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Weekly Digest: Women and Marriage
Marriage and divorce, Catholic intellectual networks, voices of Gen Z, and more news from around the web
Welcome to my weekly digest for November 17, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
My main monthly newsletter comes out Monday. There will be no digest next week in honor of Thanksgiving.
The Power of Catholic Intellectual Networks
In this week’s piece on why Tyler Cowen doesn’t meet many Protestant intellectuals, I mentioned the role played by Catholic institutions and networks in building up and promoting their intellectuals. Someone emailed me to remind me of this piece on that very topic by Onsi Aaron Kamel on the power of the Catholic intellectual ecosystem that I’d read but originally forget to include in my piece.
Here are some of his observations:
Last week, Ross Douthat guest-hosted a New York Times flagship podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, interviewing fellow Catholic writer Sohrab Ahmari. Any number of features from the interview are worth commenting upon. For example, it’s remarkable that Douthat, a conservative Catholic writer, is interviewing Ahmari, another conservative Catholic writer, on a podcast funded by the Times. But one element of this conversation bears particular importance; it is not explicit, and one would not be aware even of its existence unless one already had some inkling about the state of academic historical theology and what popular-level Catholic intellectuals are reading. I’m talking about the significance of Ahmari’s discussion of Andrea Dworkin – the radical, sex-negative second-wave feminist.
But my interest lies not with the thesis itself but with what it reveals about what I’ll call the “Catholic intellectual ecosystem.” Because, you see, Ahmari got this idea from a brilliant 2005 paper by the Catholic academic and historical theologian John Cavidini, entitled “Feeling Right.” In that paper, Cavidini makes the same set of connections Ahmari outlines in the interview: he connects St. Augustine’s views of the passions, sex, and libido dominandi to Andrea Dworkin’s view of sex as dominating violence. The paper is a tour de force, and worth reading for its many insights (indeed, I’ve cited it in my own work).
To understand how this happened, we need to take a look at Catholic public intellectuals. Ahmari is a convert to Catholicism, as are Ross Douthat, R. R. Reno, Matthew Schmitz, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Matthew Walther [editor’s note: Walther has subsequently clarified that he is not a convert. I apologize for the error.], Reinhard Hütter, Chad Pecknold, Eve Tushnet, Thomas Joseph White, and many other prominent Catholic intellectuals, both academic and popular. These converts populate positions of influence in academic and media ecosystems. R. R. Reno and Matt Schmitz have been at First Things, the premier journal of religious politics in America, for years now; Douthat has been at the New York Times for over a decade; Pecknold has recently been a columnist at First Things; Hütter has written for a number of popular outlets over the years, including First Things; The American Conservative recently hired Matthew Walther (previously of The Week) to write for it, and Michael Brendan Dougherty was hired a few years ago by National Review.
All of this to say: public Catholic intellectuals, and especially converts to Catholicism, hold prestigious posts across the media landscape. And by virtue of connections with academics who straddle the academic-popular divide (in large measure thanks to institutions like First Things, which regularly features essays by and hosts events with academics), Catholic public intellectuals are regularly exposed to the goings-on in Catholic academic circles. Because these public intellectuals have posts in or access to mainstream institutions, generally on the political right (but also, as in the case of Ross Douthat, left-of-center legacy prestige outlets), their ideas are disseminated broadly among intellectual elites – progressive and conservative alike.
Click over to read the whole thing.
Women and Marriage
NYT: Why Aren’t More People Marrying? Ask Women What Dating Is Like - This essay went viral online. Like much such writing by women, it attributes women not getting marrying to a lack of good men. Undoubtedly this is true to some extent. But we have to consider the flip side as well. Just as many men today are poor candidates for marriage, large numbers of women are poor marriage prospects as well. A 37 year old single mother without a college degree is very unlikely to receive serious interest from the proverbial high value man.
