Thursday, July 11, 2002

I've recently commented on a couple of books that annoyed me at first but went on to be very interesting to read. Now I've come across one that annoys me persistently: Lionel Tiger's The Decline of Males: The First Look at an Unexpected New World for Men and Women . The author is the originator of the concept of male bonding (in Men In Groups, 1969) Unsurprisingly with this history, the book is very pro-male, sometimes to the point of bordering on being anti-female. Near the beginning, he says "while equality has by no means been achieved, more women earn more money than ever. More males earn less." Then any time that earning power is mentioned later (frequently), increases in female income and decreases in male income are harped upon until it would be easy to get the impression that women now earn significantly more than men.

One of the major points in the book is the changes wrought in society by effective contraception. Certainly, birth control has allowed huge changes in sexual mores, but Tiger argues that contraception itself directly caused a rise in the rate of both single motherhood and abortion because: "If men were not certain than the pregnancy was theirs, then they abandoned the relationship and the unexpected pregnancy." How is that supposed to be the result of contraception? Men had no better way to know if they were responsible for a pregnancy before modern contraception than they did afterward (until the advent within the last decade of DNA paternity testing -- thirty years after the Pill and IUDs). He claims men know if a woman is using a diaphragm (Our Bodies, Ourselves and every other source I've found say the male generally can't feel if a woman is using one) so that he can discount the availability of contraception through the diaphragm for quite a while before the Sexual Revolution or the increase in children born to unmarried women. He continues throughout to claim that women's ability to control contraception makes men less certain of children's paternity, seeming to have confused the unfairness of women leaving men out of the decision to conceive a child (or abort one that has already been conceived) with some kind of mistrust of women's fidelity which seems to come out of left field, without ever providing real support of the connection he makes. He even states that contraception "has more influence, in my opinion, than changes in moral standards, religious enthusiasm, the vaunted family values," which rules out the idea that he means to say that contraception led to more unmarried sex which led to unmarried parents, but left out a middle step.

This is the first conclusion not supported by the evidence provided, but not the last. In a discussion of grooms' eagerness to receive dowry payments from brides' families in India, Tiger says, "And because of demographic changes largely associated with amniocentesis and abortion, there is an excess of potential brides over potential grooms." You mean parents actually choose to bear girls, whose future husbands they will have to pay dowries to? Funny, in most locations where children of one sex are selectively aborted, it's the expensive girls. I can't find any evidence of there being so many more marriageable women then men in India; most of the population statistics indicate that there is 1.07 man for every 1 woman there. Doesn't sound like a bride excess to me.

Not that all the arguments in the book are so objectionable. His sections about welfare rules (which generally will not aid married couples with children, only single parents) discouraging people who would get married if it wouldn't cause a financial penalty make sense, as well as his point of how ridiculous it is to expect a welfare mother to put her kids in daycare to go work caring for other people's children -- why not pay her the same amount to take care of her own children (making her family more affluent than if she worked, since it is no longer necessary to pay for daycare out of their available money). He also cites a study saying that young child mothers become more motivated and better workers when they go to work after their children are in school -- having a child certainly forces one to learn to focus one's energy.

He points out that modern society, post-"women's liberation," has effectively "liberated" men from the responsibilities of being sole family breadwinner (or in some cases from feeling responsible for their children at all) while women have ended up with additional obligations, but he seems to think this only results in fulfilled women and dispirited men. I certainly wish that fewer children were raised by single parents, but blaming women as having made men superfluous will not lead to children being raised by couples. I find his views on falling birth rates and the anomie of unattached men particularly interesting in light of the next book I picked up: The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture by Howard P. Chusakoff. In the introduction to this book, it states, "In the late nineteenth century, when their numbers and proportions had seemed to grow almost out of control, bachelors had become a serious social problem. Social analysts expressed heightened distress not only over the crime and disorder attributed to unmarried men but also the possibility of 'race suicide' linked to the falling birth rates that were attributed to declining marriage rates." Maybe men outside the traditional nuclear family are causing societal problems, but Chusakoff shows that social commentators have made that assumption before.

Another time when Tiger seems to show an ignorance of human past ways of living is when, speaking on pornography, he says, "Once upon a time the mysteries of the body and its private behavior tantalized the ignorance of the young ..." Sure. Only in families rich enough to afford privacy -- sex and the body weren't much of a mystery when poorer people lived in dwellings without bedrooms for closing off the rest of the world. Frankly, a lot of this book's arguments, though supposedly based in biology, seem more as if the behavior of 1950s Americans is considered to be the natural baseline.

Tiger even brings up the story of Jesus' birth, due to its status as the basis of the biggest American holiday, saying it is an example of how men (i.e., Joseph) are supposedly marginalized. The popularity of the holiday is supposed to reveal society's preoccupation with the mother-child link and getting the community rather than family and particularly fathers to support it. He even says, "There are evidently no family members -- no sisters, cousins, aunts, brothers -- to call on for shelter and succor." Apparently Tiger never read the part of the story where Joseph and Mary are away from home (because Joseph has to go to the city of his ancestors). It's not like a telephone call from Bethlehem to Nazareth was an available solution.

