Feminism's Impact on Sex Roles Has Been Negative

Allan Bloom wrote a bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, and wrote how feminism has hurt relations between men and women.  He writes that "Relations between the sexes have always been difficult, and that is why so much of our literature is about men and women quarreling."  Before feminism, everyone thought that "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."


"Very simply, the family is a sort of miniature body politic in which the husband's will is the will of the whole. The woman can influence her husband's will, and it is supposed to be informed by love of wife and children."

Reason To Fear the Worst

"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 anymore, 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 goals and wills of men and women have, become like parallel lines, and it requires a Lobachevskyan imagination to hope they may meet."

"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."


"Neither men nor women have any idea
what they are getting into anymore, or,
rather, they have reason to fear the worst."

"For a long time middle-class women, with the encouragement of their husbands, had been pursuing careers. It was thought they had a right to cultivate their higher talents instead of being household drudges. Implicit in this was, of course, the view that the bourgeois professions indeed offered an opportunity to fulfill the human potential, while family and particularly the woman's work involved in it were merely in the realm of necessity, limited and limiting. Serious men of good conscience believed that they must allow their wives to develop themselves. But, with rare exceptions, both parties still took it for granted that the family was the woman's responsibility and that, in the case of potential conflict, she would subordinate or give up her career. It was not quite serious, and she usually knew it. This arrangement was ultimately untenable, and it was clear in which way the balance would tip. Couples agreed that the household was not spiritually fulfilling for women and that women have equal rights. The notion of a domestic life appropriate to women had become incredible. Why should not women take their careers as seriously as men take theirs, and have them be taken as seriously by men? Terrific resentment at the injustice done to women under the prevailing understanding of justice found its expression in demands seen as perfectly legitimate by both men and women, that men weaken the attachment to their careers, that they share equally in the household and the care of the children. Women's abandonment of the female persona was reinforced by the persona's abandoning them. Economic changes made it desirable and necessary that women work; lowering of infant mortality rates meant that women had to have fewer pregnancies; greater longevity and better health meant that women devoted a much smaller portion of their lives to having and rearing children; and the altered relationships within the family meant that they were less likely to find continuing occupation with their children and their children's children. At forty-five they were finding themselves with nothing to do, and forty more years to do in it. Their formative career years had been lost, and they were, hence, unable to compete with men. A woman who now wanted to be a woman in the old sense would find it very difficult to do so, even if she were to brave the hostile public opinion. In all of these ways the feminist case is very strong indeed. But, though the terms of marriage had been radically altered, no new ones were defined."

The Inadequate Feminist Response

"The feminist response that justice requires equal sharing of all domestic responsibility by men and women is not a solution, but only a compromise, an attenuation of men's dedication to their careers and of women's to family, with arguably an enrichment in diversity of both parties but just as arguably a fragmentation of their lives. The question of who goes with whom in the case of jobs in different cities is unresolved and is, whatever may be said about it, a festering sore, a source of suspicion and resentment, and the potential for war. Moreover, this compromise does not decide anything about the care of the children. Are both parents going to care more about their careers than about the children? Previously children at least had the unqualified dedication of one person, the woman, for whom their care was the most important thing in life. Is half the attention of two the same as the whole attention of one? Is this not a formula for neglecting children? Under such arrangements the family is not a unity, and marriage is an unattractive struggle that is easy to get out of, especially for men."

"And here is where the whole business turns nasty. The souls of men -- their ambitious, warlike, protective, possessive character -- must be dismantled in order to liberate women from their domination. Machismo -- the polemical description of maleness or spiritedness, which was the central natural passion in men's souls in the psychology of the ancients, the passion of attachment and loyalty -- was the villain, the source of the difference between the sexes. The feminists were only completing a job begun by [Thomas] Hobbes in his project of taming the harsh elements in the soul. With machismo discredited, the positive task is to make men caring, sensitive, even nurturing, to fit the restructured family. Thus once again men must be re-educated according to an abstract project. They must accept the "feminine elements" in their nature. A host of Dustin Hoffman and Mery1 Streep types invade the schools, popular psychology, TV and the movies, making the project respectable. Men tend to undergo this re-education somewhat sullenly but studiously, in order to avoid the opprobrium of the sexist label and to keep peace with their wives and girlfriends.  And it is indeed possible to soften men.  But to make them 'care' is another thing, and the project must inevitably fail.""

He says that there is a vicious cycle that happens when men become less responsible.  Women feel they have to fill the void which in turns drives men to be more irresponsible: "women, due to the unreliability of men, have had to provide the means for their own independence.  This has simply given men the excuse for being less concerned with women's well-being.  A dependent, weak woman is indeed vulnerable and puts herself at men's mercy.  But that appeal did influence a lot of men a lot of the time.  The cure now prescribed for male irresponsibility is to make them more irresponsible.  And a woman who can be independent of men has much less motive to entice a man into taking care of her and her children.  In the same vein, I heard a female lieutenant-colonel on the radio explaining that the only thing standing in the way of woman's full equality in the military is male protectiveness. So, do away with it! Yet male protectiveness, based on masculine pride, and desire to gain the glory for defending a blushing woman's honor and life, was a form of relatedness, as well as a way of sublimating selfishness. These days, why should a man risk his life protecting a karate champion who knows just what part of the male anatomy to go after in defending herself? What substitute is there for the forms of relatedness that are dismantled in the name of the new justice?"

Setting the Social Machine in Motion

"All our reforms have helped 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, try to adjust but are ready to take off in an instant. They want relationships, but the situation is so unclear. They anticipate a huge investment of emotional energy that is just as likely as not to end in bankruptcy, to a sacrifice of their career goals without any clarity about what reward they will reap, other than a vague togetherness."

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