This week on High Noon with Inez Stepman, Danielle Crittenden of Femsplainers fame, and author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us joins the pod to discus her wonderful essay, “When the Sexes Blur There’s No Sex.” Crittenden and Stepman talked about why young women find femininity and womanhood so unappealing to the point where ”transitioning” to the opposite sex is an attractive option, and how dating norms have accelerated to a point nearly everyone agrees is broken. They also chat about some of the original flaws of the feminist movement going back to the 1950s, and how feminist priorities have differed sharply from the average woman’s over the years.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest this week is Danielle Crittenden. Danielle, she co-hosted the recently retired podcast, Femsplainers, with Christina Hoff Sommers, which is a very popular podcast I’ve listened to so many times, and she’s continued to write about all subjects womanly on the Femsplainers Substack. She’s also the author of multiple books, including to this conversation was relevantly, “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman.” And as I found out when I was researching for this podcast, even a book of Polish recipes with Anne Applebaum.

Danielle Crittenden:

That’s right. A little off brand, but yes.

Inez Stepman:

I’ve got to get that on my bookshelf. But I especially wanted to get Danielle on High Noon to speak about an essay that she wrote back in March, which completely went viral among my female friends titled, “When The Sexes Blur There’s No Sex: We Need a New Romantic Ideal.” She has all kinds of stuff to say about the modern culture between men and women, about sex, marriage, all those kinds of things. So thank you so much for coming on High Noon, Danielle.

Danielle Crittenden:

Oh, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Inez Stepman:

So one of the themes I think of this essay that you wrote, that really resonated with a lot of people, was this embarrassment of being identified as feminine, and this, that the vision of femininity that is promulgated and the way that our culture treats femininity is almost like there are two extremes. There’s a total denigration of gentleness or of being too connected to people, too, quote unquote, sensitive, on the one hand for women. On the other hand, there’s all these, for lack of a better term, like ass-kicking ideals, and you point to, for example, the way that Disney movies have changed. What does our culture have to say now about femininity? Why do you worry about the fact that it may not seem like much of an appealing option to many young women today?

Danielle Crittenden:

Well, I think it’s true, and this has been true for a long time, certainly, as I’ve come of age and written about feminism. It’s like there’s two views, or has been with the women’s movement such as it is in whatever we call it now. One is that, and when I was in my 20s, so back in the 1980s, 1990s.

Inez Stepman:

I must say you look excellent for your age.

Danielle Crittenden:

I do, I really do for someone born in 1890. The view then was that women had to be exactly like men, not physically per se. But if you’ve ever seen the ’80s feminists going to work with their little suits and almost bow ties. And we were to have the same exact aspirations as men, the same career ambitions. It was embarrassing to show any kind of feminine weakness. And I wrote about this in my first book, “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us,” and to admit to wanting to have children or even to get married was somehow embarrassing, that the message was you are an individual, you are capable of anything you want to be.

But within a certain construct that as long as it was based on male ideas of success, male ideals of sexual lifestyle, that we should just have sex with whomever we wanted, that we shouldn’t have any real attachments. We were liberated and we didn’t need men, and we didn’t need marriage. It just looked weak if you confessed secretly that you wanted to be married or be a mother, or that you found sex and casual sex painful or demeaning or diminishing. And that was very true as I came of age. And you know what? It hasn’t really changed. Now, it’s still seen as kind of weak to be feminine. But it’s also, we talk about toxic masculinity, that there’s really no standard of how we should behave as the opposite sex.

And so men worry about coming off as too male, or too masculine, or they’ve seen regular male traits denigrated. But also, as women, it’s still not great to admit that you want to be married or you want to become a mother. In fact, marriage, people are still doing it, but it’s gone down dramatically. And so I think there’s just this mass confusion. And as we’ve seen this rise of non-binary and adolescent girls and boys very confused about their sexuality, very depressed about whatever sex they seem to be born, that there’s something wrong with it, you just see this mass confusion over what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man, what it means to be a girl, what it means to be a boy. And yet, we still very much have biological imperatives. And to me, it’s sad. I think all we’ve done is sown confusion and made ourselves feel embarrassed for the biological aspirations and differences we may have as men and women.

