Toronto Star

Sunday, June 27, 1999


Would the real men please step forward?

They'd better, or risk becoming obsolete, a new book warns

By Sarah Elton
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

IT'S GETTING pretty hard for men to have sex these days.

Just being a man isn't so easy, either. After all, what's a man worth if a woman can get pregnant, raise a family and support herself without one? Obviously, men are on the down and out.

This, at least, is the view of anthropologist Lionel Tiger, author of The Decline Of Males. Men, he says, are losing the gender war while women gain the upper hand.

He points, for example, to the 20 per cent more women than men who are enrolled in Canadian universities and concludes that women will be cashing in on the top jobs in the future. Their superior level of education will simply make them more eligible to take hold of the reins of power.

And he says that this shift can already be detected. From the late '70s to the mid-'90s, women in the U.S. saw their average incomes rise 7.6 per cent while those of men fell by almost twice that much.

Men's confidence, he says, is on the wane while women's is waxing rapidly. The traditionally male territory is being staked out by the skirts.

But it is on the subject of birth control - specifically the pill - that Tiger, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the guy who coined the phrase ``male bonding,'' works up a sweat. Thanks to the pill, he says, men are being squeezed out of the family because women have the ultimate say over reproduction.

Tiger says his argument puts a Darwinian spin on Karl Marx's adage about the means of production. While Marx observed that humans were alienated from the means of production, Tiger holds that men today are alienated from the means of reproduction.

Not only do men lack control over their sperm's destiny, because they don't know if their partners are on the pill, Tiger says, but they are also held financially responsible if they father a child.

``If 30 per cent of babies are being born to single moms, men are outlaws, not in-laws,'' he says in an interview from New York. ``Thirty per cent of men don't have families. Men who aren't married really lose out.

``This is a very dramatic form of alienation. The relationship changes from an emotional one to an economic one,'' he says.

This is why it's getting difficult to have sex these days. Men never know if their sperm is going to light the fuse or not.

Before the invisible contraception provided by the pill, both men and women knew when they were risking conception. There was a tacit understanding between the sexes when a barrier method like a condom was used. But today, men no longer have a say in reproduction.

``Is this a society you think you want? I think this is for everyone to answer,'' Tiger says.

The idea that the pill has led to the downfall of men has not exactly captured the public's imagination so far. But he's not the only one suggesting that the relationship between men and women has changed dramatically.

Helen Fisher, a friend and colleague of his, has just published The First Sex, a book about the physiological differences between the sexes and how they affect our lives. She argues that the sexes are genetically programmed to be different, that women and men are suited for different tasks.

Fisher holds that, at this point in our history, the inherent talents of women are increasingly in demand. Women are better at negotiating and being diplomatic, two skills of high value in the modern economy.

This means, she argues, that ``in this coming age, women's natural talents are going to be of tremendous use'' and they will be rewarded with higher salaries, corner offices and the power and influence that go with them.

If Tiger says the pill is pushing men out of the family and Fisher acknowledges that women are climbing higher thanks to their special talents, does it mean that the old power structure is being shaken up?

Does this mean that men are becoming obsolete? Are we headed for a world of female dominance where men are merely the peons at the goddess' feet?


Tiger's reasoning rings a little hollow. His point about men never knowing if they're going to impregnate their partners rests on the assumption that women make it a practice to trick their lovers.

While there will always be women who do so (often women want the men, too), sex between couples happens more often than not for pleasure's sake and not reproduction. And since the rise of STDs, casual sex is more than likely accompanied by a condom. So it's doubtful that the pill is forcing men off the family scene.

As to Tiger's fear that women are going to take over the world, Fisher points out that while women are gaining power, they aren't kicking men out of the picture.

One reason is that they are not taking the top jobs away from men since they are not becoming CEOs and heads of governments. Also, men have their own advantages. Instead of being the decline of males, it is rather a meeting of two equals. This is most visible on the domestic front.

``We're moving into peer marriages which is marriage between equals. Both are responsible for economic viability, the chores are divided up. Women are being companions rather than servants. What's wrong with this?'' Fisher asks.

``Lionel Tiger is boo-hooing because men's power in the household is declining.''

Fisher is right. Tiger seems bitter at the thought of his male privilege slipping away slowly as society moves toward equality between the sexes. It's as if he's yearning for the days when dad brought home the bacon and mom cleaned the house and kept her husband and the kids well fed.

In an interesting twist, Fisher says that this division of domestic tasks was just as hard on men as it was on women.

``I feel sorry for men,'' she says, explaining that all the pressure attached to a family's financial survival rested on the man's shoulders. He was considered a failure if he couldn't pay the bills.

But this doesn't mean that Fisher thinks women didn't have a hard time. In fact, she identifies the rise of the plough in ancient times as the cause of women's oppression in the household.

Before agriculture, husbandry and the sedentary lifestyle took hold, men and women worked together on what Fisher calls the ``grasslands of Africa.''

The family worked together to survive in the harsh conditions. Women gathered and men hunted and a balance between the sexes was achieved. When the plough was embraced, men came out on top in the distribution of domestic power because they controlled the means of production.

If Fisher could decide the future, she'd have us return to the grasslands of Africa. This prehistoric family arrangement based on equality is what we should strive for, she says.

Tiger also has a prehistoric slant to his argument. But his take is different from Fisher's. Like his colleague, he says we're going back to the past but his understanding of historic norms is different.

He says male alienation from reproduction is leading us back to a society based on the connection between mother and child rather than Fisher's co-operative arrangement between the sexes.

For Tiger, the future looks bleak for men if we don't try to veer away from this historical set-up.

``Men are being alienated from reproduction. They're being pushed out of the system. They're being turned into familial celibates,'' he says.

His solution: Men and women should stop yelling at each other. He wants an end to the gender war.

This is where Tiger and Fisher meet. They both want co-operation between the sexes in the next millennium.

This will come with an increase in women's confidence and power, says Fisher. When men and women are peers, happiness will take over.

Tiger, on the other hand, says that to achieve this we will have to bring men back into the picture. He wants more men's studies programs rather than women's studies.

Are we talking about a global love-in? Not necessarily, but at least a world where women can start to enjoy some of what men have had for centuries: power, influence and a good paycheque.

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