|THE DECLINE OF MALES|
August 3, 1999
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, a Gergen dialogue. David Gergen engages Lionel Tiger, a Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University and the author of The Decline of Males.
DAVID GERGEN: Lionel, you write that your book is about an emerging pattern, a pattern of growing confidence and power of women and an erosion of the confidence and power of men. A number of our viewers may be surprised that such a pattern exists. What's the evidence for it?
LIONEL TIGER, Author, The Decline of Males: Well, there are some trends that are very powerful. For example, about a third of babies are now born to single mothers, single women. That implies that there are no fathers for those children. That means that a third of men are being deprived of parenthood, which is one of life's richest privileges, really, and forms of commitment to life. That's an enormous change. Now in the United States 55 percent of college students are female. Who would have predicted 20 years ago that more than half of the Ivy League students would be female? That means that as we go down the road and jobs are dependent, of course, on credentials, those jobs, as they emerge, will go to women, 55 percent of them. What's happening to the 45 percent, to those men that are not going that used to? I don't think we know yet. And there are changes in income distribution. Income of women has been going up. Income of men has steadily been going down. And while of course there is no parity yet -- I'm not naïve and saying that it is all a beautiful world out there, not at all, but I'm looking at this from a kind of biological or naturalist point of view and we see some very, very substantial changes going on which are so great in importance but so glacial that we don't even know they're happening. And I try to step back and say now just a moment. We all have this notion that males are patriarchs, all powerful oppressors, and so on. Then why are 90 percent of the boys in school who get -- 90 percent of the students who get Ritalin boys? Why are there only 45 percent of the college students boys? What's happening? And I think there are some very important reasons for that.
DAVID GERGEN: You write that it was really the coming of the pill which was a turning point that had a huge biological impact upon the two sexes.
LIONEL TIGER: We know that until around the turn of the century between 30 to 50 percent of marriages occurred with a pregnancy, which is a reasonable way to go about the process, the bits all fit and the couple is compatible and so on, and no fuss and bother. They get married. That's that. After the pill, and it's astonishing, we find two huge processes, both counterintuitive. The first is an immense spike in single motherhood now to the point where, as I mentioned earlier, a third of babies in the industrial world are born to single mothers; secondly, a huge increase in legal abortion which remains terribly controversial for good reasons because it is controversial. But countries like Spain, Italy and France and so on suddenly legalized abortion. Why is that? I think it's because before the pill when men controlled contraception, the condom being the principal form of it at the time, if you didn't use a condom, you knew there was a reasonable chance would you be dad. After that, it all changed and when Greg tells Suzie, hey, -- Suzie tells Greg, rather, I've got great news, I'm pregnant, Greg says well, wonderful for you. Good-bye. And so women then had a choice, either have the baby, spike in single mothers, either get an abortion, legal abortion.
DAVID GERGEN: But for the male, what you're arguing is that it removes the male from the fathering process, it reduces the commitment to marriage and to the woman and to the protective functions?
LIONEL TIGER: Yes, it's very difficult for males, particularly in the mammals, to know that they are raising their own offspring, and what the biologists call paternity certainty, and male jealousy, as we know from Othello, is always the most terrible emotion because it is right at the core of where a male has to decide that this, yes, is my child and I'm going to spend all my energy for these children and this woman and this is how I'm going to spend my only life cycle. Once that male no longer feels that the child is his, then he loses a great deal of commitment and he walks. And we've seen this now repeatedly and tragically in countless cases.
DAVID GERGEN: Much of your argument is biologically based, that males are prepared by evolutionary forces to be something different than what they are asked to be in today's society.
LIONEL TIGER: You know, that's a kind of almost traumatic question because if you look at how males throughout the primates and including humans, function, they are really designed to be aggressive and competitive with each other, not nasty but just assertive, because in fact the females choose them. And if you remember those ads of the 97-pound weakling -- you're a big guy so you wouldn't have paid attention -- but the girl chose the guy. And he went back and got his muscle-building equipment and then she finally chose him. That's really the metaphor and it's reality. And we see little boys in high school pumping up with steroids to get a date. Now what has happened is there aren't things that men can do any longer that have that quality. Physical labor, for example, is no longer salable; maybe you can drive a beer truck and heft heavy cases. That's one of the things you can do but not the kind of ditch digging, all of those things that were unpleasant but at least provided a paycheck. Now the jobs are much more sanitary, sanitized, and you don't need muscles. So I think one of the things that's happening is that the males no longer have an arena within which they can perform what they are supposed to do, they've been trained, if you will, by countless generations to do, so that females will select them. Females look at these males and say, well, these are a bit nondescript; they're not passionate; they're not anything, so you know what - I'll give it a miss - and I'll just do this myself. And then they have a baby on their own or they don't get married as we see a lot of women not doing.
DAVID GERGEN: One can almost hear the phones ringing in the control room and a feminist like Susan Faluti saying that's such a reactionary argument, look --
LIONEL TIGER: Why is it reactionary?
DAVID GERGEN: Because men are still controlling all the corporations in this country. They are still running the major institutions like government. And if values are changing so that we're less aggressive, isn't it about time?
LIONEL TIGER: Okay, all of those are true. But that's not -- that's not to say anything other than that women are probably still not going to be CEO's. They are probably still not going to be prepared, to, for example, give up child rearing opportunities in order to be CEO's, as men don't have to. There is a real difference there. It's is a sex difference. And we see this repeatedly where women who are trying to be on the mommy track or to do it all are torn apart by this problem of being a female reproductively and a male productively. It can't really be done, not easily. And so there will always be at the top level this difference, this difference, this real gender gap. I don't care about that actually. I don't care that there are not that many female senators. It would be better were there more, because it would feel nicer, and they would make a difference, but the fact is I'm really interested in the millions of young men and women with whom they interact who are trying to figure out what do we do now? What's for me? What's for us?
DAVID GERGEN: Get your mailbox open. You are going to get plenty of letters. I'm going to ask you another point. What would you tell a young mother today if she was raising a son -- what kind of role model ought she set for her son? How should she raise a young man in this environment?
LIONEL TIGER: It's -- interestingly, that's been one of the largest sources of response I've had to the book, mothers of boys. And they are in a real quandary because on the one hand they see one model of a kid that puts earrings in his ears and goes off to join a grunge group in Seattle. They don't particularly like that, but they know it's part of the era. Another other model is to get some guy who's going to get out there and be a jock and kill and steal or whatever, and get the beautiful house in the suburb. They are not sure they like that either. And somehow I think that what they should be attending to is dealing with a young man who understands that he's a man, he's not some androgen, not some -- neither one nor the other, who respects obviously women and cares about them and have them care about him. And it's quite a trick, actually because there is no longer the economic necessity which brings men and women together which used to be the case. There is no longer the food necessity. Now more than half of the food eaten in America is prepared outside the home. When I was growing up, maybe you too, every scrap of food I had, including my lunch, was made by my mother. Well, that's gone. Now what then does the male need from a woman and vice versa that draws them together, apart from the affection and the love? A mother of a boy is going to have to think, what kind of boy would I have been interested in at the time I was courting, which allowed me to deal with his dad, when it's not the money necessarily and it's not the status, but it's something else. It's a combination of personal characteristics. Creating people in that sense is very, very difficult. We don't have any automatic formula any longer.
DAVID GERGEN: Lionel Tiger, thank you.
LIONEL TIGER: Thank you, David.