Inez Stepman:

You point out that this is not new. I mean, it may be new in the history of the world new, but this doesn’t start five years ago or 10 years ago. What’s the connection between the feminism, even of the second wave feminist, like even of Betty Friedan or Simone de Beauvoir, what’s the connection in your view or is there one between that type of feminism and what we’re seeing today? Because there are kind of two camps here. One is that, quote, unquote, real feminism opened up opportunities for women, but didn’t impose a male standard necessarily, just wanted to open opportunities. And then there’s the other camp that says no, these things are intimately connected that society has to set some kind of message or path, even if we’re tolerant of people who deviate from that path. Where do you fall on that debate and how much do you think say the feminism of Betty Friedan has to do with the problems that young women are facing today in the romantic and sex market, and also the debate we’re now having about what biological sex even means?

Danielle Crittenden:

Right. Well, I think the postwar Betty Friedan, what is called second wave feminism, Betty Friedan of course wrote “The Feminine Mystique,” she described suburban homes that women were in as a type of concentration camp. And you go back and this was a very postwar phenomenon. It was also a phenomenon of the educated woman, the middle-class woman, that women have always worked. And at different times, and in different societies and cultures, women have taken very active roles or they’ve taken more domestic roles or different roles from men in the various spheres. But postwar, you recover from this terrible, terrible Second World War. People come back, women have been working through the war, men have been fighting, there’s this whole new suburban world set up. And that kind of woman full-time at home with her washing machine and stranded in her house with children and go to college, but get an MRS degree, that was a fairly new phenomenon.

So it wasn’t like it had always been that way. But you can imagine, and if any of your listeners have watched “Mad Men,” you get the idea. And I was a child in the ’60s. I was born in 1963. So I have some memory of how this affected the dynamism between my parents and other people’s parents. I think it was a reaction to the war. It was a desire amongst everyone to have a domestic comfort. And then it turned into this thing where women felt undervalued and trapped and men themselves felt, “God, I’m the breadwinner all the time.” They felt trapped too. And you see, won’t go down this road too far, but the other side of the culture, the Playboy culture, the Hugh Hefner culture, that the sexual liberation exploded for good reasons on both sides, and women sought escape from this world for good reasons.

What I think was problematic, and if you go back to all the writings of the times of the most prominent feminists, not so much Betty Friedan, because she always had time for marriage and motherhood. She actually understood that women were different from men, and she actually had quite a robust appreciation of men famously. But when you got into the more Gloria Steinem’s and feminist writers at that time, it became very political. And one of the most famous phrases was “the personal is political.” And it went from demanding equal respect, equal opportunities with still a recognition base that men and women are different into this idea that there’s a patriarchy, that men are unfailingly advantaged, that women are oppressed in this patriarchy. And there’s never going to be escape or freedom for us unless we smash this patriarchy.

And it’s based on ideas like, I remember reading these books and you could just take out patriarchy and put in capitalism. It was a Marxist idea of men and women, very politicized. But it kind of created this sense of politicization we feel now, that’s still there between men and women, that when you just talk casually about the patriarchy, you’re making this assumption that there is this whole male system created to oppress women and therefore, men default. Any man has to be an enemy or someone regarded with suspicion. And marriage is suspicious because we look at it as something at the woman is then entrapped into and controlled by the man.

If you stand back for five seconds, you know that this is just simply not true, nor is it a productive way to go about trying to have a relationship. You put it in very personal terms that you cannot engage each with the opposite sex, and again, we’re talking about heterosexual, largely, couples, you cannot engage with the opposite sex if you are persuaded that at any turn, you’re going to be oppressed by your boyfriend or your husband and that you are somehow innately a victim or you have no personal agency over your situation.

