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Corseted Minds: Does Fear of Irrelevance Send Conservative Men Fleeing to the Victorian Age?

If you focus on the utilitarian value of human beings, you may find yourself at some point nervously glancing in the mirror.

In the last 50 years, American women have finally been able to reliably earn a living, thus rendering men economically unnecessary. Women are outstripping men in education. We’re breaking the glass ceiling. Childbirth out of wedlock no longer carries disgrace. There’s enough sperm stashed away in banks to promulgate the human race indefinitely. On a biological level, modern science has debunked the Adam’s rib story about the female being a derivative of the male.

Still more shattering, there’s even worry that the Y chromosome is in danger of extinction. At the very least, it has seen better days. As the New York Times recently reported:

“Men, or at least male biologists, have long been alarmed that their tiny Y chromosome, once the same size as its buxom partner, the X, will continue to wither away until it simply vanishes. The male sex would then become extinct, they fear, leaving women to invent some virgin-birth method of reproduction and propagate a sexless species.”

That’s gotta make Rick Santorum nervous. (Though the Times does concede that men may have “long-term viability” after all).

Conservatives find themselves in an era of technological advance, information on steroids, women on the rise, and men who do not know what their role is supposed to be. Can we be surprised that they look back wistfully on a “simpler time” when gender roles were strictly defined – and when men did the defining?

The Angel in the House

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. And young conservatives, apparently. In a recent episode of the birth control battles, James Poulous, a Georgetown grad student styling himself a “postmodern conservative,” plunged into political quicksand on Tucker Carlson’s blog “The Daily Caller” with a much-reviled essay: “What are women for?” This question, he announces, is the most pressing of our time. Writes Poulous:

“In a simpler time Sigmund Freud struggled to understand what women want. Today the significant battle is over what women are for. None of our culture warriors are anywhere close to settling the matter.”

All righty then. The sophomoric and risible qualities of his posting aside, Poulous has an argument, of sorts. He makes a roundabout suggestion that the utilitarian purpose of women is to get married and make babies. But not quite comfortable with leaving women as two-legged cattle, he endows us, based on our “privileged relationship with the natural world,” with a moral purpose, too. Women are here to civilize the barbaric ways of men. In response to the predictable social media/web backlash, Poulous has posted two defenses of his original essay. Amid the hurly-burly of the gender wars, he notes that “everyone else feels their civilization is in peril, and the bile rises accordingly.”

I’ll say. Poulous is like a cat spitting up a hairball, unaware of what has irritated his tummy and looking around in vague embarrassment at the mess he has made on the living room floor.

So let’s play the veterinarian and find out what brought on the attack.

Is the question of “what women are for” a significant cultural battle? Well, yes. But not of our time. In the Victorian era, however, it was quite the rage. Conservatives have a particular affinity for the mores of that period and like to recycle them. Conservative author Marvin Olasky pawed around the 19th-century shelves of the Library of Congress to unearth an outmoded view that poverty could be cured solely through private charities. Known as the “turkey basket” approach after the Victorian custom of bringing the poor baskets containing turkeys at Christmas, Olasky renamed this relic “ Compassionate Conservatism.” A bestseller rose from the dust.