There is nothing especially novel about the ideas espoused by author Suzanne Venker on Fox News last week, but if the internet age of media has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes all you need to do to pierce the wider public consciousness is to come up with a catchy headline. Say hallo to ‘Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love ’.
In her panel discussion with the ghastly cast of characters of Fox & Friends, as well as in the essay that accompanies the clip, Venker urges women in search of love or of a more harmonious marriage to be softer, less critical, more compliant; or, in what is undoubtedly her best turn of phrase, to ‘be more service-oriented’. Men, she informs us, ‘are so much simpler than women.’
What men want most of all is respect, companionship and sex. If you supply these basics, your husband will do anything for you—slay the dragons, kill the beast, work three jobs, etc. Men will happily do this if, and only if, they are loved well in return. It is when men are not loved well that problems arise. That is the nature of the male-female dance.It's like in the game of chess, you see, in which the king is the most important piece but also ‘one of the weakest’. So, too, in marriage will the man follow a woman’s lead, and where she must lead him is a world in which she is ready for him to take charge. ‘It’s liberating to be a beta!’ Venker finally declares.
There’s a whole book to go with this advice, and I’m almost curious to find out how Ms Venker managed to stretch those few cheerfully reactionary ideas into the required length. Or rather I would, had I not stumbled some time ago into the definitive book on the subject.
Modern Woman, The Lost Sex is the work of Ferdinand Lundberg, a financial journalist and adjunct professor of social philosophy, and of the redoubtable Marinya Farnham, a New York-based psychiatrist who also appeared in a memorable short propaganda film aimed at encouraging women to abandon the workforce and resume their roles as homemakers after the end of the Second World War. The book was published in 1947 and became a best seller, going as far as to receive a mostly positive review in The New York Times by no less an authority than Margaret Mead.
It is also quietly horrifying.
The book’s central tenet, echoing Venker’s self-help memoir, is that modern woman is an enigma.
Women in general are a more complicated question than men… for they are more complicated organisms. They are endowed with a complicated reproductive system (with which the male genito-urinary system compared in complexity not at all), a more elaborate nervous system and an infinitely complex psychology revolving about the reproductive function.Sometimes this nature is so complex that the observer can’t help but glimpse in it a hint of malice.
Each sex represents an organic tracing of reality. But in one instance the tracing is simple (relatively), in the other complex and even devious.Twisted between nature and nurture, this new brand of devious woman is now ‘the cause of mass unhappiness and uneasiness in our times’, responsible for the spread what the authors call – in a formidable crescendo of pathos – ‘emotional slums’.
The emotional slum may be defined as existing wherever there is unhappiness and deep discontent not generated by poverty, disease or crippling physical disability: unhappiness and deep discontent that is not cured by some rearrangement of external circumstances.In another striking (and extremely contemporary) turn of phrase, women are depicted as
the principal transmitting media of the disordered emotions that today are so widely spread throughout the world and are reflected in the statistics of social disorder. (My emphasis.)
|This apparently recent statistic, which opens the segment on Fox News, is also used as a key piece of evidence in Modern Woman (1947)|
Temperamentally unsuited for the independent, competitive life outside the home that the twin forces of consumer capitalism and the feminist movement have pushed her into, women have become riddled with anxieties – and these anxieties in turn have become the veritable index of the era.
Her insecurity, thus revealed, is the insecurity of the age and its future. it is an insecurity that billows around her in ever-widening circles, engulfing allEvidence of this global creeping malaise is to be found in ‘all the questions that are raised recurrently about them’ (meaning the women). I hope you’ll appreciate the circular thinking at work here. A host of impossible, conflicting demands are placed on women – observe Lundberg and Farnham – resulting in as many conflicting pieces of advice and a great deal of fretting in the popular press. Therefore, the recurring formulation of such questions (along the lines of ‘Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love’) is evidence of the problems caused by women, and that they are causing them.