So that’s kind of the thread that keeps on going through all the conversations we’re having today, and that we’ve seen, I think, really magnified in these debates about trans, or there are 63 genders or whatever, that we’re trying again to deny any credibility to biological differences, to accept that there are biological differences. And the best way to deal with biological differences is to acknowledge them and think about how can we work with those to get the respect and equality and opportunities we all want as women, but without making the opposite sex the enemy. Also, without making the things we feel naturally as men or women somehow suspect or wrong or something we should suppress. If that makes sense.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. It’s funny for a sexual liberation movement that was so worried about repression, that certainly were in favor of repressing so many natural instincts as you call them. But yeah, I was thinking as you were saying that about Simone de Beauvoir writing and lamenting the very fact that you say is why this kind of framework of oppressor and oppressed, it doesn’t really work for men and women. She was lamenting this fact saying that theoretically, for example, in racial oppression situations, the oppressed group and the oppressors can separate, or they can kill each other she said, theoretically. But this actually makes women in a more subordinate and more oppressed condition than in her case, I think the examples are Blacks and Jews because they, she didn’t put it this way but I will, but there’s a lot of sleeping with the enemy.

Danielle Crittenden:

And she did a lot of it, let’s be clear.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. And she did a lot of it herself.

Danielle Crittenden:

And I would not envy her, her choice, partner.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I’ve always had the most contempt for how he treated her and how he treated women generally. But I wanted to ask you if maybe you think this is this problem with no name, the comfortable concentration camp of the home, as Betty Friedan wrote, how much of this is a result of prosperity? You have this postwar period where America is incredibly prosperous. You point to the fact that feminism really comes and springs out of the upper classes, people who had enough money for a woman to be not only at home, but essentially decorative, right, to have a more decorative function in society, which is a sign of prosperity.

It strikes me that a lot of the psychological problems that arose and then were channeled, I agree with you, inappropriately, politically might be faced by the whole society if, for example, we move to a UBI system or we continue to have a system where there are a few very, very successful tech companies. They can support a lot of people, but that, for example, a lot of other jobs, manufacturing jobs, and so on start to disappear. Are we all going to face the problem with no names soon, if part of perhaps what drove this is we’ve produced so much prosperity that women started to feel useless because their role became more ornamental? Is a large part of society going to become useless and ornamental in the same way and have to grapple with the same problems of meaning as the then feminist did in the ’50s?

Danielle Crittenden:

Yeah, that’s an enormous question and one I can’t project. Let me go to your point about education. I don’t think I would say that women, even in the most prosperous homes were, quote unquote, decorative. What they did was they took over the whole running of the home, child, social life operations. There’s a joke that goes, two men are talking and one man says very proudly to the other, “In my house, I make all the important decisions and my wife makes all the unimportant decisions.” And the other man says, “Well, what is an example of an important decision?” He goes, “I decide what I think the president should do in his policy toward China and what I think the stock market is going to do next week.” “Well, what are the unimportant decisions?” “Oh, she decides where we live, what we eat, where the kids go to school, where we vacation.” There was a division of labor within the house and it was not unmeaningful to women, have to stress that.

Inez Stepman:

So I just want to correct for I think something that I said, and I can see why you think that. I was kind of speaking in the voice of like Betty Friedan. I don’t think that they were, but I do think that what you pointed to earlier about the fact that women have always worked, there was suddenly this very shift, if you could afford it, shift in home life in a way that I don’t think was just new in the 1950s, was kind of new for women in humanity generally.

Danielle Crittenden:

Actually, you didn’t have to be so wealthy. It was a very middle-class existence, which to have that wife at home, living that life, was maybe only to the very rich previously, and aristocratic society in Europe, this idea you could be at home, you could have amazing new machines that will do the labor for you. You don’t need a maid. My lower-middle-class grandmother in rural Australia had a maid. Speaking of becoming societies where things get mechanized. Well, now that you have this washing machine and this vacuum cleaner and all this, you don’t need a maid. And so these otherwise pretty educated women were finding themselves doing all these chores. So there were whole seismic shifts at that time. But the role of the woman primarily doing the home and the man doing the work, that happened.

But fast forwarding, what is interesting now and remains true is that the very wealthy, I forget now how we define it, whether it’s households earning more than a quarter a million or $400,000 or whatever. But the wealthier women and the most educated women are the ones most likely to drop out of the workforce. So it’s like when a woman gets married and is well to do, she’s going to take that time out and raise her kids. Why? Because not everyone has amazing career ambitions. That is a very elite thing. And work today for most women is being like a cashier at Walmart. And most jobs for men involve trucking. These are not what one would say are called fulfilling careers. Those are the people who have, I think, been very shortchanged by the collapse of marriage, the collapse of sharing lives and dividing tasks.

So coming to the future, yeah, there’s going to be a real problem when we no longer need cashiers, where everything is self-checkout, where we no longer need truckers because self-driving trucks, whatever, you don’t need those jobs anymore. There’s going to be, and we’re seeing it already, a huge effect on those kinds of working-class areas. But for women who are educated, I find it just insane that we have never, and corporations don’t work harder to provide their workers with childcare. And I don’t mean like state paid for, or 24 hour. But I think because the discussion around feminism and by feminists themselves have been so unaccommodating in many ways to women and children. I think it was Helen Joyce, who said she was on the podcast. And she said, “What I’ve always been struck by American feminism is how little materially it got. It got a lot of lip service, but unlike in other countries in Europe, they literally have no kind of proper parental leave, maternity leave.”

Very little is done in terms of providing childcare, which you think would be helpful. And other societies have their own problems and these are costly programs. But it is amazing to me, and post-pandemic will be interesting to see what happens, how just little support there is to help both fathers and mothers raise children. And anyway, that’s something that I think is still important, but I think also comes out of this idea that if you start acknowledging that it’s mostly going to be women who need the help, we can’t accept that. It has to apply equally to both sexes and it’s not something you hear a lot about these days.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I was going to say that the two things that we hear the most about in response to the very problem that you’re bringing up is from the corporate side, freeze your eggs. You see all the Silicon Valley companies now offering women basically to put off having children so they can continue to be workers in Silicon Valley. And then on the flip side, we have some proposals at IWF to, for example, to be able to cash Social Security as maternity leave, and then delay retirement on the flip side, which I think is a really flexible way of dealing with this. But I think what you’re pointing to is the real problem and why we don’t really address this problem in a like substantive way.

I don’t think it’s just money. We spend money on so many things. I think it’s because nobody wants to acknowledge, at least nobody who is pushing these programs wants to acknowledge that it’s going to be women primarily using them. And in fact, you have, I can’t remember if it was Amanda Murcott or someone like Amanda Murcott, but some Slate piece that was writing. Basically we have to be very careful about how we talk about parental leave, how we talk about especially maternal leave, because these ideas reinforce the stereotype that it should be the women who are staying home. Well, the reality is most women when they have kids, still in surveys today, say that they prefer to work part-time or not at all when they have young children. This is a biological reality that you’re right-

Danielle Crittenden:

It’s also not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. I remember writing in my book, and I had a baby, our first child at age 28, which back then this would’ve been 1991. I was alone. I knew one other contemporary who was having a baby. So you just felt like some Martian. And going into it, I was very modern. I thought, okay, well, I’m lucky, I’m a writer, so I can work from home. But I had this whole notion of how it was going to go, and I was going to split the chores with my husband and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You have a baby and it hits you like a truck, in a good way, not like a bad way. It completely changes your notions of biological differences and different desires between the mother and the father.

And I just remember reading about the time that the feminist movement at that time was saying that if you have a baby, the first thing you should do is put it right into daycare. We need daycare for newborns. And you are the mother, and you have this new, incredible creature in your arms. And it’s funny, but the first impulse, no matter how ambitious you are, your first impulse is not to stick it in daycare. You actually want to be with your kids. Crazy. And especially when they’re young. And so the idea that we have not made this easier for women, and it also goes as you say, to this concept, that feminism even today describes female success in terms of these quotas, like there still aren’t 50 women CEOs and the there aren’t as many women scientists. And again, it just shows a complete failure or lack of desire to look at the reasons behind why women aren’t meeting this.

