Britain's Cultural Conspiracy?

Article excerpt

The Sex Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male is the title of a new book by the well-known columnist and commentator Melanie Phillips. It concerns the culture of divorce and illegitimacy currently plaguing Great Britain and the great harm being done to the fabric of civil society by them. Ms. Phillips lays the blame for these things mainly on the influence of feminist ideology on social policy, and she deplores the media's unquestioning support of this ideology.

As you might expect, the book has been well received, firstly by those who agree with Ms. Phillips, and secondly by feminists who feel gratified by the attention and blushingly acknowledge the correctness of her thesis. After all, if she is right, they must be very important people. However, it seems to me that both these points of view miss the broader picture.

The blurb on the back of the book encapsulates perfectly its detailed, but inaccurate, analysis: "The gender revolution of the twentieth century was female. Wartime demand for workers, the contraceptive pill and women's full-scale entry into the workplace changed family life forever. But what became of masculinity? Now, on the eve of the twenty-first century, the male role is in crisis-or even in danger of extinction altogether."

What does it all mean? What, for a start, was the "gender revolution"? Does this mean anything more than that women have been obliged to work outside the home during most of the 20th century-as their sisters had been in the early 19th century-ither because war put them into factories or, latterly, because the wages paid to men were too low to support a family? If so, why doesn't the blurb writer refer to the 1850's as having had a "gender revolution," when the 75% of women who had had paid work outside the home became full-time housewives?

When one thinks of the twentieth century, women's problem with sex roles is scarcely the first thing that comes to mind. One thinks of the First World War, the Russian revolution, the rise of Nazism, the Gulag Archipelago, concentration camps, the Blitz. After the war, women quit the miserable factory work they had been obliged to do for six years and returned to their homes and sometimes to part-time work. Things have remained reassuringly stable ever since, with the overwhelming majority of women with very young children not working at all and a large majority after their children start going to school working only part-time.

There have been changes in Britain of a social and cultural nature, but it is hard to see them as a "gender revolution." There has been an increase in certain social maladies, but their increase has not normalised them, and that is important. Widespread drug use in its current form is a new feature, and so are increased divorce and illegitimacy. With all these things, the fact that they are now subsidised by the state is a much larger factor in their prevalence than any changes in sex roles.

Drug use is nothing new in Britain, but in past centuries if one became unfit to work because of drug use, one simply starved. There was no "safetynet" provided by a kindly state and if you committed crimes to obtain drugs, the law was very severe.

As far as divorce and illegitimacy are concerned, the situation in Great Britain used to be the same as that which still prevails in the rest of Europe. In continental countries to this day, unsupported mothers are the responsibility of their families. The State does not pick up the tab. Even in liberal Holland, girls who become pregnant receive no financial support at all from the state, and contraceptives are not supplied free of charge to young people. Yet we in Britain still pretend to be astonished at our high illegitimacy and divorce rates compared to the rest of Europe.

Indeed, both the illegitimacy and divorce rates have been substantially aggravated by legislation that was enacted not in response to public concern but at the initiative of legal "commissions. …