He also makes reference to classical mythology: the arrows of love shot by Cupid, "son and companion of no less a star than Venus herself," the goddess of love. "But wait ... Cupid is an infant!" Not in classical mythology, he's not; he's a beautiful youth of the type seen in Greek statuary. The depiction of Cupid as a chubby baby on Valentine cards came millennia later. How can I trust the analysis of a man who can't even get accurate versions of stories to be found in any number of general reference works?

Men may be getting a raw deal in Western society, but this book sure doesn't do much of a job of explaining it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Kate Fillion's Lip Service: The Truth About Women's Darker Side in Love, Sex, and Friendship (originally published with a different subtitle) is another book that annoyed me for two chapters and then started challenging me in a more interesting way. The opening chapters on friendships between women and and women's competition in workplaces left me at best cold because they really didn't describe anything in my life. Though oddly enough, the words "Breaking up is not supposed to be one of the scenes in the drama of female friendship, which is why there is rarely a sense of closure and why the pain is always such a sharp, sour surprise" would need only the removal of the word "female" to describe the loss of one of my best friends and a more recent fight with another male friend. I suppose this supports Fillion's general point that women and men are a lot more alike than generally thought, but somehow limiting her discussion to only female friendships and competition doesn't feel like it's helping explode the myth of differences.

It wasn't until the later chapters that the book became thought-provoking; this is the part of the book that talks about sex. The role of sexual stereotypes in office affairs, consensual seduction, date rape, and many other sexual situations is revealed to still be very strong, but not in the way one would probably expect. People's belief in the "men want sex and will do anything for it; women only have sex because it's part of a relationship" dichotomy causes a lot of self-deception. Men consenting to sex they're not really interested in because a woman says to them (or they say to themselves) "Aren't you a real man?" Women persuading themselves that they must want a relationship because they're so physically attracted to a man. The ruination of good male-female friendships because she assumes he wants sex. There are many other misuses of the power that sex brings because of its associations, and prevailing views interpret them all with women-as-victim -- whether it's because she's supposed to be frail and inferior or because society's patriarchal structure opresses her. Neither chauvinist nor feminist views really tell women they have the freedom to make their own choices and the responsibility to deal with their consequences.

The most difficult part of the book is the section on date rape. Fillion argues that a large portion of the incidents labeled "date rape" by social science researchers should really be considered "unwanted consensual sex" -- going ahead and choosing to have sex with a partner when you were originally not interested in doing so, something that studies asking for more details on "unwanted" sex found was just as common for men to do as women. The idea is a hard one to swallow after years of date rape statistics and scenarios (and particularly so for me because I've done so much reading on child sexual abuse, where it's felt in both law and psychology that a child's consent isn't valid beccause he or she isn't old enough to understand what they're consenting to). However, adults are certainly able and allowed to consent to sex, even if it is for what others might consider the wrong reasons -- this is part of taking responsibility for one's own choices. Counting an incident of consensual sex as a rape, when no force, threat, or intoxicant was involved, seems pretty ridiculous to me, especially if you'd only call it rape when the persuader is male and the consenter female, but not when it's the other way around.

Throughout the book, the scenarios from real life really help explain what's going on emotionally for both the women and the men in the situations, without painting either side as the sole cause of the problem. It's one of the most pro-equality, rather than pro-female or pro-male, books I've read on the relations between the sexes (though as I said, the earlier sections which focus on women have a different tone and did not engage me as much). It's definitely food for thought for the modern person, feminist or not.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

I know side effects and unusual reactions to medication. It seems to run in my family; my mom takes about one-eighth the standard adult dose of her allergy medicine and it still makes her sleepy. Me, I dealt with antibiotics (erythromycin) that make me throw up; birth-control pills that kill my libido and make me depressed and nauseated; and constipation from the antidepressant (Effexor) that I take. But I've at least been able to decide whether the treatment was worse than the problem. The latter portion of Robert Whitaker's Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill made the biggest impression of any part of the book because it dealt with side effects of antipsychotic drugs and the people to whom they are given, who are often not in charge of their own medication.

The earlier sections of Whitaker's book deal with the history of mental health treatment, particularly in institutions, since the 1700s. The Quaker-inspired "moral treatment," where there was essentially no biology-based medical treatment but just counseling from a sympathetic doctor and as pleasant an environment as the institutions could provide, stands as a lone bright spot in the list of supposed treatments of the past; more common were things like strapping the patient to a board and spinning it in circles, or cocooning the patient in wet sheets so that they could not move (even before the drying sheets shrank and stiffened) for hours. We'd like to think that treatment has gotten more humane and more effective in the past forty or fifty years, but Whitaker argues against both, with some pretty impressive evidence to back him up. World Health Organization statistics show that developing countries, where only 15.9% of schizophrenics are given antipsychotic drugs as opposed to 61% in developed countries, have substantially better rates of complete cure or remission for those schizophrenic patients. In addition, those neuroleptic drugs, the antipsychotics used for decades, often cause side effects that are basically a chemically-caused Parkinson's disease (you know, that thing Michael J. Fox has). And the stories of drug manufacturers using all kinds of unethical methods to make their new drugs seem more effective and safer than older ones, when studies show that the new products are no better than (and sometimes much less helpful than) those drugs already in use (the same ones that already have such unpleasant side effects). The viewpoints of patients are also given, bringing one to question whether the zombielike state they say that antipsychotic drugs induce can really be considered an improvement. This is definitely a book to make one reconsider whether the years since One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest have brought any improvement in treating the mentally ill.