The Sexes Live and Die Together
Looking back at George Gilder’s re-released classic, Men and Marriage.
Men and Marriage, George Gilder, Canon Press, 320 pages.
Men and Marriage, the revised edition of George Gilder’s 1973 Sexual Suicide, journeys deep into the elaborate maze of gender dynamics. This impressive work explores the societal roles of men and women, along with the central, steadying effect of marriage. Gilder, the co-founder of the Discovery Institute, provides in-depth analysis of sexual liberalism, shifting gender roles, and evolving perceptions of masculinity and femininity, encouraging readers to ponder their impact on our social fabric.
The book’s opening argument claims that men are not inherently suited to domesticity. Rather, they need external guidance towards pathways that allow them to contribute constructively to society. Celebrated throughout Gilder’s narrative is the idea that, in aligning themselves with the responsibilities expected by women, men uncover a profound sense of belonging and purpose within their families. Especially striking is Gilder’s early assertion that, in acting as providers and achievers, men counterbalance what he describes as female “sexual superiority.”
This claim, that “The prime fact of life is the sexual superiority of women,” has drawn considerable negative attention. What seems to be a straightforward declaration that masculine energies are redirected into societal bonds such as careers, churches, and parenthood by women’s role as sexual selectors has inspired an intricate web of counterarguments and commentaries among conservatives since the book’s release (examples here, here, and here).
The animated debate over “sexual superiority” reflects a broader social context of frequent derogatory portrayals of male identity since the 1960s. The proposed sexual superiority of women becomes a contentious issue against this post-feminism backdrop. Consequently, what might have been a benign statement about sexual dynamics or personal viewpoint in another era has become a point of contention in modern gender dialogues.
Despite the controversy, the quote has a ring of truth. Women are the sole gender capable of nurturing life, both in and out of the womb. As Pastor Jared Longshore observes in his own commentary on the book,
the sexual superiority of women is why, when men act as they ought, they go to war to protect women and the children that crop up in their wombs… Men who understand that God simply wired a patriarchal world are not thrown off by acknowledging the ways in which women are superior. In fact, acknowledging that very thing can motivate many men to marry one of these creatures and become her head.
Gilder further examines a scenario in which men’s traditional roles as providers and achievers are significantly reduced or even eliminated. The widespread availability of birth control and the normalization of abortion have shifted the sexual power balance much further in women's favor, potentially depriving men of their customary masculine roles. The crucial consequence of this power shift is the disturbing rise in fatherless families. Gilder contends that denying sexual differences endangers the stability of family structures, a cornerstone for societies for centuries.
Building on this argument, as suggested by its new title, the book strongly correlates masculinity and marriage. It suggests men discover their path to marriage and family life by embracing and developing their inherent masculinity. Absent the guiding roles of husband and father, men risk losing their way in what Gilder describes as “a tempestuous and transitory present.” One is reminded of our current societal shift, in which women are progressively outpacing men in graduate education, professional fields, and literary careers.
This tempestuous present without the constraints and support of family can be short-lived. Gilder highlights disturbing data on crime and mortality rates among single and divorced men. For instance, Gilder reports that at the time of his writing, single men, who made up just 13 percent of the population, accounted for 90 percent of all violent crimes and constituted 40 percent of criminals. It strongly underscores the book’s core assertion that marriage is a stabilizing force for men and society at large.
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Gilder doesn't shy away from contentious topics. He discusses homosexuality, scrutinizing its origins and repercussions. He dissects the collapse of black families, attributing this to the rise of female employment and the welfare state, which he suggests contribute to the emergence of generational fatherlessness. A sharp critique of the welfare state forms an integral part of Men and Marriage. Citing sociologists and economists, Gilder argues that welfare often serves to demoralize and isolate the poor rather than uplift them. Welfare checks, typically administered to women and usually managed by female social workers, further undermine the traditional role of men as providers.
Men and Marriage is not without potential weak spots. There are instances where Gilder, in a classic neoconservative way, leans into the unexamined views held by the political establishment for decades. For instance, Gilder suggests that America could artificially bolster her GDP and Social Security payments by importing a large number of immigrants to do jobs that American men won’t. This argument seems to contradict the book’s central premise, that we must rejuvenate the nation through men, households, and communities, rather than external solutions.
The book concludes with a plea for our culture to reevaluate the role of women, especially the immeasurable value of mothers raising their children within the home. Describing mothers as the last bastion against the amorality of the marketplace, Gilder argues that this process is crucial in shaping the nation’s moral fabric. With robust analysis, persuasive arguments, and readiness to tackle contentious topics, Men and Marriage challenges readers to reassess societal norms, recognize the stabilizing effect of marriage on men, and appreciate the significant roles men and women play together to build and maintain society.