The decline of males (1999)
A study of male behavior assesses the factors and forces that have transformed the sexual and family mores of American society, arguing that the single most important cause lies in the spread of contraception and in women's power to decide to bear children.
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Informação do Conhecimento Comum em inglês. Edite para a localizar na sua língua.
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Informação do Conhecimento Comum em inglês. Edite para a localizar na sua língua.
Informação do Conhecimento Comum em inglês. Edite para a localizar na sua língua.
In Israel there have been cases of women who had intercourse with men for the purpose of getting pregnant and then had babies about which the particular partner was unaware and unprepared. Later the men were sued for child support on the basis of DNA testing. The situation has become so common, or at least prominent, that a group has been formed to protest it—the Fathers Against Their Will Association—and in July 1998 a bill was introduced into the Israeli Knesset to change the law that made DNA paternity an unequivocal basis for child support, whatever the conditions or agreements surrounding conception.
As we have seen, in 38 percent of American child support orders the fathers expected to supply the funds may have neither visitation nor custodial nghts. There certainly exists the possibility that some proportion of these fathers assumed or were led to assume that contraception was employed by their partner and that they were not planning to become pregnant. As governments become more stringent about capturing resources from non-residential parents, it is inevitable that some men will be obligated to supply funds for children whom they did not want to have or suspect are not theirs. Professor Ira Ellman of Arizona State University Law School described to me the case of County of San Lurs Obispo v. Nathaniel J .—57 Cal.Rptr.2d 843 (App. 1996)—in which a fifteen-year-old boy was seduced by a thirty-four-year-old woman, who was convicted of statutory rape for the event. After the woman gave birth to their daughter, the District Attorney’s office sued the boy and his family for reimbursement of the costs for Aid to Families with Dependent Children for which the mother applied. The Court upheld the claim against the boy. This is not to suggest this child and other children involved in involuntary or unexpected paternity do not need suitable support. However, as we will see, the issue of confidence about paternity is both volatile and fundamental. Current legal practice exacerbates the tension surrounding it.
If people do not explicitly define what they do and what preoccupies them, their religious and ritual observances do so for them. Christmas certainly does, with emotional grandeur and clarity. The enormous power of Christmas reveals the undercurrent of strength of the mammalian program.
Let’s set aside the religious feature of the celebration. That’s about a different genre of experience and conviction. Let’s restrict our focus to how Christmas reflects the human life cycle, not the larger issues of belief, divinity, and the meaning of experience. Along with everything else it is, Christmas is a story about mammalian bedrock, about the foundation event of human experience. Apart from its religious meaning, that is why it is perhaps the most successful holiday in the world. That is why it is one of the most reliably positive and is biased toward the lustrous possibility of human generosity, not the meanness of Charles Dickens’s Scrooge.
Consider it with the fresh innocence that can be so illuminating to people who live in a tribe and who take its rigmarole for granted. Pretend you came upon it after sailing a catamaran for a month in uncharted tides.
Christmas is in essence about the care of mothers and infants. Mary bears a child. She possesses no housing, no resources. There are evidently no available family members—no sisters, cousins, aunts, brothers—to call on for shelter and succor. She has to confront alone the central mammalian struggle for assistance at a crucial time. There is a physiological analogue of this. The epic difficulty of childbirth itself reflects a compromise between the size of the pelvis and the mother’s birth canal with the amount of developed brain tissue packed into the newborn’s skull. In the same way, the social trauma of birth reveals the capacity of a community to turn away from private matters to the needs of others.
Mary seeks room at the inn. There is none. She finds no relief from the emergency that she and her child face. Finally she turns to the stable, where she is welcomed. Symbolically and in practice, this is where mammalian life is maintained. What could be more revealing? Bear in mind the importance of shepherds and other caretakers of animals in the pastoral and agricultural life of that part of the world at that time.
They have been sheltered, at least. But mother and child need more. They require active care and resources. Here the miracle of the three wise men reveals a classic solution to the new mother’s problem, which is also the equivalent of modern-day welfare. They arrive with gifts. In colorful symbolic terms they represent the community’s general decision to respond to the basic mammalian challenge. Consider the elements of the story: the event of the birth; the plight of Mary and Jesus; the providence of the wise men and hence of the community at large.
The legacy to us of this is an unexpected celebration of great generosity and conviviality. This is the character of the secular element of the holiday. People give gifts both to family members and others. They provide the highest level of hospitality during the whole year. The events of the Nativity stimulate an unusual episode of life’s reaffirmation at its most elemental and profound. Birth and generosity unite at a glad and assertive party. Forty percent of all alcohol sales, the principal social drug, surround the Christmas and New Year fetes.
But what of Joseph?
Here the brilliance of effective religious symbolism is at its most thrilling. Mary is a virgin. Therefore, Joseph is not the father. Therefore, at a fundamental level, he is not responsible for caring for the child and its mother. Therefore, he is not a “deadbeat dad.” He is not specifically required to pay child support. He is not biologically responsible for the birth. No, the community is responsible. It accepts the responsibility with gifts, lights, and an extended hand. The human power of the religious celebration is untrammeled by paternal delinquency. The link between the birth and the community is pure and clear.
The peripheral role of that long-ago Joseph prefigures in troubling clarity the emerging plight of an ever-increasing group of contemporary men. He suddenly becomes an important ancestor, if not a genetic one, for an unexpected reason.
We don’t know why some celebrations remain meaningful and others flow and ebb and finally become at best routine. Certainly they are subject to local conditions and ongoing invention—as was Christmas itself, especially in the United States. But as a holiday Christmas reaches deep into areas of the foundation of human emotionality.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact of the contraceptive pill on human arrangements. The most striking display of this is the baffling historical fact that after the pill became available in the mid-1960s, the pressure for liberal abortion intensified worldwide. This is remarkably, even profoundly, counterintuitive. It is also an implacable historical reality. Only after women could control their reproduction excellently did they need more and more safe abortions. The likely reason is crude but simple: If men were not certain the pregnancy was theirs because they couldn’t know, then they abandoned the relationship and the unexpected pregnancy. It appears that women (and presumably their parents, friends, and some of their partners) then exerted political pressure to change the laws to make safe abortions available to them. And this pressure succeeded even in improbable countries such as Italy and Spain.
It is enough to say here that the widespread pattern of marriage during pregnancy broke down when Cupid was no longer confident concerning the recipient of his arrow. Or if he was, he did not know what to do when the target ignored the threat. The result is millions of men in the picture but not in the neighborhood, that is, not committed to fatherhood.