And it’s not just sexism. It’s not just the patriarchy. Women are making choices based on their desire to be with their children, to not consign them to daycare the minute they are born. I’ve often thought that having onsite daycare for a company especially as I’ve watched, I’ve now gone through the full cycle of motherhood, my last kid just went to college last fall, that if you have onsite company, how much does that cost versus losing women? And the idea that you as a mother, once your kid is three or four, could just go down and be with them, it’s so easy it seems, so natural. But you’ll see these modern workplaces get pool tables and ping pong tables and video games and say, “Aren’t we great?” But why not a playroom with two staffers? It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I think that is a big failure of the organized women’s movement, to push for those things, for the reasons you say.

Inez Stepman:

Do you think we can have a societal message, because it seems to me, the problem you’re describing is that essentially the, quote unquote, women’s movement, is trying to solve problems for a small minority of women who are primarily in the creative classes, primarily, they do see their work as somehow like identity or career rather than working at the checkout line. Yes, money is important, but they also have a sense of identity wrapped up in it. And it seems like so much of the discourse, you’re right, is aimed at this small percentage of women and it forgets the 80 or 90% of women who would one, mostly are working for money, not for career identity. And two, would love to be able to stay home or to have onsite daycare, which I think is a really great idea to be able to spend more time with their children, not less.

So we kind of have a script that makes these things, when you talk about the video games and the ping pong tables and stuff, we have now a societal script if you are doing, quote unquote, well in life, if you’re ambitious, you will do well in K-12, you will go to a university, you’ll graduate from university, maybe do some post-graduate work, whether that’s getting a doctoral degree, whatever. And then you will go to work in a professional class and you will probably end up moving around quite a bit in your 20s. So maybe you’re looking for a partner. If you’re lucky, you’re starting to look for a partner at 25 in a serious way where you stop moving around. If you’re continuing your academic work, maybe not until 30. And then you have to find somebody that you actually like enough to marry and likes you enough to marry. And then you want to be alone for a few years. It pushes having kids to the very end of the biological spectrum where it’s possible.

I would call that a script. That’s the reason that these companies think they attract people, by putting in the ping pong table is because-

Danielle Crittenden:

The beer, the on-demand beer.

Inez Stepman:

Yes. On tap, yeah. I once went to a party that had Prosecco on tap, which is really fun, which I’ve never seen before.

Danielle Crittenden:

Hope that was a party and not a workplace, because I can’t imagine anything getting done.

Inez Stepman:

There is a script whether we like it or not. We couch it in this idea of individualized liberation. But the reality is that society is sending out a message, which again, you point to… Sorry, that’s my dog. Hopefully nobody can hear that.

Danielle Crittenden:

I cannot hear your dog.

Inez Stepman:

There is a script that is the correct path and it’s couched as individual, but we are giving a very strong message. And my question is, do you think a true neutrality is one, desirable or two, possible? Is it possible to have a society that doesn’t deliver a script? And if yes, then that I’ll be interesting enough. And then if not, why are we setting the script for the 10% rather than the 90%? Why isn’t the script have kids young then you can always work when your kids are a little older? This academic script only makes sense for a small percentage of people, but it seems like we’re pushing it on women and there’s a lot of unhappiness that results from that.

Danielle Crittenden:

Right. And when you look at the explosion of single motherhood, single-parent families in our generation, the women at Walmart are probably the most in dire need of some help with daycare at their jobs. And maybe this post-pandemic labor shortage will lead companies like Walmart to say, “God, we really need these people. We need to pay them more and we need to help them out in these ways.” But in terms of a script, yeah, is it a script? Is it just now the way we do things, the way we’ve been taught to think about things? I have two daughters, one is 30, the other is 20 and they both went through their teenage years. My younger is a Gen Z-er, so she had what we’re seeing, Instagram, social media was always part of her life. The internet was always present.

