This brings us to Myth No. 4, which is perhaps the most interesting one of all: The sexual revolution has made women happier.
Granted, happiness is a personal, imponderable thing. But if the sexual revolution has really made women as happy as feminists say, a few elementary questions beg to be answered.
Why do the pages of our tonier magazines brim with mournful titles like "The Case for Settling" and "The End of Men"? Why do websites run by and for women focus so much on men who won't grow up, and ooze such despair about relations between the sexes?
Why do so many accomplished women simply give up these days and decide to have children on their own, sometimes using anonymous sperm donors, thus creating the world's first purposely fatherless children? What of the fact, widely reported earlier this week, that 26% of American women are on some kind of mental-health medication for anxiety and depression and related problems?
Or how about what is known in sociology as "the paradox of declining female happiness"? Using 35 years of data from the General Social Survey, two Wharton School economists, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, made the case in 2009 that women's happiness appeared to be declining over time despite their advances in the work force and education. . . .
It is always hard to disentangle the weeds from the plants in such a large field. But if the sexual revolution has made women so happy, we can at least ask what it would look like for them to be unhappy. A broader inquiry might yield some results worth thinking about, in contrast to the shortsighted political theatrics over a supposed "war on women."
Eberstadt's argument goes against the grain and is provocative. The popular perception of the sexual revolution is that it's been good for women--that it's empowered and liberated them. That message carries the day in the popular culture, where the "strongest" and most "independent" women are defined by two attributes that have historically been associated with men: stunning career success and emotionally disconnected, promiscuous sexual relations. Here's just a small sample of pop's sexually loose and "empowered" heroines: Meredith Grey in Grey's Anatomy, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, Chelsea Handler in Chelsea Lately, and the various character in The Vagina Monologues. Because these "pop feminists," as I call them in my book, appear happy, most real-life women--especially young women--assume that acting like their on-screen heroines will make them happy, too.
But it doesn't work that way, as Eberstadt implies and as I've concluded after interviewing college women who participate in the "hook up" culture of casual sex. To give you a sense of how powerfully Eberstadt's column resonated with readers, just consider that it's currently the top-read article on the Wall Street Journal website and has garnered over 1,000 Facebook "likes." Meanwhile, a rejoinder column by novelist Ann Patchett that also appeared in the Wall Street Journal-- "Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good For Women: Yes"--is not even registering as one of the top-five most-read WSJ articles today, and it's only been "liked" by 418 people.
That's because most women, whether they're willing to admit it or not (and most aren't), have come to realize that living out the dictates of the sexual revolution does not empower them, but turns them into sex objects. What else could you conclude when a show like Lifetime's "Dance Moms" sexualizes a group of eight-year-girls who are dancing burlesque with nude-colored bras on, as if they're topless? Or when pimps, who have been so inspirational in shaping the aesthetic of rap, barcode prostitutes with tattoos as their property? Or from the opening scene of Bridesmaids--a movie that, in my view, shows just how awful sexual liberation has been for women. In that scene, "[expletive]-buddies" Annie and Ted have sex and then exchange these words:
Ted: I'm just, you know, I just have a lot coming up at work.
Ted: And . . . and . . . and I just, I don't wanna make promises I can't keep. You know what I mean?
Ted: I know you do.
Annie: Yeah. We're on the same page. I mean, I'm not looking for a relationship right now either. Let's just say that, I just . . . whatever you wanna . . . I can do, you know? I'd rather just . . . I like simple. I'm not like other girls, like; 'be my boyfriend!' Unless you were like; 'yeah!'. Then I'd be like; 'maybe'.
Ted: But that's not on.
Annie: I don't want that either.
Ted: I don't either . . . .
Ted: Wow, this is so awkward. I really want you to leave, but I don't know how to day it without sounding like a [expletive].
Later that morning, Annie tells her best friend Lillian about hooking up with Ted:
Lillian: What did you do last night?
[she doesn't reply but gives Lillian a look]
Lillian: You are not telling me something.
Annie: I . . . I hung out with Ted, for like, a little bit.
Lillian: I knew it!
Annie: We had . . . we had . . . fun. It was fun.
Lillian: Here's what I don't like about it; you hate yourself after you see him. Everytime. And then we go through this and you feel like [expletive]. And it's almost like you're doing it because you feel bad about yourself.
Not quite as empowering as the feminists would have us believe.