The body itself is elaborately implicated. The pill is effective because it mimics pregnancy. Chemically, the user is like a pregnant woman. In the economy of nature, it is very plausible that pregnant females are less attractive to men and less attracted by them than ones who are fertile. How this could happen I will explain later, but an incontestably probable result of such contraception seems to be that the sexual dynamic between male and female is affected if not significantly buffered. The biological outcome of sexual relations has been preempted through chemistry. It has even been brilliantly suggested that one reason for the possible decline in male sperm counts in industrial countries is that the pregnant status of large numbers of otherwise attractive and sexually vivacious women depresses sperm production. After all, different social states of female partners affect male sperm production. For example, men having sex with tall women produce more spermatozoa than they do with shorter partners. How? Does this help explain why the women who model clothes successfully are unusually tall? And men produce more sperm with women from whom they have been apart for a while. Why? And wouldn’t the existence of a large group of women prepared for sexual encounters but chemically pregnant have an effect on men’s efficacy and élan?
Women on contraceptive medication do not respond to other women the way non-contracepted women do. This is very suggestive. The pill affects how women relate to other women in a visceral way. It follows that it also affects how they relate to men. The German researcher Claus Wedekind suggested this in a 1995 report of differences in responses to men of women on and off the pill. Women ranked the desirability of an anonymous array of smells taken from male clothing. Remarkably, they preferred the scents of men socially regarded as desirable potential mates. If remarkable, this is also understandable. These desirable potential mates had It, the Buzz, appeal. However, women using oral contraceptives reversed their preferences and chose inappropriate partners. In a sense there was no point for them to select promising progenitors because they were already [chemically] pregnant. The subtle system of selection had shut down. New rules prevailed.
In 1998, McClintock made another extraordinary discovery, now with colleagues at the University of Chicago. She found that women release a bouquet of pheromones during the monthly cycle that are sufficiently tangible to other women encountering them to cause the shortening or lengthening of their own cycles—in over two-thirds of women by anywhere from one to fourteen days. Why women should respond to the sexual cycles of other women is intriguing in its own right, but in reproduction how women respond to men is clearly more central than how women respond to women. This is a rich clue, both logical and biological, to what else may be going on below the level of conscious choice and verbal articulation. Sexual reproduction is the heart of the relationship between men and women when these relationships are in their most intense stage, and even when they are merely flirtatious. The ready availability of pheromonal attraction is presumably one reason for a million human rules and customs that exist to prevent, restrict, socialize, or influence sexual choices.
Even the absence of sexual congress can produce sharp effects. Imagine a social system in which 50 percent of all women between eighteen and forty-five are obliged to be celibate. In communities that must remain celibate there are usually significantly rewarding arrangements associated with it, such as religious vows (which for Catholic women means symbolic marriage to Christ and the wearing of a gold band), special clothing, lifetime employment and housing, even lustrous promises about the afterlife. How would non-celibate men respond in an ordinary community in which 50 percent of potential partners were nuns? Or non-celibate women to a male population half of priests or committed male homosexuals? There would surely be a conscious adjustment to a challenging situation. After all, the very nature of sexual selection depends on a group of available candidates within which choices must occur.
What if the group of candidates is sharply reduced in number? Didn’t the pill also produce an adjustment? Since 1960 women in industrial countries have been able to control their fertility on their own terms without anyone else knowing. Control was exercised firmly, privately, within their bodies, either with chemicals or largely hidden devices such as the IUD. There was no letter on a woman’s forehead, scarlet or otherwise. Her secrecy could also be a weapon against men. Ignorance may fuel bliss, but it also produces vulnerability.
Before that time, contraception was obvious. Men would have to assume their partners were fertile if they did not use a diaphragm, which is relatively obvious. Condoms, the most widely used contraceptives, also advertised a man’s unwillingness to father a child. Before the pill there was no ambiguity. Pregnancy was always a risk in the absence of an obvious initiative to the contrary. After the pill, the situation was overturned. Men assumed women were contracepted unless they were told otherwise. If they were not contracepted, that was women's choice, and so were any consequences. Nothing less changed than all the central mechanisms of sexual selection, which produced the sexual system that prompted people to engage in it all.
One major result of newly heightened paternity uncertainty seems clear: Men are less willing than ever in history to marry single women who become pregnant. One reason is that social values have changed sharply, and the shotgun is rarely celebrated or tolerated as the tool of choice of matrimony. And men may believe, or convince themselves, that the child may not be theirs. Rather suddenly there are newly available genetic tests for paternity that are quick and easy, though costly—in the $500 to $800 range. These tests will have serious impact once their existence is broadly known. The embarrassment and trepidation their results may bring are compensated for by male self-interest. Numerous studies suggest that 10 percent of married men’s children are genetically not their own. Who wants to know? The real question is, who doesn’t want to know? Will science reintroduce a new kind of male control of female sexuality, the way the double standard was designed to do?
This uncertainty of paternity has been a crucial if unexpected reason for an unprecedented dual convulsion. The first was that relatively liberal laws were passed about abortion. Abortion, along with contraception, permitted women to have sex without babies. The second was an explosion of single-mother births throughout the industrial world, whereby women had babies without husbands. Even prominent women who might have in the past found single motherhood a professional liability now were celebrated for their innovative behavior. It is difficult to imagine more important changes in human life than these.
The underlying reasons for having an abortion are often overlooked by those very people with power to affect conditions helpfully. However, one compassionate legal response that also accords with biological theory (though not directly affected by it) was from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, it was decided that a woman was not obligated to tell her husband or receive his consent if she had an abortion. This establishes her right as a separate legal and medical entity. It allows her to terminate a pregnancy that may not have involved her husband. The decision actually boosts family solidarity, for those situations in which an extramarital affair leading to pregnancy could threaten marital durability. The opinion reflects unusual awareness of the underlying human forces in family structures.
Otherwise, biological sophistication is limited. For example, biological ignorance supports the legal, political, and census fiction that race is an absolute category based in biology while sex is not. Sex is a real biological factor, however, even though in the law, in much of social science, and in the culture more broadly it is treated mainly as the result of a kind of coercive stereotyping and social engineering, even exploitation, rather than an expression of underlying forces within the species.
The situation is, in fact, far worse. Men and women increasingly share the same career models of individual work and responsibility. They are more equally independent than ever in recent history and maybe all history. The economic subordination of women is decreasing. Even in the legendary English spy service of James Bond, M15, one-half of the active spy agents were female by 1998.
How have men responded? With a stunning reversal. To judge from their behavior they care less and less or hardly at all. They are abandoning women. In the past they may have deserted their partners for new ones. That continues. It supplies much of the 50 percent divorce rate. But now there is a new, substantial reason that men leave their sex partners: Their partner has a new mate—not another man, but a baby, for whom the men may not feel and do not assume paternal responsibility. Perhaps this helps explain the single-mother rate of over 30 percent of births across the industrial world.
