiveness and even their dreams about the future. But as to dreams about the future with a partner, they have none. That would be to impose a rigid, authoritarian pattern on the future, which should emerge spontaneously. This means they can foresee no future, or that the one they would naturally foresee is forbidden them, by current piety, as sexist. Similarly, why should a man or a woman be jealous if his or her partner has sexual relations with someone else? A serious person today does not want to force the feelings of others. The same goes for possessiveness.
When I hear such things, all so sensible and in harmony with a liberal society, I feel that I am in the presence of robots. This ideology only works for people who have had no experience of the feelings, have never loved, have been abstracted from the texture of life. These prodigies of reason need never fear Othello’s fate. Kill for love! What can that mean?
It may very well be that their apatheia is a suppression of feeling, anxiety about getting hurt. But it might also be the real thing. Having digested the incompatibility of ends, people may have developed a new kind of soul. None of the sexual possibilities students have actualized was unknown to me. But their lack of passion, of hope, of despair, of a sense of the twinship of love and death—the lack of all this is incomprehensible to me. When I see a young couple who have lived together throughout their college years leave each other with a handshake and move out into life, I am struck dumb.
Students do not date any more. Dating was the petrified skeleton of courtship. They live in herds or packs with no more sexual differentiation than any herds have when not in heat. Human beings can, of course, engage in sexual intercourse at any time. But today there are none of the conventions invented by civilization to take the place of heat, to guide mating, and perhaps to channel it. Nobody is sure who is to make the advances, whether there are to be a pursuer and a pursued, what the event is to mean. They have to improvise, for roles are banned, and a man pays a high price for misjudging his partner’s attitude. The act takes place but it does not separate the couple from the flock, to which they immediately return as they were before, undifferentiated.
It is easier for men to get gratification than it used to be, and many men have the advantage of being pursued. Certainly they do not have to make all kinds of efforts and pay all kinds of attention, as men once did. There is an easy familiarity. But at least some of these advantages for men are offset by nervousness about their sexual performance. In the past a man could hope to be admired for what he brought; now he can be pretty sure that he is being compared and judged, which is daunting. And certain aspects of the undeniably male biology can make it difficult for him to perform and cause him to prefer being the one to express the desire.
Women are still pleased by their freedom and their capacity to chart an independent course for themselves. But they frequently suspect that they are being used, that in the long run they may need men more than men need them, and that they cannot expect much from the feckless contemporary male. They despise what men used to think women had to offer (that is partly why it is now offered so freely), but they are dogged by doubt whether men are very impressed by what they are now offering instead. Distrust suffuses the apparently easy commerce between the sexes. There is an awful lot of breaking up, surely disagreeable, though nothing earth-shaking. Exam time is a great moment for students to separate. They are under too much stress and too busy to put up with much trouble from a relationship.
“Relationships,” not love affairs, are what they have. Love suggests something wonderful, exciting, positive, and firmly seated in the passions. A relationship is gray, amorphous, suggestive of a project, without a given content, and tentative. You work at a relationship, whereas love takes care of itself. In a relationship the difficulties come first, and there is a search for common ground. Love presents illusions of perfection to the imagination and is forgetful of all the natural fissures in human connection. About relationships there is ceaseless anxious talk, the kind one cannot help overhearing in student hangouts or restaurants frequented by men and women who are “involved” with one another, the kind of obsessive prattle so marvelously captured in old Nichols and May routines or Woody Allen films.
The reliance on relationships is a self-delusion because it is founded on an inner contradiction. Relations between the sexes have always been difficult, and that is why so much of our literature is about men and women quarreling. There is certainly legitimate ground to doubt their suitability for each other, given the spectrum—from the harem to Plato’s Republic—of imaginable and actually existing relations between them. That man is not made to be alone is all very well, but who is made to live with him?
This is why men and women hesitated before marriage, and courtship was thought necessary to find out whether the couple was compatible, and perhaps to give them basic training in compatibility. No one wanted to be stuck forever with an impossible partner. But, for all that, they knew pretty much what they wanted from one another. The question was whether they could get it (whereas our question today tends to be what is wanted). A man was to make a living and protect his wife and children, and a woman was to provide for the domestic economy, particularly in caring for husband and children. The arrangement implicit in marriage, even if it was only conventional, told those who entered into it what to expect and what the satisfactions were supposed to be. Very simply, the family was a sort of miniature body politic in which the husband’s will was the will of the whole. The woman could influence her husband’s will, and that will was supposed to be informed by love of wife and children.
Now all of this has simply disintegrated. It does not exist, nor is it considered good that it should. But nothing certain has taken its place. Neither men nor women have any idea what they are getting into any more, or, rather, they have reason to fear the worst. There are two equal wills, and no mediating principle to link them and no tribunal of last resort. What is more, neither of the wills is certain of itself. This is where the “ordering of priorities” comes in, particularly with women, who have not yet decided which comes first, career or children. People are no longer raised to think they ought to regard marriage as the primary goal and responsibility, and their uncertainty is mightily reinforced by the divorce statistics, which imply that putting all of one’s psychological eggs in the marriage basket is a poor risk.
The inharmoniousness of final ends finds its most concrete expression in the female career, which is now precisely the same as the male career. There are two equal careers in almost every household composed of educated persons under thirty-five. And those careers are not mere means to family ends. They are personal fulfillments. In this nomadic country it is more than likely that one of the partners will be forced, or have the opportunity, to take a job in a city other than the one where his or her spouse works. What to do? They can stay together with one partner sacrificing his career to the other, they can commute, or they can separate. None of these solutions is satisfactory. More important, what is going to happen is unpredictable. Is it the marriage or the career that will count most? Women’s careers today are qualitatively different from what they were up to twenty years ago, and such conflict is now inevitable. The result is that both marriage and career are devalued.
I am not arguing here that the old family arrangements were good or that we should or could go back to them. I am only insisting that we not cloud our vision to such an extent that we believe that there are viable substitutes for them just because we want or need them or think we have devised them. All our reforms have helped to do is to strip the teeth of our gears, which can therefore no longer mesh. They spin idly, side by side, unable to set the social machine in motion. It is at this exercise in futility that young people must look when thinking about their future.
Women are pleased by their successes, their new opportunities, their agenda, their moral superiority. But underneath everything lies the more or less conscious awareness that they are still dual beings by nature, capable of doing most things men do and also wanting to have children. They may hope otherwise, but they fully expect to pursue careers, to have to pursue careers, while caring for children alone. And what they expect and plan for is likely to happen.
The men have none of the current ideological advantages of the women, but they can opt out without too much cost. In their relations with women they have little to say; convinced of the injustice of the old order, for which they were responsible, and practically incapable of changing the direction of the juggernaut, they wait to hear what is wanted. They want relationships, but they anticipate a huge investment of emotional energy that is just as likely as not to end in bankruptcy. They try to adjust, but they are ready to take off in an instant.
Meanwhile, one of the strongest, oldest motives for marriage is no longer operative. Men can now easily enjoy the sex that previously could only be had in marriage. It is strange that the tiredest and stupidest bromide mothers and fathers preached to their daughters—“He won’t respect you or marry you if you give him what he wants too easily”—turns out to be the truest and most probing analysis of the current situation. Women can say they do not care, that they want men to have the right motives or none at all, but everyone, and they best of all, knows that they are being, at most, only half-truthful with themselves.
This, then, is the campus sexual scene in a world shaped by the extension of the principle of freedom through the sexual revolution and the extension of the principle of equality through feminism. Relativism in theory and lack of relatedness in practice make students unable to think about or look into their futures, and they shrivel up within the confines of the present and the material I. They are willing to mutter the prescribed catechism, the substitute for thought, which promises them salvation, but there is little faith. As a very intelligent student said to me, “We are all obsessively going to the well, but we always come up dry.”