The old bargain

Ever read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? That book is about the old bargain.

In ye olden days, marriage was a complementary arrangement, with each sex or gender bringing different things to the table. When it worked well, men and women had a simple division of labor that ensured everything went smoothly. Consequently, masculinity and femininity represented the ideal skills, personality traits, and roles that corresponded with that that division of labor.

There was little differentiation between sex and gender, so women’s social roles and personalities seemed inextricably entwined with their biologies. Men’s social roles and personalities were also seen as inextricably entwined with their biologies. So women were nurturing, loving, and cuddly because they had different minds and personalities. Men were seen as aggressive, pushy, and protective because having different bodies meant they had different minds.

A man who was not pushy and aggressive, would be called a fag or a pussy — both clearly failures of masculinity. A woman who was not nurturing and loving might be called bitchy — even though that same behavior might be laudable in a man.

So what was this old bargain, this old division of labor? Why it was the oldest swap in the book — sex for money.

In all fairness, the 1950s sociologists would have called it the instrumental (get things done) and the expressive (love and care) roles. Men were to take care of the outside things, the political things, the economic things. They were supposed to fix, repair, earn, and protect. Women were supposed to take care of the inside things, the love, the care, the inside of the home, the children, and yes, the sex.

According to this formulation, the plastic surgeon’s wife simply made a better investment than the plumber’s wife. And both went for an investment strategy compared to the prostitute, who is pulling cash out of her sexual ATM on a nightly basis.

Women’s investment strategies

How is she going to invest her sexuality?

This relies on an idea of sexual capital that should probably be fleshed out here. Sexuality is a resource women have in our culture. Think of it as a bank account, capital that can be invested in a number of different strategies, or drawn down. The investment problem is that account will decrease yearly as she ages. So a ‘hold’ strategy might be ok midterm, and even smart short term, it is disastrous long term.

Let’s talk plainly: How desirable is she at 18? Hell all of us are beautiful at 18. How desirable is she at 25, well she could be even more desirable if she played her cards well. How desirable is she at 30? 40? No disrespect to grown up women, but everyone in our culture knows that women’s desirability expires. That’s why I get college students who are 25 complaining about being old. Women compete by trying to out-sexy each other, and that’s a young woman’s game.

So, a short term investment strategy might be for an 18 year old to “heavy pet” or even put out quickly. Thing is, this will shower her in affectionate returns for a little while. The risk is that she may get a reputation for being fast or easy [I love these old fashioned words], and men will be coming to her for easy sex without much thought of a longer term investment. So this investment strategy draws down her capital.

A medium term investment strategy might be for her to be completely chaste (no kissing!) until she gets married at 25. Now, depending on the guy this could be a great strategy.

Some men will lose interest long before the marriage though (no kissing even?!?), so a component to the marriage investment strategy is how much interest can be spent on premarital affection without drawing down the capital too much? This answer will vary historically depending on the culture at the time. In short though, this is why gramma said:

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Now the best investment strategy involves skillfully deploying enough sexual interest (in the economic sense) to land the plastic surgeon. This could be tricky because it means figuring out how much interest he needs to keep him intrigued without giving up or getting bored. It also means that as his value goes up through his career, she’s going to have to increase her desirability. So, she is going to have to work out a lot, be very careful what she eats, maybe get some plastic surgery, because at 40, she’ll be competing with 25 year olds who are more than happy to steal that investment away. But if it works out, she could be living a life of $500k per year. The professor’s wife is going to be living on $50k per year. Now be honest with yourself, how many fat physician’s wives do you know? Compared to how many skinny ones?

The bigger the SUV, the smaller the woman driving it

The other investment strategy is that of a sex worker. A stripper sells her sexuality — or at least the viewing rights to it — for tips on a nightly basis. An escort or a street hooker sells her actual sexuality. If we are thinking of sexual investment strategy, this is living off the capital itself. She is walking up to the sexual ATM and withdrawing 100$ every with every client she serves. There would still be class-based strategies here too. It’s probably nicer to be a high priced escort as opposed to a street hustler.

But either way, her sexual capital decreases much faster than other women. The sex worker strategy does give her the freedom from having to put up with dating and marriage, but she still needs a business platform (pimp, escort service) and she really compromises her longer term prospects. Why? Because many men won’t even think of dating or marrying a prostitute. Maybe a stripper (would that be webcam performer in today’s world?).

So what are men then bringing to this trade?

The living they can make.

What makes a man desirable? Well, it’s not necessarily taking off his clothes. Men usually look better in a nice suit, and that’s not cheap. Men will play the same game, but they are usually signaling status. If he has a decent car, a decent watch, and is an aggressive go-getter, then he’s doing well in life. This provides both status and material comfort to whomever his mate is.

