Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity for both men and women to express their devotion to their beloved in meaningful ways. Sadly, some feminists want to use this day to protest male violence and, no doubt, other male failures. Their goal is to supplant Valentine’s Day with V-Day—Violence Against Women Day—until violence stops.
To be sure, the number of women killed by men is appallingly high: 1,609 women were victims in the U.S. in 2012. We should work to dramatically reduce that number, but it will prove impossible to bring it to zero, and thus V-Day calls for the death of Valentine’s Day.
Male violence against women is particularly repulsive because it is so frequently cowardly. But why blame Men rather than some men? Men said “women and children first” on the Titanic, and many men died as a result; more recently, three men lost their lives in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, using their bodies to shield their girlfriends from the shooter. Men often seek out dangerous situations in an attempt to bring others to safety. One study found that over a seven-year period, 40 North American men and one woman died attempting to rescue people they did not know. In the summer of 1998, firefighters, overwhelmingly male, came from all over the country to fight the raging Florida fires.
At the center of V-day is “The Vagina Monologues,” which is performed on over 500 college campuses every year. Christina Hoff Sommers sums up the way the monologues portray my brethren as follows:
[It] features a rogues’ gallery of male brutes, sadists, child-molesters, genital mutilators, gang rapists and vile little boys. It is a poisonously anti-male play.
Not every feminist wants “The Vagina Monologues” to replace Valentine’s Day, and many have a cheerier understanding of men. But violence aside, large numbers of feminists have too many complaints about men to feel completely comfortable being honored by them and honoring them in turn—on Valentine’s Day or any other.
Exhausting, devoid of love, and not much fun
For example, there is the common feminist complaint that men won’t do half the child-care. In Halving it All, Francine Deutsch admits that many women aren’t angry about this domestic mismatch. Her focus, though, is on those trailblazers who are outraged at the thought of doing more than half the child-care and who badger their husbands till they get to 50/50. As Deutsch says, “Equally sharing women… fight over principles. They fight straightforward and direct battles with husbands.” They refuse to get married or have children without promises of equal sharing, and they go on strike if they don’t get it. Men, Deutsch adds, “succumb to the threat of divorce by agreeing to carry the load at home.” One equal sharing husband puts it this way: “We wake up in the morning and yell at each other about who is going to take on responsibility for what on any given day.”
When my female students read this description of the feminist Promised Land, it seems to them exhausting, devoid of love, and not much fun at all. Most married women with children do not get outraged about unequal care because they don’t want their husbands to provide equal care. They want their husbands to work full-time and be the principal providers while they work part-time (53%) or not at all (23%) so they can spend more time with the children. Many would like more help than they get from their husbands, but they like child-care and want to do most of it themselves.
Women’s higher levels of estrogen and oxytocin help explain these nurturing preferences. Testosterone, on the other hand, interferes with nurturing instincts and helps explain most men’s weaker desires for extensive care of young children.
But what about housework? Men don’t do as much housework as women, but men also don’t care as much about having a clean house. My female students acknowledge that, on average, all male apartments are much messier than all female ones. Even before marriage, Kingsley Browne reports, women do about one-third more housework than men.
So should men do half the housework even though they care less than women about how the house looks? Not necessarily. Jennifer Roback Morse, in her article “Beyond Equality,” reports that she used to get furious at her husband because he would not do half the things on her list of important things to do. Then she realized that he had a different list.
Lots of men spend, to me, inordinate amounts of time cleaning and polishing their cars. The wives get to ride in these dolled-up cars, which is definitely more fun than being in dirty ones. How many husbands become furious at their wives because they never help them polish their cars? Still, we spend more time in homes than cars, and husbands should move toward their wives’ standards of cleanliness if only because it seems so important to their wives’ happiness.
Scientifically speaking, men can be obtuse
In a marvelous 2003 Atlantic essay “The Wifely Duty,” Caitlin Flanagan notes that “In the old days…men’s inability to perform women’s work competently was a source of satisfaction and pride to countless housewives.” No more. Feminists have convinced too many women that male domestic incompetence is feigned. Men won’t do half the housework, they claim, because they want their wives to be their personal servants.
Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn, a somewhat fictionalized story of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, featured an entitled man who angered his wife by asking “where’s the butter?” when he was looking right at it in the refrigerator. In her book Get to Work, prominent contemporary feminist Linda Hirschman says of this passage: “‘Where’s the butter?’ actually means butter my toast, buy the butter, remember when we’re out of butter. Next thing you know you’re quitting your job at the law firm because you’re so busy managing the butter.”
Hirschman’s solution: “Never figure out where the butter is.”
I’m inclined to have some sympathy for the man. All my life, I’ve been unable to find things. Often they turn out to be near where I’m looking. It has been very frustrating to me. I once called my wife, who was out of town, to ask where something was in the refrigerator. She named the shelf. I looked, decided it wasn’t there, and dropped the matter. She came home and found it right where she said it was.
I have lots of male company. Men can’t find things as well as women—and it turns out there are deep-seated reasons for this. Indeed, there is a whole evolutionary literature with titles such as “The Hunter-Gatherer Theory of Spatial Sex Differences,” “Superior Spatial Memory of Women: Stronger Evidence for the Gathering Hypothesis,” and “Sex Differences in Remembering the Location of Objects in an Array.” The evolutionists note that the spatial measures in which men are superior (mental rotations, map reading) would enable successful hunting; correspondingly, women’s superiority in the ability to recall the spatial configuration of objects would enable successful foraging.
At this point, women might protest, “It’s not just that men won’t do their share of housework or even pick up their own stuff. They’re obtuse. They won’t share their feelings and won’t engage when we want to talk about ours.”
That’s a pretty accurate claim: Men don’t converse well about feelings, and they can’t read women nearly as well as women read men. They’re put together differently. Marianne Legato, a physician at Columbia University and the author of Principles of Gender Specific Medicine, is also the author of an engaging book for the public, Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. The book explains the biological reasons why men really are more clueless about relationships than women.
A softer and gentler form of feminism, please
Maybe women complain about their husbands more than they should. In her fine new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar, the President of Barnard and a wise feminist, makes fun of women’s penchant for complaining and advocates “a softer and gentler form of feminism” that is “less upset with men.” John Williams and Deborah Best’s 1990 study “Measuring Sex Stereotypes” investigated, in 30 countries, whether hundreds of adjectives were associated more with men or women. Cross culturally, complaining was strongly associated with women.
It can’t be that women complain more because men are objectively harder to live with. My students all agree that women have more serious, longer-lasting fights with their female roommates than men do with their male roommates. A study of lesbian and gay couples in Norway and Sweden found “divorce risks are higher in same-sex partnerships than in opposite-sex marriages,” and “unions of lesbians are considerably less stable…. than unions of gay men.” It seems that women find it harder to live with other women than to live with men!
Many feminists seem convinced that self-respecting women will spend much time complaining about their husbands. Feminist doctrine about how marriages should be, however, can make marriages less happy. One study finds, for instance, that more feminist-minded wives spend less quality time with their husbands than do wives who don’t have such a mindset.
Happy couples are filled with generosity, freely giving each other good things. The giving can be small things—a backrub or making a cup of coffee. But the acts show attentiveness and an understanding of what pleases one’s husband or wife.
As I argued in Taking Sex Differences Seriously, it is part of most women’s natures to care deeply about the well-being of everyone in their families, and thus generosity toward family members should come easily to them. But there is nothing generous in feminist doctrine about marriage, which seeps into the worldview of many modern women.
Happy marriages are generous marriages are sexy marriages
The same study that finds generosity and happy marriages strongly linked finds that good sex and happy marriages are even more strongly linked. Men and women who reported good sex lives were 6 to 7 times more likely to say they were “very happy” in their marriages than those who reported mediocre sex.
But Pepper Schwartz’s careful study of “peer marriages,” the kind of equally sharing marriages that Deutsch supports, found that peer couples complained that they “often forgot to include sex in their daily lives.” There was no “‘yin and ‘yang’—mystery and difference.” Their lives were so similar and they became “so familiar with each other that they felt more like siblings than lovers.”
Generosity and an appreciation of some real differences between men and women can help dissolve bickering about child-care, housework, and sharing feelings. And women can have guilt-free consciences if they fail to lecture their special men about violence on Valentine’s Day. Their men are probably pretty good guys. Fair-minded women might try to please and honor their men instead. Men, too, should try to please and honor their women. Who knows? Maybe fairy tales can come true. They may live happily ever after.
Steven E. Rhoads is a Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and the author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously.