© 2008 F. Roger Devlin. This page © 2008 WTM Enterprises.
All rights reserved.


Home economics


Modern neglect of the economic side of marriage;
female attraction to "providers" natural and unchangeable



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Having examined briefly — in the first section — the two principal ways in which feminism has undermined the former position of esteem enjoyed by women in our civilization, let us proceed to consider how that position used to be maintained.

The bedrock of the system, more fundamental than the ideal of chivalry, was the institution of marriage. The strictest possible fulfillment of the conditions of marriage by women is obviously necessary before men can be made to believe that women are ethereally pure, naturally monogamous beings selflessly devoted to the good of their families in a way earthy, lust-filled men cannot comprehend.

Traditional sexual morality can be summed up quite simply: men and (especially) women have a measure of choice in deciding whether or whom to marry, but they are not at liberty to decide for themselves what a marriage is. In other words, we submit ourselves to marriage, which is a timeless institution; we do not adapt it to suit our preferences.

What, then, is a marriage? I define it as a lifelong sexual and economic union between a man and a woman. [1] In marriage, a man and woman maintain an exclusive sexual relationship producing (in most cases) children of recognized paternity, and they share productive abilities and resources with a view to rearing their children; and both of these things they do for the term of their natural lives together.

Contrary to the superficial views of many people, particularly women, a wedding is not the defining attribute of marriage: it is merely a ceremony that normally marks a couple's entry into marriage. The only essential purpose of a wedding is to establish paternity, to declare publicly who the presumptive father of the woman's future children is.

Going into a marriage, sex is the woman's strong hand. In early adulthood, when humans normally reproduce, the male sex-drive is incomparably stronger than the female, and the female's sense of shame or modesty is at its height. That is why women rather than men are the primary choosers in the mating dance. But the man is naturally the economically stronger party. As nature made women to be the bearers and nurturers of children, so it made men to be the principal providers for families.

General affluence, female careerism, and hiring preferences for women all erode the man's natural strong point. Furthermore, the modern overstressing of sex and the corresponding neglect of the economics of marriage amount to a focus on the woman's natural strength rather than the man's: the sexual revolution has not strengthened the man's position as popularly advertised, but undermined it.

Let me give an example of the typical modern failure to consider marriage from the economic point of view. Western journalists such as today's propagandists against "Islamofascism" frequently assert that polygamy is morally objectionable because it "demeans women." Typically, they offer no explanation, regarding the matter as self-evident. But it is only the relative prosperity of our society that may make it seem so. Actual polygamous societies tend to be characterized by general poverty, with most of the wealth concentrated in a few male hands. A woman in such a society does not normally face the alternative of two otherwise comparable suitors, one of whom will be faithful to her and the other have a harem. Her choice is likely to be having her fate bound to that of a destitute man or being tolerably supported by a wealthy or powerful man whose attentions she will have to share.

It is by no means self-evident that Western women would reject the possibility of formal polygamy if forced by circumstances to make such a choice; our current informal polygamy is in fact a product of their choices far more than men's. In fact, viewed economically, the function of monogamy is not to improve the condition of women at all, but rather to ensure that relatively poor men are able to father children.

The tendency to disregard the economics of procreation has encouraged many commentators to adopt what might be called a sexual-extortion model of matrimony, i.e., its portrayal as the finagling of a reluctant and grudging "commitment" from a man by means of the threat of sexual frustration: a triumph of the female over the male, rather than the sanctification of their union.

Let us remind ourselves of some obvious facts. Sex has always been available to men outside of marriage by the simple expedient of direct purchase. Prostitutes, no less than wives, are supported by their men. But since the prostitute has numerous "husbands," each one only has to provide a small fraction of her support. This makes prostitution a far better bargain for men than marriage, from the perspective of individual sexual self-interest. If men wanted nothing from women but sexual access, renting beats owning: there is no good reason for them to marry at all.

But what would one say of a man who contentedly consorted with prostitutes without ever feeling that anything was lacking in his erotic life? A certain type of conservative commentator will promptly respond that we must summon the vice squad to arrest the scoundrel; but that would not be an answer to quite the question I mean to pose here. I am not asking what the proper moral judgment upon, or practical response to, such a case would be; I am asking whether it would not be just plain odd — sexually abnormal — for a man not to sense that marriage had something to offer him that prostitutes did not. Most men would, I think, concur with me in feeling that such a fellow is in a condition analogous to a tone-deaf or color-blind or lobotomized man: something is missing from his perception. The reductively sexual model of matrimony cannot account for this.

