Losing the Ties that Bind
Whatever became of marriage?
Cultural conservatives blame the decline of marriage on
sexual revolution, which destroyed the
chastity of women. Men don`t marry, say the
conservatives, because sex is
available outside marriage.
There is, of course, something to
this view, but it is hardly the whole story. Sex has
always been available outside marriage. Call girls are
cheaper than wives, and a prostitute costs no more than
Men married for love, children and
family. They would still do so, only the culture—and
When I inquire of men in their
thirties why they
remain unmarried, a few give the hedonistic answer,
but most deny that they are unable to make commitments
and assume responsibility. Marriage, men say, has been
undermined by a lack of female and societal commitment.
The fickleness of women,
men argue, is no longer constrained by concerns with
reputation and by laws that require real grounds for
breaking up a marriage and a family.
A wife can walk out at any
time—with another man if she wishes—and take
your children, your house, half of your pension and
half of your income. If you make a fuss over child
custody, she can gun you down with
accusations of child molestation.
Even if a father is awarded joint
legal custody, the mother usually has
actual custody. It is up to her whether the father`s
visitation rights are honored.
Professor Stephen Baskerville at Howard University
in Washington, D.C., is an expert on family courts. For
most men, divorce and its aftermath are a Gestapo
experience. There`s not a man alive who doesn`t know
someone who has been through the experience. Indeed, the
experience never finishes with a man.
Men say that women`s lack of
commitment is evident in the fact that the vast majority
of divorces, family quarrels and acts of domestic
violence are initiated by women. Yet, from start to
finish, men are regarded as the villain. Society`s image
of divorce is the successful executive who
dumps his dowdy wife for a young blonde bombshell.
propaganda is ubiquitous that domestic violence
means men beating women.
Men maintain that the position of
a husband in a marriage is
untenable. Formerly, there was a division of labor
and authority among the spouses. Today, working wives
have financial independence, and divorce laws and family
courts give them the upper hand in any dissolution of
the relationship. Husbands know this and, consequently,
have lost their share of authority. The wife cracks the
whip, and when she is no longer pleased, she leaves with
I have listened to men debate what
can be done. They doubt Baskerville will
succeed in reforming family courts and don`t believe
that heterosexual men will organize politically like
Recently, I heard the view
multiculturalism would provide a solution. Men will
return to marriage, a young man said, when the bride
brings a large dowry that remains the husband`s property
regardless of what happens to the relationship. The
dowry would offset the risks that make it foolish for
men to marry.
Heads nodded in agreement, but one
spoke out, saying that more would need to be imported
from India`s customs. He had in mind
child betrothals and
child brides. It was the only way in this day and
time, he said, to acquire a wife who didn`t have the
sexual experience of a prostitute by the time she
reaches marriage age.
Conservatives are right—but for
the wrong reason—that the sexual revolution has
undermined marriage. Men see women as damaged goods and
feel funny about marrying a woman who might have shared
a bed with a number of the wedding guests.
It is called the double-standard,
but many men believe that promiscuity does not suit
women. They believe that a woman who has had many
partners cannot bind emotionally with a husband. She is
never his. The emotive ties that bind a woman to a man
are lost to professionalism or to indifference.
None of this is to deny that
individual men can be jerks, neglectful and abusive, but
the decline of marriage is not caused by personalities.
Women think men don`t care, but
men are far more aware of the problem than women. I was
a young professor when it all started and watched a
campus turn into a brothel. The male students were
perplexed, even the left-wing ones who had been taught
to regard female chastity as oppression. I still
remember the resident Marxist who, high on peyote, came
to me to complain that “nice girls are ruining
Paul Craig Roberts is the author of
The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and
Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name