A morning NPR story on how women manifest anger differently from men was just the latest reminder of something we all know, and Mona Charen wants to make sure we don’t forget: sex matters. Men and women are fundamentally different in many ways that she catalogs in her latest book of the same name, Sex Matters, and pretending otherwise has resulted in a havoc that she maps out in detail.

The book is an indictment of modern feminism, its second wave in particular. Second wavers, she argues, “were determined to change what women wanted altogether.” They were “radical, unhappy, and, ironically, enslaved to the ideas of two nineteenth-century dead, white, European males, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The worldview of second-wave feminists was completely wrong about women, history, and human nature—and it left a lot of wreckage in its wake.” 

These feminists insisted on a new set of standards for women, ones that seemed strangely masculine despite all the talk about patriarchy. The results speak for themselves: the #MeToo movement currently roiling the country is just one manifestation of one of the ways that feminism has utterly failed to deliver on its promises of freedom and equality with men. 

Charen’s map of feminism’s trajectory is uniquely comprehensive, accessible, and most importantly, honest, and her methodical takedown of second-wave feminists is particularly enjoyable. In pathologizing femaleness, to use her words, second-wave feminists set future generations up to fail. She writes:

Of the major second-wave feminists, none had a lifelong successful marriage. Few were mothers. The conventional script of marriage, work, home, children, and grandchildren (something most women hope for) was not their goal. They seemed determined to persuade American women that these things were traps and snares.

Nowadays, young women like myself are lucky if we have evaded the snare of a modern feminist outlook. From puberty on, girls are taught to engage in careless sex when in reality, as Charen points out, we are hardwired to care. We are taught to disdain marriage and delay children, when we by nature long for monogamy and commitment and find deep satisfaction in domestic life. And unlike men, we aren’t biologically set up to wait forever for a family.

Charen delves into the hormonal, biological, and physiological realities that set the sexes apart, and documents the extensive damage that denying these differences has done to both men and women. Her dissection of the campus rape crisis stands out. Charen takes conservatives to task for dismissing the severity of the crisis and missing a major opportunity to draw a straight line from what is taught about sex and power to the very real and devastating impact on the students sitting in the classroom where the lessons are being taught. 

Thankfully, a “sexual counterrevolution,” as Charen calls it, is underway. A new generation of women is turning away from the mealy leftovers of a movement gone astray and seeking a new way forward. We owe woman like Mona Charen, however, a great debt of gratitude for going before us and holding a torch. Charen describes making countercultural choices like opting to stay home and prioritizing family or embracing the pro-life position when it was a total cultural anathema. Women who go confidently against the grain today have Charen and her contemporaries very much to thank for forging a narrow path that we now widen.

 “The sexual revolution,” Charen writes, “could never have succeeded without the imprimatur of feminists, who endorsed it as a part of women’s liberation.” The challenge for today’s women who seek fulfillment without abandoning what is essential to their sexual identity is to liberate feminism from its insistence on standards that pit women against their natures and men and women against each other. 

For the foot soldiers of this resistance, Charen’s book is required reading.

Ashley E. McGuire is a Contributing Editor at the Institute for Family Studies. Her new book is Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Regnery, 2017). Republished from the Institute for Family Studies blog with permission.

Ashley E. McGuire is a Contributing Editor at the Institute for Family Studies, a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, editor-in-chief of AltCatholicah, and the Richard John Neuhaus Fellow at the...