Marriage has a number of things to offer men apart from coitus, in fact, but the most important is children. Ours is the only species whose males are conscious of their biological responsibility for particular offspring. The discovery of fatherhood was a watershed event in human history greater than the discovery of the wheel, fire, or agriculture. Civilization is very largely a matter of high-investment parenting, and that requires heavy and continuing paternal involvement. Such involvement rests upon a fundamental anthropological fact: viz., men will gladly work, fight, and sacrifice for children provided they feel sure of their own paternity. No shotgun marriages, no governmental child-support enforcement agencies, not even much in the way of exhortation is necessary for that to occur. The human male finds satisfaction in fatherhood. [2]

But the brute economic reality of procreation is that women and children consume resources that men are called upon to supply. Babies, unlike the young of many beasts, come into the world utterly helpless. And in the late stages of pregnancy, a woman is close to helpless herself, while in the first weeks after childbirth her attention is almost wholly absorbed by her infant. Men pick up the slack. Generally speaking, a woman marries a meal ticket; a man marries trouble and expense. Men understand that. It is the principal reason they are reluctant to "commit," to sign their futures over to women of whose characters and intentions they cannot be certain. Traditionally, men have been rewarded (e.g., with higher social status) for taking on the burden and risk of starting a family. Women, in turn, were expected to remain faithful so that a husband could be sure his labor and resources were not being used to support another man's offspring. Sexual pleasure does not even enter into the matter.

As a counterpiece to the sexual-extortion model, one might easily limn an analogously one-sided, exclusively economic model of marriage, somewhat as follows: a stepmotherly Nature forces men who wish to procreate to purchase a highly fuel-inefficient incubator. Sometimes it turns out to be infertile, but even then it cannot be traded in or returned. One can never even be completely sure the children it produces are his.

That ungallant interpretation of marriage is not an invention of my own misogynistic pen. Something very like it can be found in a host of ancient and medieval writers. The following is taken from the Hippolytus of Euripides:

Women! This coin which men find counterfeit! Why, Lord Zeus, did you put them in the light of the sun? If you were so determined to breed the race of man, the source of it should not have been women: so might we have lived in houses free of the taint of women's presence. But now, to bring this plague into our homes we drain our fortunes. The father who begets her must add a dowry gift to pack her off to another's house and be rid of the load. And he that takes the cursed creature enriches his heart's jewel with dear adornment, beauty heaped on vileness. With lovely clothes the poor wretch tricks her out, spending the wealth that underprops his house....
The passage continues, but you get the idea.

I am aware that many readers will be displeased by the frankness — some might say cynicism — with which I write of these matters. Traditionally, the raw sexual and economic facts of marriage have been politely concealed by superadded ideas such as romantic love and gallantry. In the years following the Second World War, such antiquated fashions were with increasing rudeness torn from the sexual act by fraudulent sex "scientists" and pornographers. But the economic realities have not similarly been dragged into the light of day. On the contrary, our prosperity has made it easy to downplay them even more than in the past.

An example of such polite concealment is found in the traditional etiquette with respect to greeting newly married couples. It was customary to say "congratulations" to the man, but never to the woman; to the bride one offered only "best wishes." The pretense was that the man was receiving an unmerited windfall. The reality, of course, is that the man assumes the principal burden in marriage. For women, it is an economic bonanza. [3]

One factor in the disintegration of marriage and sex roles is that, spoiled by prosperity, women actually came to believe the chivalrous pretense and forgot the underlying economic reality. They expect men to be grateful for the opportunity to support them. (Wendy Shalit is an outstanding example of this mentality.) It is a case of gallantry being abused by its beneficiaries. Under such circumstances, men cannot simply go on behaving in the old manner as though nothing were wrong. It is incumbent upon them to fight back against the forces arrayed against them, in part by emphasizing some home truths about the economic realities of marriage. Perhaps it is time for young men to stop paying for dates and coyly explain that they are "saving their wallets" for marriage. If that sounds cynical to a traditional sensibility, my answer is that such cynicism may simply be the price for reestablishing the natural family as the basis of our civilization.


Most men eventually come to the melancholy realization that a woman's choice of mate is largely, and often principally, motivated by economic considerations. In their drive for power, the feminists gave out rosy promises to men that they could change this; that women sought providers only because they were being unfairly barred from the realm of production (which feminists assumed could only lie outside the home). Once women established themselves in the labor force, the pressure upon men to provide for them would be eased. Women would behave less materialistically and choose mates on the basis of personal qualities.

At the same time, and rather inconsistently, women were assured that putting their careers first would incidentally make them eagerly sought out by high-flying men. A popular female self-help book of the early 1980s, for example, was titled Men Are Just Desserts.

