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(Credit: The Atlantic)

Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)

Casual sex, cohabitation, and the collapse of marriage are three of the worst “falsehoods … [that] constitute a very real war on women,” said Dr. Janice Crouse at an April 12th panel discussion on “The ‘War on Women’ Myth or Reality?” sponsored by The Howard Center. Crouse, IRD board chair and senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, explained how our culture lies to girls and women about what a fulfilled life looks like, and we can now see the rotten fruit of those lies.

Girls hear from a young age that sex is fun and consequence-free when “protected,” but the “inconvenient facts” about the prevalence of STD’s, depression, and pregnancy, affecting young women who believe the lies “go unreported.” Crouse reported that today, 48% of women are living with men who aren’t their husbands compared with 43% in 2002 and 35% in 1995. Cohabitation has repeatedly been correlated with negative outcomes for women and children, yet it becomes increasingly prevalent.

Ultimately, marriage has collapsed and we now have a “celebration of fatherlessness” through culture and politics, Crouse said. Since the 1960s we constantly hear the myth that “women don’t need marriage,” even though most young people report wanting to be married someday. There are “very few role models for marriage,” she explained, emphasizing that “the trends are not just statistics, they are personal stories.”

The narrative and “falsehoods” Crouse discussed have had varying ramifications for different classes in America, said panelist Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist. The negative and positive consequences of the sexual revolution have been distributed unevenly, with the poorest women experiencing the worst outcomes, Douthat explained. Although upper middle class, college educated women establish both careers and families, and are “fairly stable,” the same is sadly not true for most women.

Douthat said liberals would like the benefits of the sexual revolution to “trickle down,” largely through redistribution of wealth and “stabilizing, but non-moralistic values.” Instead, Douthat said, we “need a thicker cultural paradigm” that connects sex, marriage, and procreation. He suggested social conservatives recognize the positive results of the sexual revolution but “mitigate the harms associated with it.” Further, he said these conservatives need a narrative about the economic realities young men and women in lower classes face.

The columnist pointed out the diversity among women, ranging from traditionalists who marry young, have more children, and stay home to care for those children, to modernists who eschew family life in favor of an advancing career. Most women though are somewhere in between the two extremes, Douthat explained. Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute agreed that the majority of women want both a family and a career, but for young women, “it doesn’t compute.” Their parents, teachers, and mentors have told them their whole lives they can “have it all,” but they find it’s not so easy in practice.

Hymowitz warned of a “resurgent feminism” prevalent among young college educated women who have a “provincial” perspective and don’t recognize the “class divides.” These young women are mere bloggers today, but will be the journalists of tomorrow. Hymowitz explained they espouse ideas similar to those of Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, demanding absolute equity between the sexes in the workplace and home.

A discussion about the “war on women” must consider men as well. Dr. Ryan MacPherson, a professor of history at Bethany Lutheran College suggested perhaps “the problem that has no name” that Betty Friedan famously wrote about is not unique to women. Perhaps men aren’t meant to leave their families for over 40 hours a week to pursue a career. With the Industrial Revolution, “the working, teaching father ha[s] gone extinct.” Fathers are unnaturally “displaced” from their homes, so their sons never observe them working and learn from that example. This, MacPherson said, leads to a confused generation of young men without role models, living in “Guyland” between adolescence and manhood.

Ultimately, “Our nation needs now a revival of domesticity among women, among men,” MacPherson said. Only then will we overcome the “career mystique” which says long hours and a productive career are the key to fulfillment. Despite its pervasiveness in our culture, “this mystique seldom has delivered on its promises.” We must revive the “working, teaching parent” and “familial interdependence” to recover the truth about masculinity and femininity.