You know the old Kipling poem, don’t you? You should, really. Like many of his poems, it speaks of something beyond our preferences: laws that no amount of human effort or ingenuity can repeal. That there are such laws is a reflection of what Clarence Carson called “the moral order of the universe.” That order is as relentless and unsparing as the most malevolent gods of ancient history.
But the moral order is not the only order in the universe. There are others that derive from it, and are equally unmodifiable. One such is this:
You cannot make a man not want what he does want,
Nor can you make him want what he does not want.
This is demonstrated daily, in every corner of the globe. Yet there are persons determined to ignore or gainsay it. Some are so determined that they’ll knowingly act against their own interests to do so…and will reap ruin thereby.
This lesson is nowhere more imperative today than in relations between the sexes.
The plaints – “Where are all the masculine men?” “Where are all the feminine women?” – are louder today than they’ve ever been before. We’ve spoken of marriage being endangered for many years already. Today even non-marital romantic partnerships are in trouble. A great part of the phenomenon stems from that bizarre determination to “rewrite the laws:” specifically, the laws of attraction and bonding.
The ingenuity of man has been dedicated to the solution of one problem – how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the sensual bright, etc., from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to contrive to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end.…
Steadily is this dividing and detaching counteracted. Up to this day it must be owned no projector has had the smallest success. The parted water reunites behind our hand. Pleasure is taken out of pleasant things, profit out of profitable things, power out of strong things, the moment we seek to separate them from the whole. We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow.
Emerson’s terminology is oriented towards matters of right and wrong. Yet his observation applies equally to morally and ethically neutral dealings between individuals. Its baldest demonstrations are in the marketplace: You must pay for what you want. The man who seeks to get without paying is called a thief. When thieves are so numerous and so clever that they cannot be thwarted, the goods they hope to steal vanish from the shelves.
You must pay for what you want. It’s as inexorable as gravity…and it’s equally applicable to relations between the sexes.
Not long ago I was charmed by this essay by Stephanie Edelman:
You’ll see her perched at a banquette at the bar after work: the millennial college grad nursing that outdated American dream of marriage, kids, and the house with the lawn and the white picket fence… She’s nursing a stiff drink, too, because husband-hunting is hard work these days, not to mention frowned upon in college-educated career-girl circles. She toys with a stray curl and sucks listlessly at (how fitting) an Old Fashioned, or a gin martini (but only one) if she’s out with an older man and wants to seem sophisticated.
She may go full-blown retro and have her hair done in pin curls, or it may be modern, but her lips are likely stained a crimson shade—Bésame’s Red Velvet 1946 as seen in ABC’s “Agent Carter” is a good bet these days. She’s dressed in something fetching and feminine that she got from Etsy, eBay, or one of the dozens of “vintage inspired” or reproduction clothing companies that have gained popularity in the last decade (PinUp Girl, Tatyana Boutique, Stop Staring, Collectif, Trashy Diva, Bettie Page Clothing, Queen of Heartz, Heart of Haute, Voodoo Vixen, ReVamp Vintage…the list goes on.)
Of course she’s seen “Mad Men,” but she will tell you she’s been dressing this way since before January Jones ever graced our television screens in all her manicured and wave-set domestic beauty—that it comes naturally to her, along with her maternal instincts, her culinary prowess, and her 36”-25”-37” measurements (well, those may require a little assistance from an old-school waist cincher, corset, or longline bra.)
However she came by it, our girl’s mid-century aesthetic—not to mention her domestic aspirations—is giving Third-Wave feminists fits.
There’s a refreshing quality about that piece. These women – the ones who have embraced “retro-sexism” — are acting on a dual insight: first, into what they really want; second, into what the sort of man they hope to attract would want from them. No one is “objectifying” them. No one is “keeping them in their place.” They are consciously acting on their insights in pursuit of what they want – and militant feminists are up in arms over it.
You see, the militant feminist’s cry is that “You mustn’t want that!” Concerning which, please recur to the large-font proclamation near the start of this tirade. But the inviolability of a natural law has never daunted a dogmatic feminist.
Dogmatists and ideologues put their hopes in the strangest of imagined allies:
You may have noticed that everyone seems to be dressing like a lesbian these days, and by everyone, I mean even — and perhaps especially — straight-identifying or otherwise hetero-presenting women.
From the baggy, loose-fitting silhouettes that have replaced the skinny jeans of yore to the practical footwear that has taken over since women (reportedly) ditched their heels in the pandemic, the most popular mainstream women’s fashion trends of the day all reflect a certain sapphic influence. And androgynous style isn’t just for ordinary women reluctant to return to their pre-pandemic uniform of skin-tight pants and sky-high heels; from queer icons like Kristen Stewart to supermodels like Gigi Hadid, androgynous fashion has taken over Hollywood as well. Traditionally straight-presenting A-listers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid — icons of conventional female attractiveness as dictated by the male gaze — have been photographed rocking the lesbian-chic aesthetic, sporting power suits, designer loafers and oversize everything.
Read the rest for yourself, if you can stomach it. Then tell me if you detect a certain gleeful applause for “the pandemic” for nudging women’s sartorial choices in the “sapphic” direction.
I have no doubt that women find loose-fitting clothing and flat-heeled shoes more comfortable – and in many contexts, more practical – than body-conformant garments and high heels. However, there is no concealing the intention, or the lack thereof, behind such choices. It’s diametrically opposed to the “retro-sexist” choices of the women in Stephanie Edelman’s piece. Men find women garbed in oversize clothes and flat-heeled shoes much less attractive than women who dress to emphasize their figures, however subtly. Any woman who has attained her majority will know it.
Women, quite as much as men, must be assumed to intend the foreseeable consequences of their decisions and actions.
In relations between the sexes much as in marketplace behavior, you must expect to pay for what you want. The woman who laments that “all the good men are taken” while styling herself in “lesbian chic” is trying to have it both ways. A masculine man, who can be relied upon for the many things women have always looked for in a mate, won’t feel a pull toward her if she dresses – or conducts – herself in a fashion that expresses indifference to what he wants and seeks.
No, it’s not quite “Gods of the Copybook Headings” stuff. But it’s just as immutable, and just as deeply resented by entitlement-filled persons – of both sexes.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.