In the past, marriage was something that women required from men before they would give them the privilege of sexual intercourse. It was considered by men as a protection that women demanded before they would take on the burden of bearing the man’s children. In marriage, the man committed himself to providing the material conditions of life for the woman and her children. Men were expected by society not to marry until they had sufficient material wealth to support a family. This presupposed that employers had the freedom to hire or not to hire whomever they wished, which meant that for many, if not most, positions employers hired only men. For it had always been accepted by society that in most fields of employment men were more competent than women, as John Locke, the founding philosopher of the United States, wrote in 1689.
With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, employers were forbidden to discriminate against women, and were therefore obliged to hire women even if they did not wish to. This has given women a special protection against natural competition by men. This special protection was not the result of any widespread movement, such as the Civil Rights movement, which was concerned solely with the question of race. The prohibition against discrimination on the ground of sex was added as an amendment to the bill in Congress by Howard Smith of Virginia, chairman of the House Rules Committee, because he wished to sink the bill and believed no one would vote for it if it contained this provision. But he had reckoned without President Lyndon Johnson, who was determined to pass the bill despite this additional clause, and who used his presidential power to twist many congressional arms to get it passed. Johnson was concerned to eliminate discrimination on the ground of race, and did not care about discrimination on the ground of sex. The special protection from competition now given to women was the result of an accident of history.
The Women’s Liberation movement began in earnest from that date, and especially in the early 1970s. From that time women surged into the work force, since employers were compelled now to hire them. Having in this sense a guaranteed income, they also no longer needed men to provide for them. But they quickly found that having both a career and their accustomed number of children was too much, and they reduced the number of children they would bear, below the rate needed to reproduce the population.
So long as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 remains in force, this state of affairs can be expected to continue. But with the election of many women to political office, as well as with the success of many women in business, it becomes increasingly hard to argue that women are victims of discrimination. Consequently it becomes harder to continue to argue for the Civil Rights Act. Especially since the near-election of Hillary Clinton as president, the question is being raised whether it is not time to rescind the special protection given to women against natural competition from men by the Act. Probably this pressure will grow. With the election of President Obama, a similar question is likely to be raised about rescinding the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of race. Previously it had always been considered that employers had the right to hire or not hire whomever they wished, and the science of economics generally supports that view.
The Civil Rights movement, e.g. the NAACP, was concerned about forcible or coercive discrimination, such as segregation and lynching; it was not originally concerned about discrimination in employment. That concern was added to the Act of 1964 from the labor movement through the work of Asa Philip Randolph.
The Women’s Liberation movement has liberated women from the burdens of family, husband and children. In their place it has put the burdens of work or a career. They are now much more financially independent, but also more alone.
At the same time that this happened, in the 60s and 70s, the Sexual Revolution also took place. For the first time in history, thanks to “the pill,” it became possible to have as much sex as one wanted, free of charge and without automatically having children. Women no longer demanded marriage as the price of sexual intercourse. But traditionally it was marriage, with its responsibilities, that led men to grow up and become responsible adults. For this does not happen automatically with men. While a woman does not have to work at it to become a woman, in the sense that she already has her sexual identity from birth, a man has to work to become a man, his sexual identity from birth is incomplete, and becoming a man involves undertaking hardship. But men have now been liberated from the hardship of responsibility. It is true they are held to responsibility to some extent in the world of business, but no longer in their personal relationships. So if women are now more alone, men are less responsible, and perhaps, it might be argued, in many cases also less men.
Some women have welcomed the new situation on the ground that if the man shows himself to be unreliable it is easier to end the relationship. But the testimony of history is that women derive their chief satisfaction in life from their children rather than from a career, and from the lifelong commitment of a man in marriage.
What would have to happen for women to demand again marriage as the price of sexual intercourse?