Victoria Bateman, a self-declared feminist, recently wrote a piece where she rediscovered the advantages of marriage for women. But predictably her explanation for the reason that women don’t get married has nothing to do with feminists; it is of course the fault of men of the working class.
Laura Perrins has already criticised Bateman’s thesis. As Laura points out, it is women themselves who are to blame for devaluing sex.
Another of Bateman’s most fundamental misunderstandings is that men can be tied into a traditional style of marriage simply in exchange for sex. Men have always been able to find sources of sexual satisfaction without being married. As Geoff Dench explains in his book Transforming Men, they need a little something extra to keep them on board. They have to feel that women actually need them, that men have a responsibility for supporting women and for this they receive social status conferring a sense of importance. This is the source of ‘patriarchy’. Sex on its own was not sufficient reward.
Bateman describes marriage, which as any good feminist knows, is inherently patriarchal, as a “commitment device”. This is accurate. Where she slips up again is to believe it is held together by society.
We all know there is no such thing as society. Mrs Thatcher told us so.
This commitment device, patriarchal marriage, was held in place, not by society, but by women. A device which keeps men monogamous, supporting individual women and children, was not – even with sex thrown in – hugely appealing, to freedom loving, independent men. Patriarchal marriage used to be held in place by social conventions and pressures established by grandmothers, aunties and wives. These are exactly the sorts of conventions which feminists have been busy undoing. Their purpose was to maximise the usefulness, the potential of men.
Dr Bateman forgets this and creates a convoluted story about how this “commitment device” – marriage – fell apart.
Initially her story is fairly plausible. Sex becomes decoupled from marriage partly because of birth control. Pregnancy no longer leaves women so vulnerable, as the welfare state and female employment mean that women can if necessary look after themselves and their children. They are therefore no longer as reliant on ‘others’, by which we should read men. And for reasons, which she conspicuously fails to go into, fathers are no longer necessarily financially able to step up to the mark.
Her story then starts to fall apart. As a result of this decoupling of sex and marriage, men become feckless, they don’t bother to support families. After all they only did this in order to get sex and now they can get sex for free. Less well-off women underestimate the costs of pregnancy and, as they no longer have men to support them,they are a whole lot worse off. This, she indicates, needs to be sorted out by feminism. But beyond appearing to suggest that working class women only need to keep their legs closed until they get married, she doesn’t tell us how feminism is going to help these problems to be solved.
To suggest that feminism can sort out these problems is a bit like an insurance salesman, throwing a brick through your window on Monday, then coming to you on Tuesday to sell you his wares.
Bateman disingenuously explains that: “Numerous hypotheses abound to explain the declining popularity of marriage and the rise of unmarried parenthood”. Dr Bateman: thank you, we don’t need numerous hypotheses. There is a very simple explanation why sex became decoupled from marriage, why men were pushed out of families, and why men were no longer able to provide support. It was feminism, and it appears that you need to be reminded of how feminists set out to destroy marriage, to rip men out of families, to render men impotent, to set men and women apart. Where is the evidence?
Perhaps we should choose from the feminist bible “The Female Eunuch”
“The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed slavery of the wife…Within the family he is the bourgeois and his wife represents the proletariat”
Or maybe you prefer Kate Millet in her mad, consciousness- raising heyday:
“Why are we here today?”
“To make revolution,”
“What kind of revolution?”
“The Cultural Revolution,”
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?”
“By destroying the American family!”
“How do we destroy the family?”
“By destroying the American Patriarch,”
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?”
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!”
“How can we destroy monogamy?”
“By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution and homosexuality!”
For feminists not only is marriage bad, but they want to have the father systematically removed. For example, here is Polly Toynbee writing for The Observer:
“Women and children will suffer needlessly until the State faces up to the reality of its own inability to do anything about the revolution in national morals. What it can do is shape a society that makes a place for women and children as family units, self-sufficient and independent.” ‘The worm-turned syndrome’, in The Observer, 17 October 1989
Anna Coote said similar things in The Guardian. And Germaine Greer, the feminist high priestess, said similar things around the same time:
“The State having taken over the duties of children towards their parents….it had better finish the job and take over the duties of the father towards the child”, The independent Magazine, 25 May 1991.
This kind of thinking has been implemented into policy which has created a tax system which has ensured that lower income families are better off living apart. The Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2010, calculated that 95 per cent of single people would incur a “couple penalty” if they married or started living together as couples. 89 per cent of existing couples with children presently incur a couple penalty averaging £109 per week. A recent pamphlet shows how much better of a family is when its members separate. It explains that if the family stays together the main provider (usually the father) is caught in a tax trap and does not escape it until his salary reaches £38,000. If he chooses to live apart from his family he could escape the tax trap at about £16,000 while the mother could access state benefits as a lone parent with children.
This makes it difficult for working class men to participate in family life even before the other disadvantages are factored in. For example boys are discriminated against in the education system, they are much less likely to go to university or even get A levels or GCSEs. When it comes to apprenticeships even these are more likely to go to women than to men.
These problems do not affect the men who Bateman and her peers marry. Their privileges will enable them to make it through the education system. But it does affect the men at the bottom of the pyramid where males have much higher rates of long term youth unemployment, and where those not in employment, education or training, are to be found. These men would love to be married, they would love to be able to look after their children, but they have been neglected by a system which has so focused on the absence of women at the top of the hierarchy, that they have nothing to offer in return.
If Dr Bateman wants to help her less advantaged sisters she needs to start by dismantling the force which has been so destructive of marriage and family – feminism – and start thinking about ways of empowering and enabling working class men. Only when working class men have education, skills and employment will they be able to make a real financial contribution towards their families. This in turn will help to re-create much needed new interdependencies between less well-off women and men.