The collapse of gender roles: an unseen revolution with unimaginable consequences

Summary: Here is another brief note looking at the revolutions of our time that are reshaping our world. This looks at gender roles, changes that will take generations to work out and with implications probably beyond imagining.

Gender Equality

Two of the utopian goals of the late 1960s are within reach, but their success is not fully appreciated. First, the West is at zero population growth (before immigration) — a goal coined by Kingsley Davis in Science (10 Nov 1967), although he said it could not be done by voluntary means (government action would be needed). Second, the shift to a unisex society — with the role of gender drastically reduced (e.g., in child-reading, education, the workplace, dress, behavior).

Combined these two mutually-reinforcing trends (a drastic drop of fertility made possible a more unisex society) represent revolutions larger than those in politics and perhaps even technology. History has seen nothing like these since the shift to agriculture millennia ago.

In one sense we have already made the change: in fiction. Books, TV, and films reflect a more unisex world. Change the names and pronouns in books (e.g., military science fiction), TV, (crime shows “Castle” and “Forever”), and films (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) — can you identify the gender of the characters?

Like most speculative fiction, they assume that gender roles evaporate leaving society otherwise unchanged. That seems unlikely to me. Society might take generations to adjust to the changes that have already occurred, as the existing but outmoded forms of thought and behavior only slowly adjust to the new realities. But the resulting changes might be large beyond our ability to imagine today.

There are few books that even hint at the future that awaits us. One of those is Plato’s The Republic. He describes a city in many ways more alien that that found in most science fiction stories, but which we might be approaching in this one sense. Here Allan Bloom explains how Plato’s insights illuminate our situation.

Excerpt from Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

All the romantic novels with their depictions of highly differentiated men and women, their steamy, sublimated sensuality and their insistence on the sacredness of the marriage bond just do not speak to any reality that concerns today’s young people. …

Closing of the American Mind
Available at Amazon.

End of modesty, a marker between the sexes

{Note: Modesty was once a more pervasive concept than it is today. For example, Hero, a young lady in Much Ado About Nothing, says “I will do any modest office, my lord, to help my cousin to a good husband.”}

Central to the feminist project is the suppression of modesty, in which the sexual revolution played a critical preparatory role …Modesty in the old dispensation was the female virtue, because it governed the powerful desire that related men to women, providing a gratification in harmony with the procreation and rearing of children, the risk and responsibility of which fell naturally — that is, biologically — on women.

…Female modesty extends sexual differentiation from the sexual act to the whole of life. It makes men and women always men and women. The consciousness of directedness toward one another, and its attractions and inhibitions, inform every common deed. As long as modesty operates, men and women together are never just lawyers or pilots together.

…Modesty is a constant reminder of their peculiar relatedness and its outer forms and inner sentiments, which impede the self’s free creation or capitalism’s technical division of labor. It is a voice constantly repeating that a man and a woman have a work to do together that is far different from that found in the marketplace, and of a far greater importance.

This is why modesty is the first sacrifice demanded by Socrates in Plato’s The Republic for the establishment of a city where women have the same education, live the same lives and do the same jobs as men. If the difference between men and women is not to determine their ends, if it is not to be more significant than the difference between bald men and men with hair, then they must strip and exercise naked together just as Greek men did.

With some qualifications, feminists praise this passage in Plato and look upon it as prescient, for it culminates in an absolute liberation of women from the subjection of marriage and childbearing and -rearing, which become no more important than any other necessary and momentary biological event. Socrates provides birth control, abortion and day-care centers, as well as marriages that last a day or a night and have as their only end the production of sound new citizens to replenish the city’s stock… Only then can women be thought to be naturally fit to do the same things as men.

The Republic by Allan Bloom
Available at Amazon.

A gender-free military

… Socrates’ proposal especially refers to one of the most problematic cases for those who seek equal treatment for women — the military. These citizens are warriors, and he argues that just as women can be liberated from subjection to men and take their places alongside them, men must be liberated from their special concern for women. A man must have no more compunction about killing the advancing female enemy than the male, and he must be no more protective of the heroine fighting on his right side than of the hero on his left. Equal opportunity and equal risk.

The only concern is the common good, and the only relationship is to the community, bypassing the intermediate relationships that tend to take on a life of their own and were formerly thought to have natural roots in sexual attraction and love of one’s own children. Socrates consciously rips asunder the delicate web of relations among human beings woven out of their sexual nature. Without it, the isolation of individuals is inevitable. He makes explicit how equal treatment of women necessitates the removal of meaning from the old kind of sexual relations — whether they were founded on nature or convention — and a consequent loss of the human connections that resulted from them which he replaces with the common good of the city. In this light we can discern the outlines of what has been going on recently among us.

———————————— End Excerpt. ————————————

The astonishing aspect of these changes is our belief that our social institutions — constructed for a very different kind of society — will work for people with such radically new beliefs. It is as if we have had an operations, but the anesthesia has yet to wear off.

I recommend reading Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. It’s one of the best guides I’ve seen to the uncharted world of the 21st century that lies before us.

For More Information

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5 thoughts on “The collapse of gender roles: an unseen revolution with unimaginable consequences

  1. If those holding to traditional sex roles reproduce more while those who are more unisex reproduce below replacement.

    This may actually weed out those who are inclined by their genetics to be androgynous or be susceptible to the egalitarianism of modernity in the long term.

    Technology however may be a game changer.

    Like

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