A recent technological development is a DNA test for paternity that is relatively cheap and simple. In the United States to date less than a quarter of a million have been performed, but eventually the test may become common and acceptable—whatever its effect on the muse of romance. Males will be able to enjoy the certainty that the double standard was once upon a time supposed to offer. They will also have to endure the responsibility of paternity when they don’t want it and had no idea it would emerge. Then the story we are telling here will change its course and may have a very different ending. But all the leading characters will have been affected by the events so far.
Male behavior prior to the existence of a simple DNA paternity test suggests how confounding to them is reproductive uncertainty. Parenthood without certainty appears to be too much for them to handle, or they have decided these changes are not their affair, not in their interest to contemplate. The large category of men who slip away from the two decades of support that paternity may involve contains many separate men. Each of them pointedly affects at least two other people—the mother and their child. The economic, psychological, and political impacts of this kind of individual choice are vast and ramified, on a scale only a belligerently reckless Cassandra would have dared describe barely a quarter of century ago. They involve nothing less than a Bewildered New World.
Many boys and girls grow up without a sturdy connection to or even knowledge of one partner of the pair who brought them into the world. They lack a relationship—strenuous, provident, informative, or even very difficult—with a man whose link to their lives was broad, fixed, and represents natural human sexuality. In early life they will be disinherited from an irreplaceable asset in a world which requires that men and women learn how to connect with men and women. And in the U.S., some 800,000 out-of-wedlock children live with their father alone. Parenthetically, one redolent and striking indication of the relative ineffectiveness of single fathers compared with single mothers is that, in the United States between 1969 and 1996, the income of households headed by single mothers increased by 10 percent, while that of households headed by single fathers declined by 8 percent. Is this a measure of biosocial competence?
I have suggested that the single, most decisive new factor in the situation is modern contraception. It has more influence, in my opinion, than changes in moral structure, religious enthusiasm, the vaunted “family values”—though obviously such forces make their mark. Whether or not it is even used, contraception has changed the biological rules of the game and its outcome. It has been the catalyst and basis for a kind of independence between men and women in sex that has generated and now accompanies a comparable independence about money.
There is a paradox here. The current situation of many males—those losers—reveals only vulnerability, reckless hopelessness, and economic incompetence. Yet an influential public perception of males persists as oppressive, potentially harassing, self-interested patriarchs. Nearly two generations of female-controlled contraception have been accompanied by a powerful redefinition of sexual values largely by female and feminist leaders. Inequities founded in the arrangements of the past, now ebbing away, have led to legal, policy, and social initiatives by male and female officials to bolster the jobs and lives of women, even seemingly to the direct disadvantage of men. How have men responded? To judge from their behavior—as mates, as voters, as fathers—repeated denigration of their moral worth has generated among men resentment, irritation, demoralization, and confusion.
The respected American novelist Marilyn French was celebrated for her novel The Women’s Room
. The book’s jacket featured a door, presumably to a lavatory, with the word LADIES’ crossed out and WOMEN’S inscribed instead. Her book described a group of women who shed their conventional familial and female roles to assert new feminist goals. Her words were equally to the point and meaningful in an interview she gave to The New York Times
in July 1995 when she discussed relations between men and women: “I think men would be much happier if they behaved like women. I think they would get much more out of life and would have much more easer selves if they were like women, if they behaved like women.” While her assertion seems complacently simple minded as well as insulting to men, it reflects a position widely held by many women and some men. What outrage would have greeted French had she said, “Blacks would be much happier if they behaved like whites” or if she had said, “The French would be happier if they behaved like Germans.” It is acceptable, however, to disparage male experience. Just compare it with life calibrated by females. Maureen Dowd in a New York Times
column mocked men for being concerned about falling sperm counts and purchasing transdermal patches to replace declining testosterone levels, without a thought that this may reflect genuine anguish, to say nothing of the fact that illegal steroid abuse is actually a widespread problem among young men. Steroid abuse, which may reveal their sexual insecurity, may also stunt their growth and paradoxically inhibit their fertility. Indeed, the mere mention of the word “testosterone” is often enough to make females smirk. Of course, men often mock women on sexual issues, too. The new equality in this cheerless contest suggests its severity.
Self-righteous attacks on males are omnipresent in the educational world. The anti-male initiative is reflected in preferential employment and fellowship opportunities for females as well as the renovation of curricula and other teaching forms to better reflect female and feminist agendas. One columnist in the student paper at my university lamented about women’s studies courses he had taken: “What has been my experience . . . is that modern feminist ideology is binary. Simply, you are either a feminist, or you are nothing. There is no room for a ‘maybe’ within the feminist infrastructure . . . or a plausible provision that a traditionally Caucasian man might have some redeeming societal value other than ‘oppressor of 50 percent of the world’s population.’ Young men pass through educational institutions that confidently and as a matter of operational policy denigrate their sex. One of their first college experiences is a film and seminar on date rape. Young women learn that their communities are as likely as not to restrict and degrade them because of their sex. Nihilistically sexist insults such as Gloria Steinem’s “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” become T-shirt slogans.
There is a clear-cut virtue, indeed a necessity, in many of the new policies and attitudes even if they are often expressed with rancor or exaggeration. Economic practices must adjust to the realities of female careers. Extensive inequities remain, especially in careers in which longevity is a feature of seniority. Women have to prepare themselves for self supporting employment. The employment has to be available. So must the educational opportunity to qualify for it.
The consensus is that when men exclude women from their precincts it is discriminatory—as it has certainly often been. But it is regarded as appropriate for all-male schools such as The Citadel to be forced by the federal government to admit women, while all-female schools are exempt. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contorted opinion in a decision denying single-sex status to publicly supported male schools protects female schools on the broad ground of historical remedy. In practice, such elite all-female institutions as Smith College and Wellesley also receive federal funds, albeit indirectly as scholarships, tax-deductible gifts, research grants, and the like. Despite their traditional privilege and segregation, these schools are assumed to reflect a higher purpose and are hence defensible. Government actions suggest a broad social consensus: all-male endeavors are primordial and crude while all-female endeavors are socially worthwhile. It is justifiable to exclude men from women’s institutions both in historical reparation and to bolster female self-esteem and confidence. The rules differ. Preferential treatment of women is justified by historical inequity. Legal contests about this remain, such as in England where in 1994 the European Community court decided that women could not receive favored treatment in the labor force. This was then reversed. In the United States the issue of affirmative action remains exceptionally controversial in law and public discourse.