Women, quite simply, are guilty of everything. Of the things they themselves do and don’t do, and of the things that men do and don’t do. Because while it’s true, as the authors graciously concede, that most of history’s major villains, including such recent ones as Messrs Mussolini and Hitler, were technically men, one need not go far to find a female influence in their lives. Indeed…
men, standing before the bar of historical judgment, might often well begin their defence with the words: “I had a mother”.We may find in this crass psychoanalytic reading of history a precursor to contemporary conspiracist thinking, in which a mass of disparate events or social phenomena are taken as evidence of a theory without bothering to establish causation. Thus, the authors go on to enumerate a vast catalogues of sins, many of which – such as homicides, or white collar crime – are committed mostly by men, but only in order to link them to female anxiety, or to anxiety due to the changing social role of women. Even cynical pessimism in literature, which the authors trace back to Ibsen and a group of almost exclusively male authors, is to be blamed on women. Even conspicuous consumption. Even the over-prescription of drugs.
If terrible men have mothers, as do the male authors of terrible books, then so do terrible ideologies, and Modern Woman devotes one of its most appalling chapters to the vilification of Mary Wollstonecraft, or ‘God’s angry woman’, whom the authors subject to a dubious psychological post-mortem in order to declare her with absolute diagnostic certainty ‘an extreme neurotic of the compulsive type’. And because the ideology of feminism arose ‘out of her illness’ (as the author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman), then the ideology must be tainted as well.
To feminism, and the ‘sexual revolution’ (covered separately) Lundberg and Farnham devote a treatment that reminds us again of Suzanne Venker’s advice. It is only by reclaiming her ‘natural’ feminine role, and ceasing to put herself in competition with the husband, that a woman can fulfil both her own desires and his. In Modern Woman, the consequences of failing to do so are nothing short of catastrophic.
Where the woman is unable to admit and accept dependence upon her husband as the source of gratification and must carry her rivalry even into the act of love, she will seriously damage his sexual capacity.In this rigidly heterosexual world, in which oral sex performed by anybody on anybody is seen as a form of deviance, pleasure itself is a function of filling one’s role in the proper social order.
The rule therefore is this: The less a woman’s desire to have children and the greater her desire to emulate the male in seeing a sense of personal value by objective exploit, the less will be her enjoyment of the sex act and the greater her general neuroticism.
It is when it comes to solutions that the authors of Modern Woman show a breadth of purpose far exceeding the mere call to ‘find your inner beta’, for their proposals are aimed at the policy makers, as opposed to the troubled individual reader. These include the mass funding of psychotherapy; the establishment of a federal department of welfare tasked among other things with ‘rehabilitating maladjusted families’, hence with various forms of social surveillance and intervention, but also with bestowing upon women honours for bringing up good citizens (here the Fascist and Nazi practice of giving medals for exceptional motherhood is explicitly praised); the introduction of cash payments to mothers, to subsidise them for not working outside the home as well as to promote fertility, again in quasi-Fascist fashion; and finally various measures aimed at ‘reconstructing the home’ (meaning the pre-modern nuclear family), including preventing unmarried women from becoming teachers, since ‘they cannot be an adequate model of a complete woman either for boys or for girls’.
Modern Woman was published exactly 70 years ago, but in this era of constant time slippages, you could be excused to think that it comes from the near future. For that boundary has never ceased to be patrolled, just as the language of reactionaries has never ceased to mix cries of national or racial supremacy with calls for the preservation of an archaic social order within the home.
When neo-fascists call men of other persuasions ‘beta cucks’ on the internet, they are laying claim simultaneously to virility and reason, stamping their arguments – as it were – with their manhood. Never mind how profoundly, shatteringly insecure you would have to be in order to use such language. The code stands for something else.
Armed not with the pseudoscientific veneer of evolutionary psychology, like a Dick Dawkins or a Bill Maher, but rather with Freudian psychoanalysis and the entire Judaeo-Christian apparatus for blaming sin and unhappiness on wayward women and impure mothers, Lundberg and Farnham leveraged their best-seller on the idea that ‘the unceasing debate about what women should and should not do and be, is only a surface indication of something much deeper’. On this, at least, they were certainly correct, just as the debate about same-sex marriage or transgender toilet rights in schools is the surface indication of something much deeper: namely, the attempt to restore an archaic, repressive social order, on which to build an equally archaic and repressive political system.