That’s what Reihan Salam of The American Scene claims here, in a very smart and dense post that I will attempt to respond to at least in part.
First of all, an admission: I actually have a soft spot for Brooks. I heard him speak at Brown when I was a student there, and he entertained an audience of several hundred with a fast-paced talk combining social observations with information gleaned from meaty, contemporary sociology and political science. After the talk, I thought Brooks was perhaps better suited to this freer format, in which his pop culture references took the back seat to his obviously considerable grasp of history and contemporary work.
It was fun to see that Brooks missed the fact that the young pop stars he held up as evidence of moral failure were actually married, striving themselves to live out a "traditional" ideal. But I didn’t point this out just for laughs. Rather, the youthful marriages of people like Pink and Avril Lavigne, or even Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, are just as powerful of a cultural influence on young women as the lyrics of songs, if not more so. Fairly tale weddings and virgin brides are still very much held up as the gold standard in a country where millions of school children sit through abstinence-only education, but 95 percent of us have premarital sex anyhow. Young women are caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s tough to read a column like Brooks’ because young men are hardly ever subject to this same hand-wringing about sexual values. Boys will be boys, right?
Reihan suggests I devalue non-market labor ("homemaking") by seeing progress in women’s emancipation from responsibility for the domestic sphere. He describes one of my favorite political philosophers, Susan Moller Okin as a "maternalist" who just wanted to see women’s domestic labor better appreciated in the public sphere. This I have to take issue with. Okin believed passionately in the idea of two-income families, meaning two adults engaged with the public marketplace and equally dividing domestic responsibilities. In her wonderful Justice, Gender, and the Family, Okin suggests a number of practical ways to incentivize work for women, such as high quality government child care, health care, and the like. But for women who persist in choosing a "traditional" stay-at-home role, Okin proposes mandatory 50/50 income sharing, in two separate bank accounts, between a working spouse and a stay-at-home spouse. She endorses such a radical intervention into the "private sphere" because she accepts that domestic labor is not and likely never will be as highly valued as marketplace labor. This is because an individual divorced from the market economy will have a very hard time gaining political or cultural influence in our profit-driven system.
So while I might agree with David Brooks that stable homes are good for kids, gay marriage should be legal, and our society doesn’t do enough to support families, I think I’ll continue to disagree with his method of lighting a fire. Angry women, decades of dating, and premarital sex don’t scare me. I don’t think they are evidence of cultural malaise. Rather, they’re signs of progress: Young people today are waiting longer and preparing themselves better to make some very tough decisions about who to love, when to reproduce, and what to do with their lives.