I would say that the sexual revolution means much less than we think if it is not strongly accompanied by a full economic revolution. If you have sexual liberation on the one hand but on the other hand you make women responsible for having children, for wanting them, and you make women’s access to the workplace and to higher salaries less easy than for men, then you’re setting up conditions in which men are still going to have the advantage in the marriage market because they will have greater economic opportunities, greater economic independence and women will rely on men for setting up a family and for having children.
Men now have much more choice. They can wait legitimately. If you compare this to the pre-modern marriage market, it’s very different because men and women had symmetrical relationships on the marriage market by and large. Men and women wanted to get married. Why? Because in patriarchy a man wants to propagate his name.
He wants to control a portion of land. He wants to have control over women, over children. So in a kind of ironic way, one could say that in the pre-modern situation, because marriage was the route through which men have power over women, men and women had a more symmetrical relationship with each other on the marriage market.
In a capitalist society, the man’s control is much more indirect and it takes a much more obfuscated route, which is that the man is going to control the woman emotionally. That’s what I call an emotional domination: in withholding his commitment, a man is being much less connected to the institution of the family, in fact, than a woman.
So what we have now in the contemporary situation is that for men who have entered the capitalist work sphere since the 19th century, the family as an economic unit of survival became slowly optional. It was not necessary. For women, families remained necessary for quite a long time — necessary because there were supposed to have children and because they had to often rely on a man for their economic survival.
In these two conditions in which women are still supposed to have children and raise them and in which women don’t have equal access to economic opportunities, the sexual revolution does not necessarily play out the way women want it too because it gives men a greater sense of their freedom, and it makes them far more reluctant to bind themselves to what women want, which is a more stable relationships.
It should be clear that what I say is not relevant or less relevant to homosexual couples or to women who are not interested in matrimony or in having children. But for those women who are still interested in the conventional monogamous heterosexual family, the sexual revolution has placed these women in an asymmetrical relationship to men.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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