A Modern Family
Should we give it one last shot, stay together for the kids? Some thoughts on marriage after the end of men and women.
Few issues inflame the passions like the question of how men and women could or should live together.
In a time when most of what was certain only minutes ago in the historical timeline is suddenly up for discussion, it’s no wonder that our conversations about our nature, our obligations to each other, or the lack thereof, remain a battlefield. We’re tangled up in inevitable conflicts of interest as distinct creatures needing each other, with hidden preferences, dark desires, and some starkly un-romantic impulses we carry from our evolutionary past. We’ve also reached an unprecedented point in history where we have the luxury of having debates rather than accepting gender roles as the non-negotiable dictates of nature.
It isn’t clear why we should act according to a script that has seemingly been voided. And men, in particular, seem to have inherited a more deep ambiguity and struggle for their identities. Masculinity has seen better days, and the few people willing to address this without the ambition to “dismantle” are also, more often than not, running a pyramid scheme or a porn studio or both.
Feminism is frequently the target of the masculinity influencer, but like most ideologies, it appeared, after the fact, as an outgrowth of the very luxuries that allowed it to exist. As much of a historical role that today’s feminists imagine for the movement, the mere possibility of feminism - as a branch of philosophy and as a set of options for women beyond their previously fixed roles - was created by technology. It bloomed after a sudden respite from the iron grip of nature that gave us (ok, maybe not “us” but the elites of ages past) the leisure to contemplate the dimension of personal choice in contrast to the clear order imposed, without much wiggle room, by survival, be it as hunter-gatherers or under the strict discipline imposed by agriculture. Feminism, though a compact and regularly self-ridiculing target, is, like most ideologies, a product of its time and possibilities and, in many cases, a conversation whose time had come because the facts of life had indeed changed.
The real solvent of the silent pact between the genders was the sudden disappearance of the pressures that kept us together. Nature looked away for a century or two, and the age-old ways of dealing with her and with ourselves lost their value.
We’re now in crisis: “the fertility crisis,” “the sex crisis,” “the boy crisis,” and “families in the cost of living crisis.” Pretty much every metric we use to measure our degree of connection with each other, from marriage to childbearing to simply getting it on, is in freefall. It is unclear how we should be together, and the ambiguity, perverse incentives, and constant pressure to defect on crusty old standards are pushing an already bad trend further. Our image of ourselves as women and men is now at the mercy of either media or ideology or, like in the case of social media, a soothing blend of both.
In a modern household, women can and very commonly need to bring home at least a significant chunk of the bacon. They are also capable, inclined, and more interested in doing almost every other task that today’s household requires. The purely masculine activities tied to a home, often the more dangerous or skillful, have slowly been replaced by technology, the service sector, or the state. Wood, if you may still need it, comes pre-chopped, fixing complex appliances takes a professional, house repairs are rare and mostly also left to people with toolbelts, and protection from predators and invading hordes is now the business of the state. You can still choose to take on all these activities yourself, but few do. Outside of shoveling snow and the occasional spider removal, the domain of the masculine is pretty much absent in the modern home. The technologies men invented to simplify and add comfort to our lives have left them unemployed in the home.
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