The matter of historical remedy raises obvious questions about the link between past unfairness and contemporary people, and about practical effectiveness, too. The original impulse for affirmative action was to make practical and moral amends for slavery. The group principally intended to benefit from it was Americans who had originated in Africa. The legislation originally proposed race as the target constituency, but sex was added at the last minute by a representative from the South who thought the entire effort so ludicrous that it had no hope of passage. Of course race and sex involve wholly different categories of reality, but the lawyers prevailed. One result has been that the principal beneficiaries have been white women, many already middle class, a matter not unnoticed by politicians of African origin as well as males of any origin. For example, two prominent members of a communications company acknowledged as equally qualified were considered for a promotion; it went to the female whose grandfather had been a president of the United States rather than the male whose grandfather had escaped from Kazakh ethnic cleansers in Russia.
In the 1970s there was a bizarre endeavor by a respected psychologist to develop a test—the Bem Androgyny scale, named for its creator, Sandra Bem
—that would reveal whether a person displayed a set of characteristics neither sharply male nor female. High scorers would be the most androgynous. They would be most desirable in a unisex world, an ideal if strange prospect for many commentators and also possibly the inevitable future in North American society.
But there is no unisex. There may be un-sex or bi-sex, in themselves sexual choices. There are some few obviously anomalous individuals with both male and female forms, but these are physical abnormalities. There are two sexes and a tiny number of anomalous exceptions. The androgyny initiative was more a sign of sentimental sexual politics than of legitimate science.
Another illustration of the values of the 1970s was the gruesome case of a newborn boy whose penis was accidentally removed during surgery. A decision was made in accord with a broad belief that sex roles were culturally arbitrary: His genitalia were surgically reconstructed in female form, and he was raised as female. The case was reported by John Money
of Johns Hopkins University, who was associated with that university’s sex-reassignment clinic. For a time this facility was celebrated for its program of coupling psychiatric counseling with surgical and hormonal intervention to produce men of women and vice versa. The process was controversial and was eventually discontinued. As one physician said shortly before he joined the university to chair a department, “They’re cutting guys’ cocks off down there.” At the time. Money’s confident evaluation was that “the operation was a success.” He pronounced the child a content and effective girl, and concluded therefore that sex roles were extraordinarily manipulable. In 1997, Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii and Keith Sigmundson of the Ministry of Health in British Columbia tracked down the boy. They learned that he had had a dispiriting childhood, and only after an equally turbulent early adolescence did his parents finally tell him his own story. At fourteen he renounced his femaleness, later married a woman with children, and is no longer a billboard for sexual flexibility. The operation was not a success, nor was the fatuous theory that it helped support. It was not even minimally professional and competent to define his sexuality before the adolescent period when reproductive sexuality comes into its own. The patient was more content as a mutilated male than a confected female. Sex is real, not a fashioned statement.
There could not be a more basic reason for the long-run difference in mortality in non-smoking men and women than women’s reproductive robustness. The story of Genesis had its sexual priority the wrong way around. Adam should have been grafted from Eve’s body because the master model of our species is female. Females are more robust because, as in many mammals, the core physiological system is female. The male is a kind of add-on. Maleness is an extra ingredient to the underlying mammalian process. Creating a male places special demands on pregnant females. It requires that a pregnant woman produce decisively more male hormone than usual, at precisely the right time. She has to undergo a form of temporary endocrinological sex change.
Things can go wrong and do. Pediatric history is replete with the evidence of what can go right and go wrong in the intricate cookery of pregnancy. We know that alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs—to say nothing of toxic environments—affect the fetus, both male and female. Pregnant females who use legally prescribed sedatives while carrying males produce less testosterone when it is needed most. This has been shown for monkeys, mice, and rabbits. Using among other data the excellent pharmacological records of Denmark, June Rheinisch and Stephanie Sanders of the Kinsey Institute revealed that the finding also applies to humans. The sons of women using barbiturates are much more likely to be “feminized,” to display bodies and behavior more typically female than male. Millions of American mothers of boys, an estimated eleven million in the 1950s and 60s, used barbiturates, and millions still do. A compelling thought is that this may have something to do with the evident increase in the number, or at least prominence, of male homosexuals. Myriad factors determine a person’s sexual orientation, of course, but it is provocative that just as nicotine, illegal drugs, and alcohol have known effects on growth in general, medicinal sedative drugs may have an effect, too, such as on a pregnant woman’s ability to produce testosterone in her body, which affects male offspring. There is a grim precedent for this specificity on a particular sex: Of the children whose mothers used DES medication [Diethylstilbestrol; nonsteroidal estrogen medication, was given to pregnant women in the incorrect belief that it would reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and losses] to facilitate pregnancy, only female offspring were significantly affected.
Social changes may occur, of course, but familiar patterns often reemerge. For example, people used to remarry mainly after widowhood. Now they do so overwhelmingly after divorce: About two-thirds of divorced women remarry, and three-quarters of men. Extended connections in modern families are created, often in patterns still only barely understood. In southern California, where divorce is common, children refer to “steps” and “biologicals” as if they were describing the flavor of adults. Single parents offer one set of kinship relations. The children of homosexual couples must confront yet another array of category problems and social obligations. Do we know the effect of all this on children? Where do grandparents sit at the table of this new family at Sunday lunch? What about legal responsibility and obligations? Can children divorce their parents? Can the product of fetal development be sold by contract and by law?
Alimony, palimony, patrimony, matrimony, parsimony—these are words in a newly tumultuous story. It involves people—us—with an old hominid life cycle, emigrants from another era of human history. We still have habits from “the old country.” Consider breathing. No one will deny that breathing is biological, vital, one of those taken-for-granted matters. But breathing what? Air? Just air? What about polluted air? Is that the same as fresh? No. We discovered a major issue about the relationship between industrial air and healthy breathing. Between nature and human nature.
Is there also a comparable issue in the relationship between industrial social systems and parents and children? It took decades before scientists demonstrated that smelly air was not only unpleasant but unhealthy. It took more decades before political action was taken to protect our huge inventory of air.
We have to ask: Is there behavioral pollution, too?
Our own cognitive evolution equipped humans to deal with ever more complicated projects, many of which we brilliantly created ourselves. But it appears that competence for the simpler tasks of life has hardly been enhanced. Rocket scientists cannot please their spouses. Captains of global industry cannot make it to the school play of their only child. Leaders of potent states jeopardize the imperium in the warm beds of inappropriate partners. Has our species been orphaned by Mother Nature?
Exercising the “proximate mechanism” becomes an urban industry of its own. The rumor of possible courtship is a salable product. People select countless strategies to participate in the prereproductive duet whether or not they want to or ever will become parents. To position themselves they subject themselves to dating services, and to decorate themselves convincingly they may even choose such devices as body piercing and the attachment of pieces of metal to body parts. A colorful pageant of behavioral fashions becomes associated with love, sex, and the assertion of sexiness or potential fertility. There is much advertisement but little product—what the biologists call the “ultimate mechanism,” namely reproduction itself. The proximate process may be colorful, invigorating, and absorbing, but its end point may never be reached. No baby.