And I think that has had a real effect as we’re seeing, on how young women perceive and how young men perceive sex should go. I just remember telling both my daughters, and most recently my younger daughter, they’d come home from a party and there were expectations that they should behave like porn stars really. And it was all going the men’s way, like girls were being pulled off into rooms and performing oral sex and thinking that this was some sort of liberation. And I remember speaking to one of my daughters who was embarrassed that she didn’t want to be doing this. And as far as I know, she didn’t think of, because I was saying like, “How degrading is that? Is that liberation? When you look back when you’re 25 and see this and by then maybe you have a really good relationship. Is this what you want to remember that you did?”

I was able to point out to them that this was not about fulfilling your desires or behaving the way you wanted to behave or having the relationships you wanted to have. This was pure exploitation, pure degradation. And not that it was against sex, but this is how no one should have to experience sex, if you’re going to wake up the next day and be just miserable, which these girls were. But the odd thing was that in their milieu, they were not getting this message, and even from their own mothers, that you don’t have to do this, you should date intentionally. That’s always been my rule. You date with a purpose. You don’t just bounce from one relationship to the next, like a pinball. Don’t be embarrassed that you want a serious relationship. Don’t be embarrassed that you want a relationship that will eventually lead to marriage. What is my behavior? What am I doing? Is this going to help me get to where I want to be when I’m 30 or 40?

So to look at things in the long term, understand your sexual behavior may well differ a lot from men, understanding what young men want from a relationship. I remember saying, I don’t know she was 15 or 16 and just like, “Do you think this guy actually wants a relationship? What does that even mean right now? Like you’re going to go to the movies?” What is it, but just having sex at this point.

And so you’re having to try make these young women see the long game. And then I would hope, and I’m a mother of a son also, young men have to be taught that… I don’t care if you’ve watched Pornhub since you were eight years old. That’s not real, that’s not how men treat women. You should not have these expectations that your sex life is going to be like Pornhub. We’re dealing with so many new factors and pressures on these younger men and women. But on the other hand, they’re not getting any kind of message that validates the way they should behave in their own interests, that validates the differences they may experience when having sex or that even that it’s even wrong or somehow sexist to think there are sexes, different sexes, or prejudice.

And all you look out there and then throw in dating apps, which to me just seem like the most depressing thing on earth. I like online shopping as much as the next person, but the idea of just going through these person after person, after person, after person. And I joked to my eldest daughter. I said, “If apps were around when I met your dad, we never would’ve met. We never would’ve… Our algorithms would never have come across each other’s screens.” So just pulled everything away from real life, real interaction, real expectations. There’s no, I guess not script, there’s no dialogue that allows us to talk about these things with any frankness on any large scale.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think it gets channeled into… One of the interesting things right now is that we’re seeing a horseshoe effect. I think we’re finally coming to the realization both on the left and the right part of the political spectrum that the current sex relations are messed up in some way. So that’s the good part. But what I’m worried about is that it’ll just be channeled into a type of legalism or anti-male sentiment. Because that’s kind of what I’m seeing. MeToo is really a turning point for all of this. And I think a lot of the driving force behind MeToo, is exactly what you’re describing. It’s just that women were unhappy with their sexual encounters with the way that men were treating them, with how they felt, but they had absolutely no vocabulary as to how to talk about sex outside of consent, because the only way-

Danielle Crittenden:

And power.

Inez Stepman:

… Sex was whether it’s good, if it was consensual. It’s bad, if it wasn’t.

Danielle Crittenden:

And the man is always presumed to have the power. I literally grew up in a newsroom. All my parents were journalists, father, stepmother, mother, stepfather. So I quite literally grew up in a newsroom. And there were a lot of encounters and ways of doing things. I was a reporter in the ’80s and you look back on some things that happened and the things that were said to you, they were so wrong and inappropriate, especially by today’s standards. And at the time, you just went, oh, well, that’s what happens. And that’s wrong. And so there was a lot about MeToo that I appreciated. And if it were about not having these kinds of improper relationships, improper comments, improper treatment at work, that it’s not always a legal issue. And it’s not always about consent. But as you point out, we’ve also seen this used in a way that is very familiar, actually, going back to Andrea Dworkin, where this was in the ’90s, that women were similarly seen as having a complete lack of agency, always victims.

