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.