A clear sign of the decay of the domestic affections of the poor is no domesticity. One practical result we have already discussed is the relatively low birthrates in industrial communities and the residential patterns of cities. In Manhattan, for example, nearly half of the people who rent apartments live alone, and in central Oslo some 70 percent of inhabitants. The family becomes ever less significant to the lives of people and decreasingly important to the conduct of communities as a whole. The family has become so specialized in its role and impact that chronically contentious discussions of “family values” and associated matters become possible because the family is so distinct or so isolated from the overall sweep of the forces of society. The family effectively becomes almost a subset of society rather than the central system of society itself.
It is rather like some cult, large but with its own rules and enthusiasms. Once upon a time kinship relations were fully defined in religious terms. These were inescapable to all members of the community, from Renaissance Venice to colonial Brazil to the obviously rich moralistic history of Euro-American civil society. Perhaps this was not fully embraced by our ancestors; a cult can become a prison, too. Nevertheless, the obligations of individuals were clearly identified. They were supported by threats of religious disaster, such as compulsory residence in hell. There was an identity of purpose and, indeed, of personnel between members of families and members of societies. But this was before the domestic affections of the poor—and the rich, too—began suffering the undermining impact of the clamorous new industrial way of life, which, to repeat, has conquered the world more rapidly and more fully than any evangelical church or political creed or military force.
The situation is interesting from another point of view. Notwithstanding its relative legal ease, people who divorce often find the process excruciating, demoralizing, and costly in a host of ways. It may be the worst event in life, aside from the death of parents or children. Yet in many places half of marriages result in divorce. I once commented that if one-half of 1 percent of taxi rides ended in broken elbows, taxis as they are known would be banned. Yet the major traffic accident of divorce receives hardly any advance attention.
Contrast the difference between the attention paid to tiny trace elements of pollutants in the environment and the attention paid to the major intimate as well as public convulsion of divorce. The body clearly takes precedence over the spirit when the authorities decide when and where to butt in. The body is treated seriously in a medical sense, but less so in a behavioral sense.
The quality of this behavior is governed by the social setting within which the child grows. The two-parent family is obviously not the ideal or the only setting for successful socialization. Cooper, Steinem, Friedan, and Howard, among others, have questioned the psychological and political outcomes of that traditional pattern. There is also a long tradition that predates them of criticism of the family as the source of bourgeois repression and social rigidity, but the question remains: Are there better or worse ways of raising children and providing parents with a sense of zest, competence, and fulfillment in what they do?
I have described the emerging statistical “normality” of the single mother family pattern. It may be practical, but it is hardly an ideal response to new contraceptive and employment patterns. Nonetheless, as I will assert in a later chapter, it is a much more robust social form than many moralists claim. It reflects much more sagacity and effectiveness of mothers than they are credited with; they are making do with their lot in life, which is often just a little. However, this new normality has reduced the intensity and scope of male commitment to both the productive and reproductive sectors of life. It generates severe social issues, particularly among those hectic, unfulfilled young men—many of whom become yet another generation of the absent males in the wider adult culture.
Such symmetrical units as one male and one female parent are neither always available nor chosen by people. For example, what of homosexual couples raising children? In the United States, estimates range from six to fourteen million children being raised by homosexual parents in four million households or more. These households are often successors to heterosexual unions in which one parent subsequently became actively homosexual. Or a child may be the result of non-marital or anonymous artificial insemination. Or adoptions may occur in novel familial settings. Or communes may raise children.
Such variety has generated controversy about appropriate family behavior and desirable sex roles, particularly in North America but also elsewhere. In England, for example a schoolteacher refused to take her charges to see Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
on the ground that it reflected heterosexual partisanship. In my city, New York, school authorities were convulsed for months over a proposed curriculum that would include among other readings Heather Has Two Mommies
, a depiction of a family led by homosexual women. Much acrimony about such issues focuses on phenomena such as books, curricula, and other symbolic factors.
These are always salient in our especially cerebral species, but what may be far more important is that countless homosexual couples without megaphones are quietly, affectionately, and responsibly raising children and providing them with love and stability. The majority of homosexual parents do not openly reveal their sexuality. A bitterly important distinction must be drawn between publicly advocating a particular flavor of sexuality and privately going about one’s business. Styles of privacy do not need publicists. Some preliminary research results suggest that unconventional but discreet family units may produce children as resilient and conventional as other children.
Nevertheless, it is plain that even well-meaning studies of controversial issues may yield precarious conclusions. So may social experiments. For example, segregated schools for homosexual children—there’s at least one in New York City—raise provocative issues. The long-term effect of the human situation we are considering makes the long-term view mandatory.
The contemporary situation may or may not be ideal or even desirable. It may offend religious people who calibrate behavior according to a revealed perfection. But the lives of children will surely be made worse, not better, by hectoring the people trying to raise them. Moralists may righteously attack the texture of intimate experience with the savage knife of absolute conviction, but there are children involved who need whatever parental attention they can get.
Then what happens when people decide to accentuate the affectionate? What happens when people enter into serious emotional contracts about their lives? What happens to men in a world in which it is increasingly common for women to keep their natal names when they marry, and women are neither their legal property nor labeled as ornaments of their entourage? What happens to women when the men they marry lose jobs or can only sustain ones that are beneath the promise made on their wedding day?
We have to visit marriage first, the core unit of what we consider here. Marriage is not strictly or even principally about love, housing, and style, though it must be that, too. It is also about production, inheritance, wealth, and commercial and political power. This truth is revealed for the price of an American newspaper. A clue to the links between love and money are wedding and engagement announcements. It has become the fashion for the educational and occupational attainments not only of Romeo and Juliet to be enumerated but also the full resumes of the progenitor Montagues and Capulets. Sam is a cum laude graduate of Georgetown, now the prince of arbitrage in Bucks, Morebucks, and Partners. Sue triumphed at Princeton with a magna and now is marketing director of Random Newhouse Publishing Company. The occupational dog tags of their parents and stepparents are also given. If there is a particularly noteworthy grandparent, such as a senator or founder of an Investment house or inventor of the zipper, that individual is also added to the socioeconomic catalogue.
Nowhere is it revealed that someone loves ballet, coaches field hockey, detests bean soup, supports Basque autonomy, or is devoted to Japanese films from the 50s. No favorite authors, colors, grains, principals, politics, or attitudes to censorship are listed. The sharp focus is on their place in the economic system. This is so obviously necessary it happens without comment. “The most important thing to learn about a community is what it takes for granted.” The description of one of the most romantic episodes of life, marriage, resembles a collective resume of the wedding party, as if the whole group was applying for an enviable directorship or World Bank consultancy.
