Book Review

 

Mills, M. E. (2000). Why men are in decline. Review of The Decline of Males by Lionel Tiger. Sexuality & Culture, 4, 101 - 104.

 

Over the past century, and especially in the past three decades, the feminist movement has intensively lobbied to secure women's reproductive rights.  That battle has been won, but not simply due to political changes.   Lionel Tiger argues in "The Decline of Males" that the key reasons were technological: medically safe abortion and contraception (primarily the pill).  These technologies allowed women exclusively, and independently of their husbands, to control their reproduction.  Contraception controlled pregnancy, and, should it not, women could solely chose whether or not to bring the pregnancy to term. 

 

Although most would agree that these technologies have empowered women by offering them more life options, the larger social and personal effects on men, and on the relations between the sexes, have been largely ill-considered.  These reproductive technologies, Tiger argues, have set the sexes on an uncharted, and perhaps dangerous, course.  Reproductive power is no longer shared, albeit unconsciously, via the evolved desires and aversions of each sex. Today reproduction is controlled consciously and almost exclusively by women. 

 

So while women were gaining their own reproductive control, men were losing theirs.  What reproductive rights do men have left today? Virtually none.  Consider the following scenarios. If a man's partner becomes pregnant, and he wishes to have the child, but she doesn't, he has no legal recourse to prevent an abortion. If, on the other hand, he wants her to terminate the pregnancy, he cannot compel her to have an abortion.  Further, he will be legally responsible for child support for a child he would not have chosen to have. If she is on the pill, and he wishes to have a child, there is no legal recourse available to him to compel her to stop taking the pill.  Divorce courts still favor granting custody of children to mothers and child support payments to fathers. The idea that reproduction and parenting is a decision jointly made by both partners is an outdated romantic illusion. Examined more closely, it is clear that the consent of woman is always a prerequisite.  The consent of the man is often superfluous. 

 

In addition, the resources that husbands traditionally have been able to contribute to reproduction and marriage --  financial support, protection, and socialization of their children -- have been supplanted, and sometimes replaced, by what Tiger terms government "bureaugamy" (women's dependency on the government, or the "government-as-husband").  What women historically relied on husbands to provide, now the state often antes up: child care, welfare, education, police protection, affirmative action and divorce laws that that favor women, ambiguous sexual harassment codes that leave the determination of whether an infraction occurred to the interpretation of a particular woman (not necessarily  a "reasonable woman"), etc.   While medical reproductive technology has had the effect of marginalizing men reproductively, the state's "bureaugamy" has marginalized the importance of men's marital  and parental  contributions.  Women are often encouraged to live independently (as evidenced by the feminist slogan: "A woman needs a man about as much as fish needs a bicycle"). The bureaugamy supports the superfluousness of husbands by assuring a woman that it will provide what historically a husband did -- with government help she can live independently and generally without fear of hunger, lack of shelter, attack, or lack of socialization and education of her children. 

 

The consequences of women's reproductive control, combined with feminist inspired "bureaugamy," may already be felt. Tiger notes that one-third of births in industrialized societies are now to single mothers.  The average female income is growing while average male income is declining.  The majority of college undergraduates, 55%, are women. While female college enrollment continues to increase, male enrollment is decreasing. Divorce rates are the highest recorded in history. 

 

As the value of male contributions to reproduction, marriage and parenting have diminished, so too has the general level of male status in society.  Warren Farrell noted in his book "Why Men Are the Way They Are" that our perception of men has been transformed in a few decades from one in which "Father Knows Best" to "Daddy Molests." The male cultural icons of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s were independent, powerful, and respected men, who were also generally respectful and gentlemanly toward women.  Today, the movie of the week is typically about a woman victimized by a male: her boss or father,  her current (or ex) boyfriend or husband, or by a maniacal serial rapist or murderer. 

 

The feminist movement has spearheaded the cultural acceptance of the routine disrespect of men.  Instead of equitably quashing and discouraging misandry and working toward true mutual understanding and respect between the sexes, the feminist movement has succeeded in cheerleading a misandry that palpably permeates the culture.  Jokes, television commercials, magazine advertisements and even greeting cards often put down men in a way that would be condemned as sexist if directed toward women. As men become less needed as fathers and husbands, they are increasingly disrespected by women.   Ironically, by reducing men's general status vis a vis women, women find to their disappointment fewer available men who can meet their high expectations for a potential husband and father of her children. 

 

Tiger's concern is that by "fooling Mother Nature" via the reproductive technologies of contraception and abortion we have unwittingly headed into uncharted, and perhaps dangerous, territory. Our species has not evolved psychological adaptations to deal with modern reproductive technology  -- what evolutionary psychologists call an "evolutionary mismatch." There is now a disconnect between our ancestral and current environments. As a sexy and technologically smart primate, we have learned to take the goodies (sex) an unlink it from its evolutionary purpose (reproduction and parenting).  The long term social and emotional consequences of this mismatch are unknown, but is it clear that one of the effects, the "decline of males," has already begun. 

 

Yet most men today are about as cognizant of their increasing inequality as women in the 1950s were conscious of their limited life choices. Men need some consciousness raising of their own. Unfortunately, they are so predisposed to protect women, and protect what feminists say women's interests are, that men ignore their own interests as a group to their own peril.  On a social level, several nascent men's movements have sputtered, and then sadly faded.  Apparently men's instincts to protect women (or at least protect their own personal reputation as a protector of women),  are generally greater than their inclination to protect themselves. 

 

On a more personal level, when a man finds himself unable to provide more income than a woman can obtain via welfare (or that she can provide through her own career), when he cannot cause or prevent an abortion, when he is ordered to financially support a child that he never wanted (or even one that is not genetically his own), when he is not granted equal custody or parental authority for his children after a divorce, when he loses a job, promotion or a work contract to a less qualified woman due to affirmative action policies, when women of his own socioeconomic class reject him because they prefer a partner who has a higher status, he is feels, at best,  confused.  He knows something is askance with feminist rhetoric about "equality," but he may have difficulty articulating it.  Men today are befuddled -- they don't understand how equality for women came to result in sexual, reproductive, parental and legal inequality and a disrespect for men. 

 

Although Tiger's book contains a great deal of valuable information, it is rather poorly presented.  It is written with a prose that awkwardly combines the style of a social commentary with a smattering of too lightly sketched evolutionary psychology theory, personal observations, social history, exemplars from contemporary cultures, and some repetitive statistics. Chapter titles and section headings are nondescriptive.  Some of Tiger's assertions are based solely on his opinion -- others have solid scientific backing.  But it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.   It would have helpful if Tiger had organized the book more as a clear, progressive and logically structured argument. 

 

Most egregiously, Tiger seems to have missed some of the most important works in the men's studies field, such as Warren Farrell's books, including Why Men are the Way they Are, The Myth of Male Power, and  Women Can't Hear what Men Don't Say. This is a serious oversight -- not only are Farrell's important works ignored in the text, they are not listed in his chapter notes and references.   Many of Tiger's own arguments have previously been presented more cogently and forcefully by Farrell (albeit sans Tiger's useful evolutionary psychology perspective on human nature). 

 

Finally, Tiger leaves us with a problem but with little in the way of proposed solutions.  Tiger would have done better to have made a clearly organized listing of the ways that males are in decline (and why), and what might be done politically and socially to help to reverse it.