Oh Dan Savage, how I ambivalent you. [Dear language gods — please make “ambivalent” a verb. Thanks.]
Savage does amazing, important things like the “It Gets Better” project. He does hilarious things like the “Choicer Challenge”. But he also tells young college women whose boyfriends’ predilection for facials (no, not the spa kind) makes them feel degraded that they aren’t “game” enough lovers.
He’s been in the news again for his recent interview with the NY Times magazine in which he discusses his views on and criticisms of monogamy. Somewhat orthogonally to his specific views on monogamy, he seems to feel that marriage and family cohesiveness are in decline. And he knows just what to blame: feminism! (Gee, where have we heard this one before?) Here’s a choice passage from the interview:
“The mistake that straight people made,” Savage told me, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitarian and fairsey.” In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”
To be fair, Savage isn’t saying that marriages shouldn’t be fair or equal. He is, rather, saying that to create equality we should have extended non-monogamous expectations to women, rather than enforcing monogamy on men. Still, there’s a lot not to like about Savage’s comments.
For starters, you might think that if men freely, voluntarily, and without coercion make promises of monogamy and then fail to live up to those promises (causing pain as a result) the thing to do is not to say to women “Hey, it’s all your fault, you never should’ve believed him when he made that promise! Boys will be boys, etc.” Secondly, Savage seems to subscribe to an increasingly common Mad Men-esque myth that all men used to be Don Draper, living large and unconstrained until feminism came along and ruined the party. That’s pretty simplistic, to put it mildly. And finally, one might have thought that higher divorce rates (when compared to, say, the 1950s) have rather less to do with women’s sudden expectation that men be monogamous, and rather more to do with women having more options – socially, economically, personally – should they want to leave a marriage. Just maybe.
Here endeth the rant.