My friend, Christina Sommers and colleague, calls it fainting-couch feminism, that if a man were to look at you funny or say a dirty joke that, oh my God, I can’t take it, faint. And there’s a little bit about this with MeToo, where it’s not to excuse unwanted sexual behavior, it’s not to excuse rude jokes. But we’re getting to a situation, and especially we’ve seen this on college campuses, where women are denying their own agency. So if you get unbelievably drunk, this is very familiar, the guy gets unbelievably drunk and something happens, you can’t automatically presume that it’s all his fault and he should’ve been able to think through his actions better than you were, at a similar level of intoxication.

But we can’t really, it’s been hard to talk about that. I think that’s changing a little. Even if you just go by popular culture and you look at shows on Netflix and things where they’re making the situation muddier, the man is now no longer presumed automatically guilty. I think we’re all talking through that and working through that. But any presumption that doesn’t allow for a woman’s self, her own responsibility, her own agency, is in infantilizing to the woman, that if we’re going to be equal and cope in this world, we also have to take responsibility for our actions. And we also have to not constantly see ourselves as victims of some larger male control system over in which we’re helpless. It doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help women.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that people who hold this view of the systemic oppression of women and really do view sex relations through that lens, they rarely say that about their grandmothers. And by all objective measures, their grandmothers lived under a different regime in terms of legal rights or other, quote, unquote, advancements of feminism. But very few people say that their grandmothers were doormats.

Danielle Crittenden:

Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

It’s kind of an interesting-

Danielle Crittenden:

Right. One of the great gifts my mother gave to me was that she was very emphatic… And she worked, she was a reporter. She worked through my childhood. She stayed home when my older brother and I were very young, at a great financial cost, by the way. Being a reporter back then was being like a very working-class job, very low pay. My dad was an editor, copy editor, news editor. But these were not big salaries. So when she cut out for a few years, while we were young, we were pretty, I would say, lower, lower, lower, lower middle class. We had a small house, but there were real sacrifices that they made economically.

But she always would say to me, as I was growing up, she would say, “You obviously want to do something and you don’t want to be bored. It’s important that you have a career or follow your aspirations. But also, motherhood was just one of greatest things I’ve ever done. Those years I stayed with you when you were little were just magical. We had such a good time together. And I hope you meet someone I was lucky to meet whom I love. And by the way, when you’re 16, I’m getting you birth control because you’re going to want to have sex and sex is fun.”

She had this very positive attitude towards everything. And it’s sad to me now, how sex should be a wonderful experience with someone who is meaningful to you. And when you deprive it of that meaning, when you make it like the gateway drug to any future encounter, it’s the first thing you do with someone and it’s not the ultimate expression of your intimacy with someone. You’ve deprived it of its meaning. And when you look around, very few people are happy about it. It’s fraught. And the same with motherhood or parenthood. We’ve made it look so terrible and seem like such a burden. And I think that’s just so profoundly sad, and is also just bad for us as a society. The world has to be people. Women by and large want to have good relationships, loving relationships. Men, by and large, want to have good and loving relationships. And we’ve just seemed to make it so difficult, make the simplest things so difficult, so fraught, so politicized, that I despair for these younger men and women.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I’m in my mid-thirties now, I’m 34, but I expected to feel a certain amount of jealousy, as you clearly age out of the 20s demographic and stuff. And I find myself more often filled with kind of sadness and pity, which shouldn’t be right. We should look back fondly and say, “Oh, that was so much fun to be young.” But I find myself more and more very grateful that I got out of the dating market in 2011, because it seems just so depressing in many ways. So you write in this piece, which I think is connected to what we’re talking about here, that we have no cultural narrative for romantic ideal. And you connect it to some of the pop cultural messages around this. You say, while these feminist versions of princesses, and you’re referring here, just what I called earlier, the kickass version, the girl who saves the boy.

