04/02/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Equal but Separate

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

I can't believe it took researchers this long to figure out two things about heterosexual preferences. Number 1: Women like men and men like women. Number 2: Their everyday behavior bears that out.

Let's take a little trip back to the tumultuous days of the 1960s, shall we? When men were men and women wanted to be men, too. Women marched for their rights; we protested inequality; and we made it clear that traditional roles for women were tired, outdated, and repressive. We had so much more to offer, and it was time to make that a reality. We were, to borrow a phrase, free to be you and me!

While in college in the mid- to late '70s, every woman I knew understood and mostly supported all the equity we'd gained in society--and we felt perfectly comfortable elbowing our way into the workforce. We thanked our older sisters for the doors they'd opened, the barriers they'd destroyed, and the new world order they'd created. All of it was a positive change, for both men and women.

Oh, we thanked them for one more thing, too. The availability of "the Pill" gave us the physical freedom to have sex while avoiding pregnancy; and our newly emancipated status gave us the emotional freedom to have fun, guilt-free, fulfilling sex, without the drama (HAH!). Many women were thrilled to be able to explore their sexuality without the consequences or social stigma their mothers had to contend with a generation ago.

Fine. Good. Lovely.

But it turns out that wasn't quite enough. It wasn't enough that we could find satisfaction in the boardroom and bedroom. We wanted to "have it all." (I despise that phrase. The woman who first uttered it should be made to wear Spanx for 11 hours straight, while chasing a toddler, then driving a fourth-grader to soccer practice, then drafting a P&L, Skyping a conference call, making dinner, and preparing her own pesto with organic basil from her garden.) Back to my point. Once we were married or otherwise sharing a home, women wanted satisfaction in the laundry room, the kitchen, and the bathroom, as well. In other words, we wanted men to be liberated from their own misguided gender roles, too! As a result, men took on some of the traditionally feminine tasks we were now eschewing as enlightened women. Enter: The Domesticated Male. The Househusband. The Partner. The Co-parent.

So, let's sum up: Women populate the workforce like never before, in jobs that range from Supreme Court justices to school superintendents to sanitation workers. We're succeeding, and sharing responsibilities at home and in the workplace. Men not only support our need to engage in all manner of professional and personal challenges, but they encourage it, and have become skilled at tasks like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and changing diapers. Super, right?

Wrong. The ultimate irony of the Women's Movement was recently exposed in The New York Times Magazine article "Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?" It turns out that the combination of "working women + male domesticity" has apparently resulted in all these fabulously equal couples having less sex. According to the study Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage, men who did "feminine" chores like folding laundry, cooking, or vacuuming had sex 1.5 fewer times a month than men who did traditionally masculine chores. And what about satisfaction? Well, when the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores, couples reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none. The more masculine the task a man does, the more sexual satisfaction the woman reports.

Wait a minute, wait minute, wait just a minute. We marched for this?

The weird thing is that when a man does "female" chores, most women feel happier and closer to him. Unfortunately, that happiness and closeness don't follow them into bed. She may like him quite a bit; she just doesn't feel that excited by him. As the Times article puts it, "in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered." That sounds mostly horrible to me.

So does anyone else see the irony here? Women have spent a few generations reveling in the results of our "liberation." We're comfortable in our ambitions and have erased gender stereotypes for our sons and daughters--stereotypes that had previously dictated what to expect at home and in the workplace. Not one feminist ever mentioned we'd probably have less sex as a result. Based on what I've read, our hard-fought liberation eliminated--or at least diminished--someone valuable and important in our lives, someone Gloria and her friends never considered remotely useful: the masculine male.

We've come a long way, baby.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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