Why Margaret Wente Can’t Find Love
On any given day, I might grab a coffee with some colleagues, chat with students, or have long conversations with good friends – most of whom are women from their early twenties to mid-forties and beyond. If Margaret Wente were eavesdropping she would be surprised to discover the wide range of topics we cover. From conversations about Plato, to popular television series, to international politics and baseball, we never have enough time to get to the particular topic that Wente recently suggested is the object of our fascination (Wente, September 23, 2017). Perhaps we are particularly obtuse, but no one I know, whether single or not, is tuned into the crisis women are facing. In an editorial in The Globe and Mail, Wente announced that good men are apparently scarce on the ground. (Here’s the link to her piece: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/why-are-good-men-so-hard-to-find/article36365252/)
Fortunately, Wente has both discovered the source of the problem and devised a solution. Granted, her analysis only works if we accept the basic premise that men really are driven and controlled by their sexual desires. In this scenario, the power of women lies not in the equality of their intellect or abilities, but in leveraging their own sexuality to coerce men into better behaviour. Wente’s argument is not new. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s 18th century work, Emile, advances the same position.
Some might be surprised that 21st century journalist is recommending a return to an 18th century position on navigating relationships among the sexes. Wente, however, argues that the need to return to a transactional, and thus commodity-driven understanding of relationships is now more necessary than ever because sex has become cheap. With the advent of the sexual revolution and social media sites like Tinder, men no longer have to go through the motions of buying us flowers, opening doors, or paying for dinners in the hopes that they might get lucky. In the good old days men could expect that having paid a certain amount of money, invested a little time, and maybe even shined their shoes that any reasonable woman would have sex with them. In the good old days women, having accepted said flowers, eaten a dinner or two, could not then reasonably refuse to have sex. Wente goes so far as to say that she now agrees with an old saying that equates women with cows and implies that men are no better than bulls in heat.
It should not have be said how regressive and even dangerous this proposition could be for women. Further, it demonstrates a real misunderstanding about the nature of love, which, if accepted, will only exacerbate the problems she identifies as existing in some contemporary relationships.
Given Wente’s predilection for regressive positions on sexuality (among other things), perhaps if we go even further back into the history of philosophy, this might catch her eye. Despite some of his own sexist positions, the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle understood that love means willing the good for one another, and that this could be the only real foundation for relationships, whether they be within a political community, among friends, in families, and even erotic partnerships. When one truly loves another, she seeks the happiness of her beloved often at some immediate sacrifice to herself. A mother, for instance, naturally sacrifices things for a child; a friend will drop everything in a time of need, and even a true lover will put his own satisfaction aside for the sake of his partner. As Wente says, there is a cost to love. However, that’s only superficially true. In sacrificing something of your own for the people you love, you are repaid infinitely in their happiness and flourishing.
Wente has a powerful platform. Rather than advising young women to leverage their sexuality in the hopes of catching “a good man,” she should think more deeply about the nature of goodness and the innate desire in all humans to love and be loved in turn. If a man pays for dinner in the expectation of sex, it might mean you get a good meal. It in no way indicates that you will have a good partner. For Wente’s friends who can’t find a partner, I suggest that they stop using Tinder.