Rod Dreher shared some thoughts on this op-ed in his newsletter. He notes that after his wife divorced him, he received an outpouring of emails of men who had gone through the same experience:
The most common complaint by far was that the men didn’t see the divorce coming. True, any or all of these guys could be unreliable narrators, but most of them said that they had not been unfaithful (nor, to their knowledge, had their wives), there were no drug or alcohol problems, no pornography, and none of the usual things that lead to divorce. The main issue, according to them, was their wives got tired of being married, and figured that since you only live once, they should end it. Some of these e-mails are really sad, coming from men who thought they were doing everything right, and then boom, their wife left them. It has left them deeply distrustful of women, and afraid to date.
I would suggest that many men are not especially tuned to signs of their wives’ unhappiness. While it’s common for men to say they never saw it coming, many of them should have seen it coming. But even if they do see it coming, they often do things that are counter-productive to try to fix the situation.
Unfortunately, society and the church give men extremely bad instructions about what women are attracted to and how intersexual dynamics work. If a man talks to a pastor about his wife’s unhappiness, that pastor’s advice will almost certainly be to double down on servant leader. But women frequently lose all respect for men who act as doormats, and indeed this loss of respect might be what underlies some of her unhappiness in the first place.
Back to Dreher:
I’ve talked in this space many times about how my Hungarian pal finds it hard to talk to her friends about the perfectly ordinary struggles she and her husband have in their marriage, because her friends immediately counsel her to leave him for the sake of her own happiness. She says they can’t understand that she is happy, but that a happy marriage overall does not mean a marriage without friction.
The ARC man theorized that women are leaving their husbands for relatively trivial reasons in large part because the broader culture — especially women’s magazines and media — valorizes it. A friend who reads this newsletter told me last year that in his wife’s group of friends, five women left their husbands in a relatively small span of time. None of these women could say the men had been unfaithful, or had any other serious problems that usually lead to the break up of a marriage. All did it for YOLO reasons. There was something mimetic about it: when one did it, she demonstrated that it could be done, and it was therefore easier for the others to do it.
The media actually is pushing this line. In fact, you heard it here first, as I started talking about this two years ago, noting how a litany of media articles in the major fashion and news media had begun glamourizing women who divorced men that they themselves say were great husbands and fathers. Whereas previously women would feel compelled to at least come up with some kind of justification for divorce, today they are encouraged to do it because “YOLO.” Examples are Adele, Lara Bazelon, and Honor Jones though there are surely many more.
Best of the Web
Richard Reeves has officially launched his American Institute for Boys and Men, and its web site is now up at abim.org.
David Brooks: To Be Happy, Marriage Matters More Than Career - Brooks looks at Brad Wilcox’s forthcoming book Get Married.
CBS News: How gender disparities are affecting men
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Journal: On the trajectory of discrimination: A meta-analysis and forecasting survey capturing 44 years of field experiments on gender and hiring decisions
Forecasters correctly anticipated reductions in discrimination against female candidates over time. However, both scientists and laypeople overestimated the continuation of bias against female candidates. Instead, selection bias in favor of male over female candidates was eliminated and, if anything, slightly reversed in sign starting in 2009 for mixed-gender and male-stereotypical jobs in our sample. Forecasters further failed to anticipate that discrimination against male candidates for stereotypically female jobs would remain stable across the decades.
After Babel: Algorithms Hijacked My Generation. I Fear For Gen Alpha. - Jonathan Haidt continues his series featuring guest essays by members of Gen Z talking about their experience.
AEI also did some survey work looking at Gen Z.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion: Changes in Politics and Religiosity Among Students at a Protestant University - “Whereas students who become more politically conservative increase their religiosity, the inverse is true for those whose politics become more liberal in college.”
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New Content and Media Mentions
New this week:
David Brooks' Moral Formation Without Morals - There is no substitute for the Protestant religious and moral core of America
Why Tyler Cowen Doesn't Meet Protestant Intellectuals - There may be fewer evangelical intellectuals but that's not the only reason Cowen doesn't meet them
Will Evangelicals Become a Boat Anchor That Sinks American Support for Israel? - In the Negative World, support from evangelicals may become more of a liability than an asset for Israel
Here’s an interesting video from a campus ministry called Ratio Christi about Purdue that features several professors publicly affirming their Christian faith.