Surplus to requirements?
If 99.9% of the world's men were wiped out tomorrow, would the human race become extinct? It would not. The fact is, women can live without men, often do - but does that mean they want to, asks Germaine GreerGermaine Greer
Saturday November 16, 2002
The truth is out. Men are much more trouble than they're worth. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Discarded males of all ages loiter in the streets, looking for trouble to get into and finding no lack of it. Male security guards shoot male football fans in Bratislava, male fans howl racist abuse and hurl chairs at each other, males train as suicide bombers, male heads of state stroll about discussing whether they could get away with another shooting war on the women and children of Iraq, and their male flunkies zoom around the world trying to talk other males into joining in. The Beltway Sniper turned out to be a man. And those "children" ejected from school for threatening to kill their teachers are actually boys. It doesn't do to say so. A kind of mad squeamishness prevents us from quantifying the nuisance value of maleness, possibly because if you actually tell men that they are damned nuisances, they are likely to behave even worse.
What can be the root cause of all this male dysfunction? Feminism, that's what. When feminism came along and drew women out from under men, men found themselves in freefall. Liberated women could change their own light bulbs and tap washers and engine oil, so men felt unwanted. Women who could earn a decent living could get their own mortgages and buy houses on their own, so they did and do, in their millions. No wonder men went off in an enormous sulk, refused to do their homework or tidy their rooms, ran round the streets shouting and screaming and writing on walls, balked at committing themselves in relationships, and wandered off into a fantasy world of pornography, sport and grotesquely violent video games. Women made men redundant; redundant tissue inevitably turns malignant.
Whereas the facts adduced in my first paragraph are clearly true, the argument in my second paragraph is nonsense, for two reasons. First, men have always been redundant and, second, women and children have always had to make do without them while pretending that they were indispensable.
Men are redundant not because of women or anything that women might do to them or without them, but because of biology. With every second, the world's men produce 200,000,000,000,000 sperm, while in that same space of time the world's women produce only 400 eggs; intensify that imbalance by considering that a woman becomes a mother only after nine months, and a man can be a father as many times as one of his billions of spermatozoa meets a viable egg, and you can see that the human race could continue on earth if 99.9% of human males were wiped out by some sex-linked disorder.
This unimaginably enormous disproportion between the huge investment demanded of females and the piffling contribution of males is reflected across terrestrial species where the male is often jettisoned as too costly and too useless to be allowed to survive once he has contributed his sperm. The genus Antechinus comprises several Australian species of marsupial mouse, the males of which are remarkable for the extraordinary vigour and intensity of their mounting behaviour. Immediately after their orgy of violently athletic intercourse, the males die, leaving the females to raise their young alone. Yet these marsupial mice are among the most successful of Australian species at a time when other indigenous small mammal species are being wiped out at the rate of one a month. If survival is your game, you need many more females than males.
It is supposed to be in the female animal's interest to mate with superior males; by combining her genes with those of a winner male, she endows her offspring with a better chance of survival, provided her co-parent does not decide to eat them, as tomcats have been known to do, or trample on them in the course of fighting rival males, as sea-elephants often do. Female deer are apparently happy to breed by a single stag and stay close to him in the herd, while the unmated males wander disconsolately around in the wilderness, awaiting a chance to fight and defeat an alpha stag and inherit his herd. Up to five lionesses will cluster together in the pride of a single lion, hunting for him and breeding by him, leaving four unmated inferior lions to scratch a living as best they can. The system has great benefits for the lionesses, who can hunt more effectively in a group and can share the cub-minding, taking it in turns so that they can catch up on their sleep. The lion is a mere toyboy, who takes no part in cub-rearing or hunting. Once he has impregnated them, they don't need him, so why do they keep him? Because need has nothing to do with it. He needs to believe that he is needed, and they let him believe it because they love him. But they don't love him so much that they will not be unfaithful to him on occasion. Not all the cubs are his, but as they resemble their mothers, there is no way he could single out and kill the ones who carry the wrong genes.
In many mammal species, reproductive opportunity is available only to the alpha male who spends a good deal of his time beating up junior males who try to usurp his right. We daily observe symbolic versions of this leader-fucks-all behaviour when we see Blair accompanied by his receptive female at all times, while the henchmen he is grooming for future office trot beside him spouseless. The implication is that they're all expendable, and so with each cabinet shuffle do all but a few shrewd campaigners prove to be. Male hierarchies are built on conflict and competition not between man and women but between man and man; all the winners are eventually losers, unseated by younger, hungrier, leaner males.
