Thank you for coming out on this cold and wet day. Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” describes two neighbors who meet every spring to walk the fence dividing their property. After a cold hard winter, damage has to be assessed and repaired. In the year 2000, CWA published my assessment of a whole century of American women's well-being in gaining ground, a profile of American women in 20th century. This report presented a wide array of data series showing women's well-being in seven different areas: education, health, economics, and so forth. What I found in 2000 was that women are on the whole healthier; we live longer, we remain in better health into old age, and we have more professional degrees and more money.
But of all these measures, we were all doing much better except in the realm of personal well-being where I noted counteracting the wave of progress, there's been a riptide of decline. In fact, that fast track of progress continues to be an out-of-control treadmill for women today. Why then do we even have to ask “is there a war on women?”
The war began as early as 1960. Since then our nation has been experiencing a harsh cultural winter; howling winds of change, insidious myths, and outright fault- outright falsehoods have undermined and torn apart the faith, values, and morality that have held together a diverse and multicultural people. These myths and those attacks, those falsehoods by those who present themselves as champions of women's rights constitute a very real war on women. It's a senseless war promoting casual sex, spreading the myth that women don’t need marriage, and pushing the cultural and public policies that inevitably lead women to being the majority of those in poverty.
That war against women has loosened and upended many of the foundation stones of the Judeo-Christian principles. Today I will focus on only three of those areas where our girls and women have been harmed by the relentless barrage of insidious lies. First casual sex, second cohabitation, and third the collapse of marriage.
Main point number one: casual sex. Conventional wisdom says if you tell a lie often enough people will begin to believe it. That mantra heard from middle school onward, is that sex is great recreation. It's free and it's fun. Sadly, many girls don't recognize the lie until it's far too late. Start early sexual activity in your early teens, and you're likely to have more than a dozen partners, four times higher than those who begin their sexual activity in their 20s.
Further, girls who are sexually active in their early tweens- teens are twice as likely to get an STD and about forty percent become pregnant. According to Dr. Beckmann Meeker, a pediatrician and lawyer, we have an epidemic on our hands. Almost half of all girls will likely become infected with an STD during their first sexual encounter. These inconvenient facts go unreported and supposedly responsible adults continue to encourage early sexual activity for girls.
Even less discussed are the psychological and emotional problems associated with early sexual activity. Only one-third of girls who had early sexual activity described themselves as happy, as compared with over half of those who waited. More than a quarter of sexually active girls report depression and they are three times more likely to commit suicide.
The bottom line is that seventy two percent of girls who are sexually active admit they desperately wish that they had waited. Girls are far more susceptible to STDs than guys because of the biology of their cervix, and the CWA report documents the fact that there are have 49 different STDs. We are in the midst, as I said, of an STD epidemic with more than 20 million new STD cases every year, the majority of those affecting young women between the ages of 15 and 25, and that's triple the number just six years ago.
In addition, sex without commitment impairs the ability to establish a lasting bond. As Dr. Miriam Grossman warns in her book Unprotected, women are hard-wired to attach through sexual behavior and no condom will protect her from the psychological consequences of sexual permissiveness: empty relationships, feelings of self-contempt, worthlessness, even depression. Yale University has a sad term for it now, they call it SWG, senior washed up girls.
The Yale Daily News recently quoted one of those girls, “whatever empowerment we're supposed to be deriving from this version of feminist movement is looking pretty thin on the ground now.” The harsh realities of casual drunken sex should make the choice very simple and uncomplicated. If there is more discussion, honest discussion, of the pain caused by promiscuity the market value of virginity will dramatic increase.
That leads to my second point. Cohabitation is a crippling element of the war on women. The trend to cohabit instead of marrying produces at least two opposite problems: couples delaying marriage beyond the time when a woman can have children, resulting in record levels of infertility, a heartbreak for millions of women. Numerous other couples are having children without the benefit of marriage. A quarter of women who cohabit dated before the age of 20 have a child, leading to record numbers- numbers of single mothers, record numbers of poverty, and record levels of people needing government assistance.
Just days ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that almost half of women are now living with a man they are not married to. That number’s a sharp increase from forty three percent in 2002 and thirty five percent in 1995. The absence of real-life husbands and fathers is the government becoming the father in the family, though not a very effective one.
A report in USA Today indicates that Americans depend more on government assistance in 2010 than at any other time in our nation's history. Personal wages at barely fifty percent in the last two years accounted for the lowest share of income since the government began collecting such data into- into 1929.
And that brings me to my third and final point: the collapse of marriage. In 2009, Katelyn Flannigan in a TIME magazine cover story wrote, “there is no single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.” If you cross Independence Avenue right across the street from here, you visit the department of health and human service. Look to the left, and you'll see a cut sculpture of a woman with three children playing around her. It's called “Happy Mother.” That sculpture amounts to a celebration of fatherlessness for me and it emphatically answers the question, is there a war on women? And more importantly that sculpture reveals the nature of this war on women.
Put simply, since the 1960s, American elites have vigorously promoted the myth that women don't need marriage with the result that marriage rates are now half what they were in 1969. Only twenty one percent of Millennials, those aged 18 through 29, are married today, and in a just released report the marriage- national marriage project from the University of Virginia revealed that the average age of women is now 27 years old and 29 years old for men when they get married. That's up from 23 and 26 in 1990.
Still the ideological onslaughts effect our values according to the PEW research is that more than sixty percent of young adults do want to get married, but couples today think they have to have an expensive ring, they have to have an extravagant wedding, a house, a car, the list goes on and on and on.
While materialism and ambition are certainly factors in the decline of marriage, another factor I think is one in mentally important for today's young people. They have very few role models of marriage. Dr. Neil Clark Warren who is the founder of the internet matching service, interviewed 500 couples. He asked them to tell him about marriages that they admire. Over half could not recommend a single healthy, happy marriage. But the trends are not just statistics, they are personal stories associated with every single data point.
In their book Premarital Sex in America, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Auger describe sex scripts, stories prevalent in the popular culture that shape attitudes. The authors make the case that women are disproportionately harmed by the cultural scripts that did a great marriage. Women don't see sex in marriage necessarily linked together anymore, and therein lies the harm. The girls and women, in Regnerus’ economic terms, are trading their most valuable commodity and getting nothing in return, except of course heartache, disease, infertility, and poverty.
Having a baby out of wedlock means a 50-50 chance the woman and her children will end up in poverty. Having a second child out of wedlock raises the likelihood of ending in poverty to more than sixty percent.
In conclusion, this assessment of our fence line is very clear. We are fast approaching the point of no return in terms of the harms of casual sex, cohabitation, and the growing number of single mothers.
Reestablishing the walls of morality, faith, and marriage is no longer something that would just be nice, it's a vital necessity for the nation's young women. Like the neighbors in Robert Frost poem, “we must lift the heavy boulders of truth and put them back in place.” We must repair and restore the cultural and public policy boundaries that are needed to defend our girls and young women against the less pernicious war on women.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.