Strictly business. Here are arranged marriages of a sort, even if they are arranged by the marrying pair themselves. The credentials and assets of extended families seem as tacitly relevant as in a Rajasthan village or the marriage celebration of the oldest son of the Duc de Bourgogne in 1739.
Money is obviously important in people’s lives. It determines and affects countless conditions of life. But there is reluctance to confront with candor its role in romance, except perhaps to be critical of it. Explicitly marrying “for money” is decisively less morally pure than marrying “for love.” The fiscal motive is questionable. The gold digger has the ethical status of a strip miner. I have personally been shaken from my own sentimental naiveté when female friends have sought my help to secure introductions to male friends who were both wealthy and single.
The essence of the issue is this: For families, children are not only people to love, instruct, feed, amuse, challenge, or deplore but are also the link to the future, the next generation. Without having asked for the job they are a family’s first-team players in the great game. Most families do what they can, often heroically, to help kids play the game well. A packet of money from which to draw is a crisp advantage, but so are love, attention, and helping hands on every side. Even the number of words that parents use with their small children is a surprisingly influential factor in performance at school.
Love and money remain closely related even though in the ideal picture they are supposed to be separate. In the romantic context of contemporary love, economic concerns may indeed persist, but they become covert, irritating, almost shameful. But individuals are largely on their own in the educational and economic systems, so why should intimate life be different? Will systems such as the Japanese with five-hundred-year-old businesses and the group orientation of Shintoism and Confucianism be able to survive the individualism associated with the new industrial way of life? Or will the heartbeats of the lovers overwhelm the cold demands of funds and status, as in the allegory of Lady Chatterley and her common-born gamekeeper? How do up-to-the minute industrial people conduct the relationships that reflect our human nature?
Here is a critical and fundamental break from the past. It’s a new world. Both men and women must play separately by the same rules rather than together by different ones.
The social trend is clear. The growth in jobs for women outpaces that of males—in Europe jobs for females increased by 13 million in recent years but for males only by 600,000. MIT economist Lester Thurow has described how, among American men between the ages of 25 and 34, median wages are down by 25 percent; a third of them earn less money than is necessary to keep a family of four at or above the poverty line. If they abandon their family responsibilities their income jumps by 73 percent.
Let’s review the historical movement here. In the beginning of the industrial revolution people moved from rural regions to cities. There was a division of labor which saw men working outside the home and women within. One income was usually considered adequate for a family, though there were countless two-earner families and families without adequate income altogether. It was Karl Marx’s observation that the capitalist system would have to pay industrial workers just enough to support a man and his family, not a shilling more. It is worth reemphasizing one of the most remarkable features of the situation overall: Men who were industrial workers or managers spent their entire adult lives at work and by and large turned over all their income to their wives and families.
Why would men do this? Why such a relatively high level of consent? As Michael Young, Peter Willmott, and Norman Dennis pointed out about English workingmen, before this social class had bank accounts they would carry the currency they earned to their wives. They would be provided an allowance for beer and occasional bets with a bookie. Household finances were largely a female responsibility. Most household expenditures were decided by women.
Presumably both men and women found this an acceptable arrangement. The pattern achieved a kind of functional apotheosis during the 1950s when in North America and elsewhere families were raising larger families than would be seen again. They also did so in obeisance to demanding middleclass standards of consumption, comfort, and health. Four, five, six children were raised with the proper dental care, education, counseling, recreation, and the like. The result was a robust and numerous generation.
Especially in North America since the 70s there has been widely expressed feminist anger against men. Does this reflect, among other things, resentment against the mounting obligations on women to join the money economy? Do women feel betrayed because they are compelled to seek equality in the workplace despite their unequal obligations at home? Are women bitter because when and if they have children, as most do, they are forced to choose between the wordless pleasures and flowing demands of beloved youngsters and the precise requirements of work in places owned and directed by strangers? In my experience, mothers feel this ache more sharply than fathers. Hardly any mothers leave their children; they leave their jobs instead.
Whatever the cause, women have entered the labor force, increasingly in influential roles. They take over existing slots in education, work, politics, and elsewhere. Women are increasingly more responsible than men for creating new, initially small but effective businesses and new jobs. In response, men have slowly but inexorably withdrawn from the broad traditional requirement of manhood: that they provide resources to women and children. They are divorcing more, supporting their children less, and simply earning less money overall. Between 1979 and 1993 in the United States, the median income for white men dropped 10 percent and for black men 8 percent, whereas median income for white women increased by 10 percent and for black women 8 percent. “Nonemployment”—being effectively out of the labor force altogether—doubled for men twenty-five to fifty-five years of age between 1970 and 1994 in the United States, while in Britain, France, and Germany it has tripled. In the relatively prosperous Tyneside area of northeast England, only 45 percent of men over fifty-five are working, whereas in the 1960s 70 percent were employed. The remarkable film The Full Monty
, about the lives of working-class men in northern England, reveals that when they are unable to find any work in traditional male jobs, they turn to what exigent women have often done—stripping their clothes off for paying customers of the opposite sex.
The cumulative impact of these seemingly inexorable changes will be great. It has only begun to be felt. There are and will be effects in psychology, patterns of consumption and the organization of work, the military, and the symbolic lives of communities. The changes are not confined to any one racial or ethnic or national group. They permeate industrial communities in general. Females as a group will expect decreasing cooperation in raising children from men as a group. The male sex partner, even the progenitor, may be a rental, not a genuine partner.
The industrial world may be in the first stages of a movement toward an economic system dominated by women.
These changes also reflect the fact that there is no certainty of cooperation between males and females to raise children. Once upon a time there existed a sense of entitlement or expectation: A woman could rely on a man’s economic support for maternity and mothering and even beyond. This was expressed by courts that awarded divorced women alimony through their lifetimes, separate from child support. However fragile this post-maternal entitlement may have been before, it has since been firmly eroded. Women used to have an entitlement to receive money. Now they have an entitlement to earn money. One consequence is reduced family size, not only in the wealthy industrial countries but in poor ones, too.
What Does Mother Nature Think About Single Mothers?
Is there even a problem? In the eye of nature having children is good in itself. Being poor is biologically serious only when it interferes with the gold standard of biology—raising healthy children who can go on to have children themselves. It is the most fundamental test of how effective the individuals are in a community. Contemporary industrial communities have turned this ancient measurement on its head. A common complaint about welfare is that it stimulates dependency among women, their children, and their children. But that complaint is wrongheaded. On the contrary, it is precisely what a healthy population should be doing—being dependent on one another. It is a signal of biological robustness even though many people consider it a political and moral failure. It works fine as a reproductive system if not as a productive one.
In fact, not having children or having a few or hardly any is the pathology. A low or zero birthrate may suit some contemporary standards about population, pollution, and the needs of the labor force, but it is the so-called welfare queen who raises her children and then helps with her grandchildren who is, in the terminology of health food stores, “all natural.”
