My latest at Role/Reboot revisits a ninety year-old story: The Roots of the Modern Gender Gap.
Conservative Republican appeals to men are filled with nostalgia for an era when women could not afford to be as choosy as they seem to be today. The historian-turned-gadfly-candidate Newt Gingrich rarely misses an opportunity to point out that, since the 1960s, liberals have carefully substituted the state for the husband in the lives of American women. Strong public institutions (as well as contraception and access to abortion) reduced women’s dependency on men. As women gained greater autonomy, they no longer felt as compelled to settle for unhappy or abusive marriages. In the traditionalist imagination, this liberation led to abortion, divorce, and promiscuity.
The end result of women’s emancipation has been, as conservatives like Charles Murray and Mary Eberstadt have argued, the psychological dislocation of American men. Raised to be “good providers,” young men cannot possibly compete with a “Leviathan” state that provides far more to women and children. The much-exaggerated contemporary masculinity crisis is the inevitable consequence of robbing men of their natural and primary source of self-esteem, the ability to provide for their families.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that more men than women vote Republican in this country for this very reason. Whether they are able to articulate it or not, I suspect a great many men sense that the weaker the state, the more dependent women become upon them. The fewer publicly-provided alternatives to getting married exist, the more likely women are to put up with unhappy marriages, and the less likely they are to have any heft with which to demand that men make necessary changes. The stronger the social safety net, the more options women have for raising children without men; those women who do choose to raise children with men will do so by choice rather than necessity. And when you have a choice, you can begin to demand a degree of mutuality and accountability from a partner that you could not otherwise demand. No wonder so many angry men vote Republican, and sing the praises of the “free enterprise” system. No wonder so many more women vote Democratic, or failing that, for the least reactionary Republican available.