As usual, the feminists treated as historically conditioned something that was in reality natural. The female tendency to seek provider-mates evolved long before the dawn of history, when economic considerations meant hunting ability and bare survival rather than Sports Utility Vehicles and Hawaiian vacations. Women attracted to men able to provide for offspring had more surviving offspring. So today they are simply hard-wired to seek such men. What actually happens when a woman starts earning $100,000 a year, therefore, is not that she ceases to seek a man who can provide for her but that she perceives men as providers (and hence potential mates) only if they are earning even more. When the feminist project is carried out, the majority of men do not get less-materialistic wives; they simply do not get wives at all.

Even if there were enough wealthy men to go around, such men are rarely interested in marrying the corporate spinsters frantically pursuing them. That leads to a kind of tragicomic situation. There exists today a whole genre of self-help literature aimed at well-to-do professional women, promising to show them, as one author phrases it, "how to flatter, tease, dupe, and otherwise manipulate a man into marriage." [4] A company in Manhattan charges such women $9,600 for a beauty and personality makeover that culminates in a make-believe wedding. The ersatz ceremonies are often impossible to complete because the "brides" break down crying. Professionally successful men, for their part, are starting to report frequent nuisance calls from dating agencies on behalf of these desperate women.

Obviously, most of those women are going to fail in their quest no matter how many self-help books they read or how much money they spend. There is still a boy for every girl in the world, but there is not a higher-status boy for every menopausal career girl who foolishly sacrificed her nubile years to achieving wealth and status for herself. These women, in other words, are victims of their own success; their lives are what they have made them. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: a man would need a heart of stone to behold their situation without laughing.

In an affluent society, even men of well-below-average provisioning capability can easily reproduce at above replacement rate. They may, for that matter, be better husbands and fathers than most wealthy men. Considered rationally, therefore, general prosperity ought to lead to a flourishing society of moderately large families. But the female sex instinct, as the reader may possibly have noticed, is not rational. It is triggered by relative rather than absolute wealth, and so men's sexual attractiveness is still determined by their status within the social hierarchy as perceived by women.

Another factor now working against the marital prospects of ordinary men is the influence of "romantic" books and movies upon women's imaginations.

Hollywood comedy, for example, has long pandered to the primitive female instinct to seek a mate with limitless provisioning capability. A stock hero is the handsome, jet-setting bachelor. His wealth is simply there, without his needing to go to any trouble to acquire it, leaving him free to devote full attention to romancing the heroine.

In "That Touch of Mink" (1962), Cary Grant flies Doris Day to Philadelphia in his private jet for a plate of fettuccini. She tags along as he addresses the UN. They go to a Yankees game and sit in the dugout with the players (he owns the team, apparently). He furnishes her with a new wardrobe complete with private fashion show. He buys up all the tickets on a peak-season flight to Bermuda so she can have the airplane to herself. None of this fantasy is based upon the heroine's rational concern that the children be adequately provided for; it is pure female luxury. Grant is played off against a "creepy" rival whose unworthiness consists in his having to hold down an ordinary office job, vacationing in East New Jersey instead of Bermuda, and dining on TV dinners and inexpensive wine.

This movie, along with the many others like it, actually gets cited as an example of wholesome entertainment from a more innocent age. The average dull-witted conservative media critic cannot perceive anything objectionable since there is no explicit or extramarital sex. In fact, such "romantic" pictures amount to a kind of gold digger's pornography. In contrast to Jane Austen's plot lines, where real risks and difficulties are encountered and moral lessons can be learned, these movies are mere wish fulfillment. They set women up for disappointment by teaching them to have unrealistic expectations about love and life. And, of course, they create absurdly unattainable standards for men.

Or consider the related phenomenon of pulp romance fiction. The market for such books mysteriously exploded around the same time women began entering the workforce in large numbers. The pioneering company, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., saw its earnings grow two-hundredfold in the decade of the 1970s. [5] Today, Harlequin has many competitors, and some sources report that the romance genre accounts for over half of paperback sales in the United States. The lesson to be drawn, it seems, is that when women become able to provide for themselves, they do not cease to think about men; instead, marriage to a real but imperfect provider is replaced by endless fantasizing about being swept up into the arms of impossibly perfect provider-mates. I once knew a professionally successful registered nurse who owned thousands of those books; the walls of every room in her house were lined with them. She must have read them every waking hour not devoted to working or eating. Not coincidentally, she had neither husband nor children.

Warren Farrell explained as early as 1986 why such literature is the functional equivalent of pornography for women. [6] But while a great deal has been written to deplore the spread of pornography in our society, almost no serious attention has been directed to the causes and effects of romance fiction. My hunch is that its influence is actually more pernicious than pornography, because women have so much greater natural power than men to determine real-world courtship and marriage patterns.

May 30, 2008

To sections 5 and 6.

Return to sections 1 and 2.

© 2008 F. Roger Devlin. This page © 2008 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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