Opening the newspaper we're often confronted with what seems to be an epidemic of mistreatment of women in our culture. Stories of a campus rape culture, spousal abuse, and other examples of terrible violence perpetrated against women seem to abound, but the question this all raises is "why?". Why do more men today, more than in previous generations, seem to hold women in such low esteem? Why are women so much more likely to be objectified today than in our grandparents day?
I think a strong case can be made for the claim that the problem is a result of the moral revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s concerning our attitudes toward sex and violence.
During those decades pornography was mainstreamed and with the advent of the internet it became easily accessible to adolescents. Three generations of young men have thus been raised on ubiquitous pornographic images. This has likely had several undesirable effects. First, it has desensitized men to sexual stimuli. A hundred years ago a glimpse of a woman's lower leg was stimulating. It no longer is because now there's much more to be seen anywhere one looks than merely a shapely ankle.
Consequently, men require stronger and stronger stimuli in order to achieve the same level of arousal as someone who's not exposed to the constant barrage of sexual images. Because of this need for ever more erotic stimuli many men want their women to be like the women they encounter in movies, magazines, and online - they want their women to be sexually voracious playthings, and that desire often has a dehumanizing effect on women. A lot of women simply don't feel comfortable in that role, and that incompatibility can create tension in their relationships. The man feels cheated, the woman feels cheapened and trouble results.
At the same time that pornography exploded, sex was disconnected from marriage and commitment. Many women were perfectly willing to live with men and give them all the benefits of marriage without demanding of them any kind of permanent commitment. This suited many men just fine. When men could have sex without having to bond themselves to a woman, women were more likely to be objectified and used by men who reasoned that there was no sense in buying a cow as long as the milk was free. People who give us what we want may be popular as long as the benefits keep coming, but they're not respected. Respect may be feigned, of course, as long as the benefit is imminent but when the benefit no longer seems all that novel or exciting a diminution of respect often follows and results in the woman being treated accordingly.
Men are naturally promiscuous, they have to be taught to subordinate their natural impulses and to value hearth and family, but our entire culture has conspired in the last forty years to minimize and deride that lesson. So, when many a modern man, unfettered by any profound commitment to a particular woman and children, grows accustomed to the woman he's with she'll begin to bore him and it won't be long before his eye is cast elsewhere in search of another potential source of sexual excitement.
Along with the decline of traditional sexual morality in the 60s and 70s was the emergence of a radical feminism that castigated the old Victorian habits of gentlemanly behavior. It became quaint, even insulting, for a man to give a woman his seat on a bus or to open a door for her. Men who had been raised to put women on a pedestal - to care for them, provide for them, and nurture them - were told they were no longer necessary for a woman's happiness. In Gloria Steinem's famous phrase "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."
The more vocal feminists also made it clear that women no longer appreciated being treated differently than men. Thus our entertainment culture began depicting women in movies as just as raunchy, coarse, and proficient at killing and mayhem as men, and the idea of a woman being an object of special respect and courtesy because she needed male protection and care became risible. This, too, dehumanized women by eroding the esteem in which their gender had formerly been held among men.
As with sex so with violence. The inclination to violence in the male population follows a Bell curve distribution. At some point along the tail there is a line to the left of which lies the segment of the population which represents men who are violent. Most men sublimate and control their natural inclination to violence, but when they are exposed to it over and over as young men, when they amuse themselves with violent movies and video games, when they immerse themselves in violent imagery and themes, they become desensitized to it and tolerant of it. When they're no longer horrified by violence the population of males undergoes a shift toward that line, spilling many more men onto the other side of the line than would have been there otherwise.
This affects women as much as men, if not moreso, because women are often the victims of male violence. As men become more inclined to violence, as they lose respect for women, as our culture portrays women as sexually insatiable playthings, women become increasingly the victims of male lust, anger and aggression.
It would be well for any young woman who is beginning to get serious about a young man to find out how much of his time he spends on violent movies and computer games and what he thinks about pornography. She'll learn a lot of very valuable information about him if she does.