Recently, psychologist and lecturer Jordan Peterson received criticism from his detractors for using the term “enforced monogamy” in a NY Times interview. Feminists mischaracterized Peterson as advocating a form of domestic slavery in which hapless women are assigned to undesirable men. Peterson clarified that he meant the type of socially-enforced monogamy already in common practice, as understood by anthropologists and psychologists.
I observe that, while monogamist social enforcement targets women, legal enforcement targets men as manifest in palimony and divorce laws favoring women. The financial and legal risks for a man of fathering a child out of wedlock or cheating on his spouse in a marriage discourage many aspiring womanizers (or at least give them pause).
Sluts, Whores and Johns in the sexual marketplace
The act of slut shaming — often perpetrated on women by other women — along with Christian religious mores curtailed female promiscuity in the modern Western world while female selectivity and palimony laws curtail male promiscuity. Slut walks and other feminist rhetoric work toward breaking social stigma toward female promiscuity, but do nothing to address the legal imbalance against men. Conversely, as women enjoy greater employment opportunities, the US legal system still treats them as the wards of men where palimony and alimony are concerned.
Without social stigma, with ubiquitous access to birth control, and with the legal system in their favor, women can pursue high volumes of casual sex that, while not consequence free, is certainly consequence mitigated. With their sexual needs easily met, social stigma around promiscuity removed and increased financial means to support themselves, fewer women have incentive to commit to monogamous relationships.
In the sexual marketplace, it’s a perpetual sellers’ market with women as the sellers and men as the buyers in the figurative if not always literal sense.
A sexually frustrated man can resort to buying sex from prostitutes with some risk involved. Here, male sex shaming is most prominent. The Nordic Model prostitution laws in some countries, and their de facto enforcement in some US states, penalize the sex buyer rather than the sex seller. Pro-prostitution feminists employ their own brand of double think rhetoric that depicts first world prostitutes as empowered women exercising their own agency whilst also calling them victims of patriarchy. In contrast, prostitutes’ male clients are uniformly depicted in the media and popular culture as pathetic and dangerous sex criminals.
Podcaster and columnist Dan Savage — whom I generally disagree with — posits that legalization and removing the stigma against both sex sellers and sex buyers would solve the incel violence problem while caveating that sex workers shouldn’t be “human shields” against male rage (Real Time with Bill Maher s16e16).
I think he’s partially right that legalizing prostitution and removing the stigma against sex buyers can be a palliative for some men who can’t get laid, but argue that it fails to solve the underlying issue of male self-worth. Further, the potential for negative transactions with prostitutes (a demographic not renowned for their honesty or sincerity) can exacerbate a frustrated man’s misogyny.
Emotional Currency and Labor of Responsibility
Another question in the enforced monogamy debate centers around why single men are more likely than married men to run afoul of the law or become violent. While many pundits focus on the sex factor, the legions of incarcerated men who have fathered children or were otherwise successful with women belie that causality. I believe it’s the responsibility inherent to marriage, rather than merely consistent access to sex, that dissuades men from bad behavior.
What causes single men with no prospects to act out is the nihilism and depression that comes of feeling unnecessary. I consider monogamy to generate a form of emotional currency comprised of men feeling needed as providers and respected as husbands and fathers. Women exchange emotional capital in return for male labor of responsibility (protecting and providing).
Emotional capital is particularly valuable in a technologically advanced society; as Karl Marx once said: “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.” As labor becomes more expendable, a person’s self worth derives more from personal relationships than from professional accomplishments.
In Islamic Cultures: Enforced Polygyny
Under Sharia law, Islamic societies employ a form of enforced polygyny where the high status men get the lion’s share of often very young women (up to four wives each). Sharia law allows for the fact that not all men will reproduce and attempts to solve it by covering up women to remove sexual desire in low status males.
They augment this custom with a draconian criminal justice system that includes beheadings and dismemberment to keep low status males in check (many then channel that frustration into sectarian violence). It’s no coincidence that, according to Islam, the divine reward for death during jihad involves a man receiving 72 virgins in paradise.
Were a secular society to adopt a polygamous culture without Sharia-like enforcements, the skewed sexual marketplace would naturally gravitate toward polygyny, leaving a large enough swath of the young male demographic emotionally disenfranchised and prone to crime.
While women aren’t the curators of male behavior, the breakdown of the monogamous family unit robs many low status men of a purpose. As lack of purpose can lead to bad behavior, then unsuccessful men will become more criminal. At a certain point societies that don’t socially enforce monogamy will break down in favor of societies that do. The ugly alternative once a culture crosses that rubicon would be an oppressive society similar to fundamentalist Islam, which controls low status men by denying them even visual access to women.