Mr. Senator and the Wicked Stepfather
Modern biology as a science has had little to do with forming social policy. There is a discontinuity between what we know about biology and how we expect people to behave. It creates chronic and vexing circumstances for men and women engaged in family life. Neither in the Bible nor in the Book of Bureaucratic Rules is there much evidence of practical thought about the reproductive biology of our species. Ideology and biology are drastically unsynchronized. It is ironic, for example, that officially Catholic Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the industrial world, 1.3 children per woman; replacement of the population requires about 2.2 children per female. The State of New Jersey contrived the bizarre innovation that, yes, a married woman can receive welfare, but only if her husband is not the father of her children.
Well-meaning public servants and politicians struggle to define acceptable policies. There is a welter of initiatives, experiments, bold new welfare reforms, and political squabbles alternating between restriction and support. Political conservatives avidly approved the State of New Jersey’s law of 1993, which prevented women on welfare who became pregnant from receiving benefits for their additional child or children. But this had the effect of increasing the rate of abortion in the state—not a high conservative priority—which led to lawsuits alleging discrimination against innocent youngsters.
Legislation that promotes policies contrary to the tendencies of human biology will enjoy the same success long-term as laws that demand that objects fall upward. If legal assumptions about human behavior are wrong, the behavior that results from these legal changes will be unstable. Federal Judge Richard Posner of the Court of Appeals based in Chicago and of the University of Chicago Law School has sharply criticized “rejection of biological and economic science, rejection of liberalism, rejection of the evidence of one’s senses” as a feature of efforts to coerce social behavior by legal fiat.
What do laws do about paternity uncertainty? This became a large issue for men once women were able to control contraception without male involvement or knowledge. Often, the realistic assumption is made, as in New Jersey, that the stepfather will be less likely to support a child than the biological father, so the state steps in. But this provides a benefit for a woman and her child precisely because it replaces a father who has left what should be his post. It releases that man from his obligation, especially if he is neither able to provide child support nor able to be found by authorities—though there is increasing success in finding delinquent fathers. And it may cause a child to endure a formal separation from its father. There was even an astonishingly hapless British program that required divorced fathers to send checks to the government, to be divided among all the offspring of all divorced spouses, not just their own. Any interest a father maintains in his own children may be sharply diminished if there is no direct connection between his money and his children’s well-being. He may endure a bureaucratic trampling of whatever commitment he may feel. Such incomprehensibly bizarre blunders will fail to generate the ideal family system that lawmakers and planners presumably want. They do not know the biology they are confronting.
As if there weren’t difficulties enough, many welfare plans fail to acknowledge findings such as those compiled by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of McMaster University in Ontario to which we have already referred on the physical danger to which young children living with stepfathers are subjected. Astonishingly, such children are sixty to one hundred times more likely to be beaten and eleven times more likely to be killed than children having with their natural parents.
Obviously, most stepfathers live lovingly and constructively with their new children. Sixty percent of children in the United States who have never lived with their biological fathers reside with a surrogate or a stepfather by the time they are eighteen. Nevertheless, increases of child abuse have been widely reported. I believe these reflect the biologically based pattern we consider here and should be considered a serious public health issue. Prevention is surely possible. Social workers and others concerned with stepfamily formation should acquire expertise in reproductive social biology. At the present time public money is being spent with the best of intentions and the most depressing of outcomes.
Good Value from Good Welfare
We have explored the relationships that exist between marriage, money, governments, taxes, and families. We compared the needs of children with the turbulent temptations of the long human sexual cycle. We have seen that the movement to bureaugamy is caused by the failure of marital bonds—the effective cause of over two-thirds of single-parent families—or no marriage in the first place.
It is necessary now to turn to the issue of “welfare,” a word that reflects public efforts to confront some of the strains in private life. Around it circulate political remedies, to keep it from being relied on. Some states limit welfare payments to two years, after which the recipient is expected to be employable. But this is almost certainly doomed to fail since children continue to need to eat even after two years whether or not a parent has work, and we have noted the increase in abortion among mothers approaching the two-year limit.
The hue and cry about welfare policies is that they create a permanent class of dependent malingerers and incompetents. But the fact is that the majority of single mothers seek to support themselves and their children on their own without government subsidies for most of the time. “Fewer than half of all single mothers are on welfare at any time in a given year,” wrote Peter Marks in the New York Times. In the United Kingdom two in five single parents work, and only 9 percent say they never want employment. In the United States some 30 percent of single women and their children are recurrently on welfare. Perhaps 20 percent of this number has been hindered by the difficulty of finding suitable employment in a competitive, changing, and demanding economy in which jobs decline for relatively unskilled people. During a period of available employment, women appear to leave welfare for work. Economist Jeffrey Leibman of the Kennedy School of Government found a decline in the rate of women with children on welfare, from 19.4 percent in 1991 to 10 percent in 1997. While inadequate public transportation for poor people stranded in the centers of cities can be a decisive blow to the search for work, the rolls of recipients are in decline as the American economy generates more jobs and while welfare benefits are under challenge. Perhaps the American experience will prove reassuringly benign, but it is yet unclear what will happen to the children of those who have to leave welfare.
The principal focus of discussions of welfare is on single mothers. Single motherhood may be the most arduous role in the whole social system, yet many choose it. In a fascinating revisionist study, Mikhail Bernstam and Peter Swan of Stanford University demonstrated very early on that single mothers are far from reckless and nonstrategic in their reproductive lives. On the contrary. In the United States single mothers bore children in response to three broad factors: (1) the level of employment of the males in the age and social group from which they might expect to secure partners, (2) the level of the minimum wage these men might earn, and (3) the level and ease of receipt of welfare benefits in particular communities. When good employment opportunities for males increase, single motherhood declines. When there are few or no jobs for males, single motherhood becomes the principal reproductive strategy. When available welfare benefit packages change significantly, the women try to move to a better welfare climate. Here is thoughtfully strategic behavior about both love and money.
Bernstam and Swan’s iconoclastically informative study depends on data gathered before 1980. There have been obvious demographic, economic, and attitudinal changes since then: global competition, declining male income, and government policies in flux. Perhaps these findings do not apply as sturdily as before, though they may be even more than less, especially given fading job prospects for unskilled men. But the lesson learned is very likely more relevant than ever: Young women are strategically astute in making reproductive choices. They take the limited economic opportunities of potential mates into careful account. They assess their own economic realities. Then they respond to the economy with enlightened calculation about what will be to their reproductive advantage.