Danielle Crittenden:

Right. The prince can no longer save the princess. The princess has to save the prince and only then can they live happily ever after.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. So you say that these princesses might have been more impressive female role models than their predecessors, meaning the ones that were saved by princes. “They did not offer any more satisfactory guide to navigating modern romance. In the end, these tales proved every bit as formulaic and unrealistic as the ones they sought to replace.” You continue a bit later, “Belle wasn’t left to face her 30s alone, slinging beers in the local tavern while Prince Charming swiped right on Tinder.” It’s a big question and there’s no way really to predict, but do you have any sense or clue about what the elements of punching through to the other side of the sexual revolution might look like? Because as we’ve talked about, I think everyone is kind of unhappy about it.

There are elements that will deal with it in completely different ways and I think in some very destructive ways, it’ll make it worse. But do you have any thoughts about how we might be able to punch through or get out of this kind of end point? It seems like this is sort of a terminus point in many ways of the sexual revolution and what comes after words is going to be, have to be by necessity, something new.

Danielle Crittenden:

It’s hard to say because my husband actually once had a great line. He says, “Children are deaf, but they see everything.” And I don’t know about your background, Inez, but my own background, even though my parents got divorced but my mother remarried, very happily and really phenomenal marriage. My husband came from a phenomenal marriage, and phenomenal in every aspect of the word, that my mother, his mother… His mother was a very famous Canadian broadcaster. She was like a totally modern feminist icon. Although she was once asked by an interviewer, “Do you ever dream of being single again?” And she goes, “I have nightmares about it.” So even this great icon saw the value of family and marriage, and both our parents’ case, they were very equal marriages.

They had respect, they had real love for each other. If you haven’t seen that or experienced that, it’s hard to imagine that it exists. I think I’ve been very lucky in my marriage. I could come up with all kinds of ideas of why it worked or pro tips or whatever. But in the end I feel so much of it was luck, but so much of it was being open to being with someone and loving them and being, on both sides, unselfish and giving the other the benefit of the doubt and treating each other like equals and partners, especially when you become parents. If you don’t see that, if you don’t have that idea in your head, if you’re not open to giving and risking, actually, if you’re not open to risking trust and intimacy with someone, you are never going to have it.

And I think that’s the toughest thing that I see around us in young women, young men, very, very good reason. Don’t trust the opposite sex. Men think they’re going to get burned in many ways, women think they are, and both get burned in many ways. And I think people stop putting themselves out for the other. A very good point I’m reading in this book, I think we mentioned just before I came on, Christine Emba, “Rethinking Sex,” which is very interesting. She made this point that with online dating, when you stop dating within an actual community, i.e. “My friend set me up with so and so, or her boyfriend’s best friend.” When it’s just somebody you meet at a bar with no mutual connection, no background, you are more likely to behave badly or cruelly or selfishly, even if you’re not that type of person, because you have nothing invested in it. It’s like the way people on Twitter behave, that they’ll say these horrible, insulting things. But if you were to meet them in person, they would go, “I’m not like that. I would never say that to your face.”

And so I think this dating culture in the absence of any kind of mutual community is very problematic and that people do treat each other much, much worse. They ghost, they say things via texts that they shouldn’t say. And it’s sad. There’s no getting around it. It’s here, this is how people are meeting people today. But to be self-aware that people are not just commodities, they not just faces on an app, that people are people. And in order to have a successful relationship, you are going to have to be open. You’re going to have to be open and trusting and willing to put yourself on the line for someone else and someone worthy of that. And trick is of course, finding someone who is worthy of that. But it is a problem and I think unless today, unless you’ve grown up with it, unless you’ve seen it, unless you’ve experienced, it’s very easy to believe that fairytale ending or that true romance or love that endures does not exist.

Inez Stepman:

Well on that relatively positive note, that it does. Danielle, thank you so much for spending this hour with us on High Noon. It was a pleasure to have you.

Danielle Crittenden:

Thank you, and thank you so much for having me.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment, a review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or IWF.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.