The submission of women used to compensate men for their humiliations at the hands of their own kind. Men bullied by other men could rebuild their manhood by bullying women and children. Not any more. In the 20th century, we saw how an ageing Nobel Prize-winner tried to extend his own reproductive opportunity, and those of his ilk, beyond the span of their natural lives by establishing a celebrity sperm bank, which would give women the opportunity of combining their own genes with genes for superior intelligence or leadership. This imagined right and superiority in the matter of reproduction is a typical alpha male delusion; silverback gorillas believe that they are the only ones passing on their genes and will attack junior males hanging around receptive females, but DNA investigation has shown that many gorilla wives have conceived by junior males. Female apes may not know much about genetics, and female humans not much more, but they do know about masculine delusion. The effects of ageing on sperm quality probably cancel out any advantage of perceived higher intelligence in the sperm donor. Intelligence is not reliably or even often hereditable, in any case. What saved the world from a generation of William Shockleys, or Frank Sinatras or Spiro T Agnews or Henry Kissingers, was women's common sense and their tendency to devote themselves to one man, regardless of his actual worth or apparent superiority. In other words, the antidote for male expendability is, was and always will be women's love.
Many human societies have rewarded successful men by extending their reproductive opportunity, making them patriarchs with many wives and concubines, and therefore removing the possibility of fatherhood from other men, who were reduced to permanent juvenile status. As such, they could function as servants of the patriarch, as soldiers or attendants or functionaries of his business or household. In some cases these men would also have been gelded. Such a system is plainly unjust to the men who are denied reproductive opportunity, but it was usually condemned by western social reformers as unjust to women, who were thought to deserve a whole husband to themselves. Mormon wives fighting to defend their lifestyle seem to be satisfied with a share of the communal husband; it may be no more than male prejudice that asserts that every woman needs a whole man. Some Mormon wives have claimed that the companionship and cooperation of their co-wives more than compensates for the inaccessibility of their shared husband. So whom could they most easily do without?
In our own society, women insist upon a male of their own. His being exclusively their own seems to be more important than looks, strength, intelligence or success. Rather than share him with another woman, they will dump him. Our grandmothers' generation took male infidelity pretty much for granted. Good women did not want sex anyway and if a professional sex worker took the strain, a wife might well feel grateful rather than indignant. A century later, women have claimed and won the right to sexual self-expression; sex is no longer an unpleasant duty but a mutual pleasuring and an essential expression of love within a relationship. Male desire, which an earlier generation of married women perceived as excessive, is now more likely to be perceived as inadequate and in need of pharmacological enhancement. Yet the same men who are wanted for sex as never before are the same who complain of having been made redundant. Though the king of beasts might be happy to be wanted for nothing but sex, it seems that men are not. Once again we are aware of a certain asymmetry. Men have thousands of sexual fantasies a day, women don't. Sexologists tell us that the average duration of intromission, the business end of sexual intercourse, is four minutes. Men might be wanted for sex, but the sex they supply would seem to be inadequate for women's purpose. Perhaps it's not so much feminism that has made men feel unwanted as the marketing of sex aids.
Most women continue to want a father for their children; a sire, regardless of his genetic endowments, is simply not enough. In the case of hedge sparrows, the two are often different individuals. The female sparrows mate with one bird, who will share the toil of feeding the fledglings, but conceive by another opportunist adulterer cock-sparrow who is too smart to get lumbered with the actual rearing. Human females like sire and father to be the same person, if possible. They do not need this - they can get by without it - but they want it. Most of the time, they don't get it. By and large, men are not interested in fathering; they are not very interested in siring, for the most part, but they are even less interested in fathering. In creating the ideal of the male parent, women imagine a symmetry between the male life-pattern and their own which simply doesn't exist and cannot be brought into existence without a struggle.
There will be those men who will be outraged by this statement and write furious letters expostulating about their own noble dedication to the task of parenting. Their very indignation is proof of the point. They are making an exceptional effort and they want that effort recognised.