Is a many more desirable if he’s younger? No, men seem to be on a different timeline, because they are. Older men are often quite a bit sexier than younger men. Why? There is no biological clock ticking, but there is a career clock. Young men typically haven’t had much career success yet, and they certainly aren’t making much money. Men try to out-status each other, but the youngster is way outclassed by the spending ability of older males. He could spend all his money getting his pickup lifted, while the elder male rolls by effortlessly confident in his bmw.

This is also why the plastic surgeon has the potential to “trade up” on his first wife. They met while they were in college and she was awesome while he was in med school. She was good for an aspiring physician, and an aspiring physician was good for her. But once he was an actual physician and not simply a hopeful, then his value jumped. Meanwhile, she was at home with his kids, not working out, not investing in her own career, her desirability draining off. His is going up while hers is going down.

This gets to the heart of the sexual double standard:

If the old bargain was her sex for his money, then her sluttiness decreases the value of the product she is trading. It’s as easy as that.

The more people she has had sex with, the more her value goes down. If she has more children prior to yours, then her value drops dramatically. If she used to be something like a hooker, well then your relationship is based on love.

This also means that men can play almost as much as they want and it is not nearly as compromising for him. He can sex it up with almost as many women as he wants before marriage. He can step out on the side and it is only frowned upon.

Even having other kids might be ok — with one very important exception. He can’t be financially responsible for them. If he can sire children with another woman and get away without having to pay for them, that is it’s own little score. The biggest coup would be to sleep with another man’s wife and get him to raise your children. This would be where putdowns like motherfucker and cuckolded come from. If it happens to you, then you are a sucker and a fool. If you can pull it off, then someone else is raising your children for you!

One thing to watch out for here would be if he has other kids and doesn’t support them, you need to ensure that you won’t get stuck like that other woman. If he is financially responsible for those other kids, then how much of what he makes is going to be routed away from your new family? If he brings the kids with him, then you know you’re going to get the lion’s share of the work, because life isn’t fair.

So the biggest thing about the man is that he brings a reasonable living to the table, and there aren’t a lot of threats on your claim to that living. This is why the old world cared so much about bastards. Bastards could threaten your well being in a variety of ways. As long as there are no bastards, then what a man does sexually is less of a problem.

Where are we now then?

I don’t know that. The old world certainly had it’s problems. Very restrictive gender roles, restrictive sexualities. We live in world of lifestyle choice. You can be gay, straight, bi. You can be a dfab boy, a tomboy, a transwoman, a gay bear, cisgender manly man, and on and on and on.

But we still have echos of that old gender throughout our culture. First, women still get stuck with the kids, even though many of the cultural strictures against sex are now gone. Consequently, a large portion of people in poverty are single moms and their children.

Young women fall into the game of out-sexing each other almost naturally. Young men almost as soon as the testosterone gets turned on start trying to out fight and out-status each other. Neither of these may be good strategies in the 21st century, but they seem to come naturally. And it’s a hop, skip, and a jump from here to single mom in poverty. If he’s ‘scoring’ because he’s smooth instead of because he’s desirable the charming but unemployable father of 4 with different baby-mamas isn’t too many years in the future.

We still do need people who take care of the expressive roles in society, even if they are not biologically female. We want gentle, knowledgeable, lovable pediatricians, general practitioners, hospice workers, and educators. For all the demonization of traditional masculinity (much of which it honestly deserved), we still need people to fill those roles, even if they are not biologically male. You want your lawyer to be a gladiator in the ring. You want your soldiers to be able to turn off their emotions, be willing to see the unseeable, do the unthinkable, in the hopes that serving the nation is better for all of us. You want your neurosurgeon to be an arrogant SOB who actually thinks s/he can open up someone’s skull and make it better. You need somebody who gets a kick out of danger to climb the 1500 foot cell tower and fix it.

So we are a culture that is in between. The conservatives want the old gender system. It did work if everybody played their roles, so they are right to think that is a decent way to be. The progressives in the culture are working for a world of maximum personal choice, which is much less restrictive and less harmful for those square pegs being forced into round holes. But then there are young people filled with teenage hormones living biologically male and female lives, in a world without the gender strictures culture used to provide, who then end up in gendered problems. The progressives’ vision is laudable, but one danger is a blaming-the-victim. In a world of choices, if you make choices that put you on welfare, well, you didn’t have to make those choices.

And finally, what kind of man or woman do you want to be? I don’t mean style, I mean what are you going to do for your people and the larger society? Are you a lover, a fighter, a fixer, a nurturer, some unique mix of these? Because if your interpretation of gender is simply style then you are missing the point. You have to offer something to the people you hope to pair with, and you’re unlikely to win a wage by simply being charming.