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Jewish World ReviewDec. 5, 2000 / 9 Kislev, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Marriage civilizes
the manly beast -- LAST NIGHT I took a break from packing stacks of moving boxes to have dinner. I ate canned soup out of the pot, used a T-shirt as a napkin and let the spilt beer on my shirt dry through the time-honored process of natural evaporation.

Stepping over pizza boxes of indeterminate vintage and even more dubious and mysterious content, I surveyed my bathroom, which could easily be a cave-dwelling in some post-apocalyptic movie. It occurred to me that this is how I would spend the rest of my life without female supervision.

Fortunately, my bachelor days are over. Last week, I asked someone to marry me (no, not a complete stranger over the Internet) - and, astonishingly, she said yes. And while I do not want to give the impression that I am marrying her so I can live like a human being - I've been profoundly smitten with my betrothed since the day I met her - this seems like a good opportunity to discuss the less romantic social benefits of marriage.

The first thing that needs to be stipulated is that men are disgusting by nature. Contrary to what most college professors and French philosophers have taught us, men are born disgusting. Study after study shows that boys are more hyper, more competitive, more aggressive, more violent. These characteristics are hardwired. It's been proven that if you give a 5-year-old boy a Barbie doll to play with, he will pretend it is a gun or a knife within seconds.

The process of civilizing men into gentlemen involves honing these and other energies into useful and productive avenues. Like dogs, men need to have their instincts redirected toward positive ends. After childhood, the most important mechanism for doing this is marriage. It encourages knuckle-draggers, like me, to stand up straight, work hard and play by the rules.

In the 1960s, the idea that marriage "traps" women became leftist orthodoxy. In September of 1969, for example, a radical group simply called "The Feminists" distributed anti-marriage leaflets at the New York marriage license bureau. In 1972, feminist sociologist Jessie Bernard wrote in "The Future of Marriage" that being a traditional wife is nigh upon insanity. "To be happy in a relationship which imposes so many impediments on her, as traditional marriage does," Bernard wrote, "a woman must be slightly ill mentally."

Such radical silliness is out of favor with most women today, especially young women. Admittedly, the principal reason for this is that so many women have benefited from feminism's real accomplishments that they feel comfortable rejecting the really crazy stuff.

But that doesn't mean severe damage hasn't already been done. According to a University of Chicago survey, cited in the latest issue of the indispensable academic magazine Lingua Franca, from 1972 to 1998 the number of Americans with a spouse dropped by almost a third. Since 1970, cohabitation by unmarried couples has increased sevenfold. In 1996, a third of all births were outside of wedlock and 70 percent of all births in the African-American community were outside of marriage.

The irony is that for all the talk about women being "liberated" by avoiding marriage, the sad reality is that men were the ones liberated from their obligations, especially to their kids. It may not the most romantic way to think about it, but marriage is as much an economic arrangement.

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According to a new book, "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better off Financially" by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, marriage allows two people to live together at the cost of 1.6. These savings - not just in money, but in time - are crucial when it comes to raising kids.

The mythological "patriarchy" couldn't have designed a better plan to lighten their burdens. By convincing women that they were better off with the freedom of the single life, men were the ones who really got to cut loose - guilt free. Meanwhile, liberated women who "get" to have children alone are worse off and so are the children.

And so are the men. Anyone who has lived in a house with many roommates knows that women make men behave. Four men living together is a Hobbesian state of nature. Put a woman in the mix, and we start picking up our socks and apologizing about the position of the toilet seat.

In our natural state, most men are inclined to live like lone grizzlies eating whatever carcass we stumble on, sleeping as often as possible, fighting with other grizzlies in our waking hours, and finding sweet bear love wherever it presents itself. (Human) marriage enlists men into an arrangement where they are revered for being responsible providers, helpers and partners.

At least that's how my fiance xplained it to me.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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