Engels thought men disenfranchised women and assumed control over them because they needed to be reassured that they were genuinely fathers, and the children they were helping to raise were really theirs. Sociobiologists would say that they needed to be certain that they had passed on their genes. It seems that Engels and the sociobiologists are both wrong. Now fathers can positively establish their claim to children by DNA analysis, but how many cases have we seen of a man using the technology to establish his paternity rather than deny it? Men's magazines run ads for laboratories that carry out DNA comparisons; all assume that what potential clients are looking for is not the right to claim a child but the possibility of disowning it. Many of today's divorces have come about because a husband would not play the role of a male parent. In such a case, the man made himself redundant. His wife wanted him as a husband and his children wanted him as a father but they did not need him in any absolute sense. Many a man decides to play the role of father only when the children have become an object of competition between him and their mother. Then he suddenly has the time for them he never had before.
Women have always been able to survive without men. What is more, the authorities have always known that women could survive without men, and removed their men whenever they had a mind to, for trade or warfare or any other purpose. My mother's generation had to take over their own lives because there was a war on. When the warrior returned, a wife's duty was to make him feel that, speechless and heartbroken and unsteady as he was, he was the head of the family and she couldn't live without him. The wives forgot how to do the multifarious tasks they had carried out without men, how to manage the family finances, how to keep the home fires burning, put the garbage out and discipline the children. To rebuild egos crushed as much by the army machine as by anything the enemy could devise, women created a starring role for the men they had learned to do without.
The pattern is as old as patriarchy. My mother is descended from a Swiss family that lived in the Vallemaggia, behind Locarno, for a thousand years. In the winter, the families lived virtually underground; when the snow melted off the peaks, the men went down into Lombardy, where they swept chimneys for hard cash while the women did the men's work on the land. With their children, they herded cows in the high pastures, grew corn and olives and wine, slaughtered the pig and made the salumi, collected fuel for the winter. And when their menfolk came home, they surrendered control to them. All over the world men leave home for work, whether as outworkers, fishermen, seasonal itinerant workers, miners, prospectors, lumbermen or shearers, and women manage without them.
It is men, not women, who perceive that the number of men on the planet is vastly surplus to requirements; male-dominated human societies have always devised strategies for neutralising as many males as possible. Senior males have always seen clearly that if law and order were to prevail, the majority of men had to be controlled. The obvious way to control them was to draft them into armies under the command of senior males who had the power to kill them if they mutinied, and then to use those armies to dominate or annihilate the rest. Male-dominated societies are virtually all authoritarian and militaristic. The rise of feminism coincided with the deep revulsion to both militarism and authoritarianism that resulted from the world's brief and traumatic experience of totalitarianism. In the window of opportunity that opened during the postwar years stepped women, and other groups unrepresented in the male elite. Like grass they grew up around the scarred monuments of discredited phallocracy.
That window is closing. A tide of male supremacism has risen in the east and is streaming across the world, promising the restoration of virility and virtue, a pure and manly way of life exemplified in holy warfare. In response, the male supremos of the west can think of nothing but meeting destructive force with greater and more destructive force. Authoritarianism and militarism have returned; civil rights are in the process of suspension and the nurturing of the poor and needy, inadequate as it always was, is being abandoned. While women and children were playing in the glow of dawning freedom, new methods of tracking and control were being devised. The only person whose whereabouts will not be known at all times is someone like the Beltway Sniper. The rest of us carry a ball and chain in the shape of bank accounts, credit cards, social security numbers, car registration, insurance, mortgage and debt. Authoritarianism has recovered, and is greater, more ramified, more centralised and more effective than ever before in human history. Once more old men are marching their rivals, the younger men, towards war.
Men get angry when I describe them as "freaks of nature, fragile, fantastic, bizarre", as idiots savants, "full of queer obsessions about fetishistic activities and arbitrary goals, doomed to competition and injustice not merely towards females, but towards children, animals and other men". Professor Steve Jones's new book Y: The Descent Of Men is much harder on men than I am. Imagine the fuss if I had said, "The chromosome unique to men is a microscopic metaphor of those who bear it, for it is the most decayed, redundant and parasitic of the lot." Men are surplus to requirements, but so what? Human beings don't exist for any ulterior purpose but in and of themselves. The audience for male display, whether in dance or song or fine plumage or bower-building, is female. None of the spectacular male craziness we see around us every day is necessary and some of it is lethal, but much of it is wonderful, compelling, awesome. For whatever reason, women are more heterosexual than men, perhaps because they build men's bodies inside their own. Mothers are more indulgent to their sons than their daughters. Women would find a world without men flat and savourless; it is men who dream of a world without women
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