Old Men Are Back to Saying Women Should Question Their Success

A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed is more evidence of the rise of old-school misogyny

Credit: sengchoy/Getty Images

LLast week, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed bemoaning the “future of love and relationships.” The author, Gerard Baker, argues that women face a grim dating future with increasingly fewer eligible bachelors, all because women are outpacing men in the classroom. “It’s always been assumed that women are more selective in seeking out a partner of the opposite sex,” Baker wrote. “Men are notoriously undiscriminating; women, obviously more refined and sophisticated, are more choosy.” If the premise of the piece wasn’t enough to give you hives, the accompanying art surely will: It features a terrified-looking man nervously skulking behind a woman in a graduation gown.

Unfortunately, this op-ed isn’t an anomaly. Between sweeping abortion bans, concerns over girls’ revealing outfits, “boys-will-be-boys” excuses for sexual assault, and now claims that smart women won’t find husbands, old-school sexism sure does seem to be making a comeback.

Anytime American women manage to make significant political or social gains, we are threatened with a lifetime of loneliness.

Baker wrote that the educational disparity between men and women — 57% of those graduating with Bachelor of Arts degrees are women — is a “problem” for American relationships. According to Baker, women will now be unable to find mates they deem up to par.

If Baker’s piece sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same scare tactic that has been thrown at women for decades. Anytime American women manage to make significant political or social gains, we are threatened with a lifetime of loneliness.

As more women entered the workforce in the ’80s, for example, they were met with a sweeping media backlash: a 1986 Newsweek cover story warned women that they had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married after 40 years old; the New York Times ran articles with headlines like “Single Women: Coping with a Void”; and TV networks like ABC and CBS ran days-long specials on the regrets of women who climbed the career ladder instead of looking for a husband.

Baker and all the other men worried about women’s educational success should be able to rest easy, considering the broad power imbalance in our country still swings far in men’s favor. The pay gap is wide, it’s mostly men who govern the country, and women have yet to reach critical mass at the highest levels of business. Men’s erections can soldier on.

There have, of course, been more nefarious misogynistic throwbacks. A few years ago, it would be unthinkable to suggest that a politician could boast about grabbing women “by the pussy” and counter that he was merely engaging in “locker room talk.” Or that abortion, supported by more Americans than ever, would be on the verge of being made illegal. If you really want to get in the weeds, consider that the latest conversation on men’s rights forums is whether women’s right to vote should be rescinded. (Apparently “letting” us vote is what led to women working outside the home, the legalization of birth control, abortion, and all of the other freedoms that would allow women to have sex “without consequence.”)

Why the sudden resurgence of issues and stereotypes we thought were long gone? In part, it’s run of the mill backlash — there’s an expected and common resistance whenever women make broad gains in this country. But this also feels directly tied to the election of Donald Trump. The man who represents an antiquated idea of masculinity — his obsession with pageant contestants and mistresses, his bullying bravado and hands-off parenting — is very clearly linked to an uptick in old-school misogyny.

Research suggests as much, too. A study out of the University of Pennsylvania noted an uptick in sexism since the 2016 election, for example; and a paper from the London Business School showed that Trump supporters’ grew more sexist after the election.

If the leader of the country can engage in explicit and noxious misogyny — claiming a woman who has accused him of rape isn’t attractive enough to attack, for example — it opens the door for others to follow. So be on the lookout for more of what we saw in the Wall Street Journal last week: More questioning of women’s happiness at work, more victim-blaming, and more insistence that women don’t really need bodily autonomy after all. What’s old is new again, and what we thought was behind us will now be front and center.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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