As for the rights of cads, I thought everyone knew that the major unintended consequence of women’s liberation was the liberation of the caddish impulse in most men. Once upon a time, if a young man wanted to sow a few wild oats or a older man wanted to pretend he wasn’t getting old, they would both hie themselves hence to the nearest house of assignation, there to indulge the reproductive urge without having to deal with any of its consequences. Everyone involved knew the rules: the man wanted sex, the girl wanted money, and afterwards the man would go home and pretend to be a moral pillar of his community. You would certainly not marry a denizen of the demimonde nor would you encourage a decent girl to become a demimonde herself, and if you should impregnate a “nice” girl, the rules were clear: you had to marry her, whether you wanted to or not, if only to avoid being blown apart by her menfolk’s shotguns.
Our modern era does not prize the concept of the nice girl anymore, since there is no real need for any girl to be nice in the sense that the term usually meant, which is to say, sexually chaste before marriage and monogamous afterwards. The invention of the birth control pill, the advent of readily available abortion, and the relative ease of modern divorce have changed the traditional equation. I am sure that many women would say, hallelujah, to the old order’s passing, and they may well be right about the overwhelming hypocrisy of that order, but it seems to me that Oscar Wilde was right when he said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. The old order served a purpose by channeling humanity’s greatest creative and destructive drive onto a constructive path that served, in the broad number of cases, the best interests of everyone involved. The old dispensation did not serve all equally well, though; it stigmatized gay men and lesbians viciously, and often victimized women, especially lower class women, by limiting their educational and economic opportunities, thereby trapping them in marriages where they were utterly dependent on the goodwill of their husbands.
It was largely to stop the abuses of the old order that activists created the gay rights and the women’s liberation movements, and both movements have done a tremendous amount of good for their specific constituencies and for the nation as a whole through their efforts to eliminate the mental exception. The mental exception is what comes at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, when the person pledging allegiance to the flag says, “…with liberty and justice for all…” and then mentally makes the exception for blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Catholics, women, gays, or life insurance salesmen, whom they can treat in as abusive manner as they want without worrying too much about their rights.
In freeing women from the old order, however, the women’s liberation movement tossed a good many babies out with the bathwater. The women’s movement’s systematic demonization of men has led to a situation in which men bear almost no responsibility for the children they sire. We now live in an age where a woman can choose to become mothers, but men cannot choose whether or not they become fathers. Men do not have a say in whether or not their sexual partners have an abortion or not, which is to say, they have no choice in whether or not they become fathers, and yet the law, and the women’s movement as well, insist on their paying for children they do not want.
It seems to me that this last vestige of the old dispensation must soon disappear as well. After all, we now live in a world of rights, and if a woman has a right to choose then so does the man, and compelling him to pay for a child he does not want seems grossly unfair and is probably a violation of his constitutional rights. The women’s movement will fight such an interpretation of the law; their ideal world is one in which men play the role of sperm donor and sugar daddy, paying all the bills and seeing the children every other Tuesday in July, but the more I think about it, the more likely this scenario becomes. You can only undermine institutions for so long before they come down, bringing down everything else with it. You cannot, I think, choose to live in a termite-ridden house and then complain to all and sundry when the roof comes crashing down on your head.