I have a clear position here. I am unwilling to accept the notion on face value that having a baby is less valuable than acquiring a law degree or a small business. It is not self-evidently better to become a lawyer than a mother; it is not self-evidently worse to be a welfare mother than a math instructor. How would the world look if the value of earning money was subsidiary to the importance of parenthood? Why chastise women for having babies at public expense when we would otherwise regard them as admirable citizens if they supported the children on their own? In return for very small stipends don’t they forgo opportunities for larger incomes they could earn in the private sector, at least in theory, money that they wouldn't have to share with a child or children?
Whether it is desirable to advance the purposes of productive economy and not reproductive nature is an open question. The public argument on the issue has to focus on the fundamental question: Why should a woman on welfare taking care of her own two children on a small allowance receive less public approval than the woman employed to take care of the one child of two attorneys with a huge allowance? Is the young woman who aspires to become a nanny to the child of officials in a welfare agency morally superior to her sister who rears her child with funds from that agency? Is a young mother receiving public money she hasn’t earned different from the young mother receiving trust funds she didn’t earn? Of course there are laws of property, but as we saw from the story of Mary and Jesus, people also retain some commitment to notions of responsibility for persons in need.
Most dramatically of all, Gerommus and Korenman report that women who have children early experience an increase in their level of motivation and skill. Their subsequent educational experience may be as good or better than equivalent women who do not become teen mothers.
Overall, welfare mothers do better in the economy. Why should this be a surprise? Becoming a parent is a challenge. Why shouldn’t the practical demand of parenting stimulate rewarding insights into how life in the adult world works, just as it has traditionally done for young “family men” who “settle down”? Why shouldn’t the responsibility and focus of a child concentrate the energy and skill of a young woman so that she becomes a more eager and adept recruit to the labor force once she has completed the relatively few early years of baby care and can move more freely than before in the wider community, especially if child care is available from a relative or her employer? In a review of relevant studies in Family Planning Perspectives of September/October 1998, Saul Hoffman of the University of Delaware expands the analysis.
A similar gain in competence appears among well-paid female executive-mothers compared with males. In the words of a senior female lawyer at the Atlantic Richfield Company, “Many women are working . . . and I think in order to survive on a daily basis, they have to be extremely organized and productive.”
Suddenly we see a replacement of the logic of economic activity with the biologic of reproduction. The outcome is not the disaster often predicted. The single mothers are not the reckless women they have been caricatured to be, nor the inept disgraceful vixens that politicians love to stone. They live sturdy life cycles. The suggestion has been greeted with a hefty ration of bitter controversy. This reflects less the frailty of the evidence than the prejudices of economic determinists who insist that people, particularly poor and young ones, must make money before love.
Men Have Been Liberated
If liberation means the absence of unavoidable irrefutable obligation, women’s liberation has backfired. It is men who have been liberated. They needn’t be husbands or fathers to assure themselves of social status. They can be ex-husbands or part-time fathers. They are not required to support women and children for life. They may experience transient social and sexual variety with a range of partners. The contemporary nuptial scheme may be problematic or seem arduous to men and hence less likely to appeal to them. If so inclined, they may restrict their affectionate and sexual experience to other men, homosexuality having more acceptance than in remembered history.
Two central patterns of traditional marriages, surrounding food and children, are far more unpredictable and perhaps unrewarding than ever for a man. He and his spouse may not have children because of external pressures of work, or choice or infertility problems. They may delay childbirth with clearly deleterious biological impacts, first on female fertility but eventually on both partners. Countless people endure late age infertility and inhabit a gynecological gulag of clinics, drugs, and bitter regret. The appointment books of successful fertility doctors are filled with small writing. The Chinese ideology of disparaging infant girls and the American delay of reproduction has led to a boomlet in the adoption of Chinese girls among older affluent Americans. In well-off parks of rich cities, convoys of twins in strollers advertise the power of drugs to augment otherwise declining fertility.
Women in poor sections of the population possess some clear-cut options that directly serve their reproductive agendas if only because they can secure some benefits from the welfare system. For males the problem is more abstract. It depends on factors and forces almost wholly out of their economic control. Certainly capable and determined individuals can overcome many obstacles, but countless young men continue to founder. The dual stigmas of productive and reproductive unemployment characterize their youth and prejudice their prospects for the future. Among sixteen to nineteen year-old males in Detroit, Michigan, 47 percent are jobless. In Italy, even with its low birthrate, 30 percent lack jobs, and it’s 25 percent in France. Such large numbers of people cannot be considered simply marginal. The international nature of the situation strongly suggests a generic cause.
It is no surprise that young men in these thwarted groups act recklessly, often destructively. The most challenging test to industrial communities will be to provide acceptable and gratifying occupations for young males and the adults they become. No one can exaggerate the crucial importance of how a community engages the energies of young males. Young women can at least have babies. Many do so, married or not. Legitimate productive and reproductive prospects for males appear to recede implacably. Their energetic challenge to the overall community becomes sharper and harsher.
The Bedrock Solution
What happens when the new arrangements founder? We have seen how women have begun to respond, by focusing and evidently relying on the mother-offspring connection. When other systems fail, that connection emerges as the default pattern in the industrial world, in the form of the single-mother family. Many women don’t marry in the first place. When they do and marriages fail, single motherhood is the predominant response. It is hardly surprising that human beings return under pressure to the bedrock mammalian community of mother and child. But a major innovation has been added: money from the state. Call it welfare, applied Christianity, societal decadence, progressive policy, stark desperation, whatever you like, but bureaugamy is a genuinely new development.
In a deeply unsettled time it makes biological sense that our basic system for social survival relies on the individual with the clearest and earliest commitment to the child—the mother, not the father.
By and large, unless they are caged, birds continue to live in the kind of world in which they evolved. But modern humans do not. What do men do when they can’t fight each other in groups? Does anything replace banging the skulls or piercing the hides of animals promising dinner? What does a man do when he cannot capture or seduce a promising female in order to lure her to his bower? Is it possible to sublimate the forces behind the endless, tense, and unreliable quest for food and safety? Can something modern summarize the ancient energies at the heart of sexual drama and reproductive zeal?
The changes in military life reflect the feminizing shift we have been tracking. Change is especially vivid in this classic area of potentially heroic male behavior—everywhere and forever identified explicitly with the lives of men. Merely half a generation ago the Army could advertise “Be a Man, Join the Army,” and the Marines “We Want Just a Few Good Men.” Now these slogans are absurd, to say nothing of illegal. The military used to be the most socially acceptable form of organized male aggression, often rewarded with commendation and social status. What happens when the quintessential male-only sign of super-maleness becomes open to perfectly capable females? What happens when military society is changed decisively?
To repeat Margaret Mead’s simplified judgment, if nature makes women and cultures make men, how can this culture make our men? What variety of men will emerge? What will they share with each other? What will they share with women? Who will marry them? What kind of fathers will they be if they have children and a structure for them? How will they vote and for whom? What kind of work will they want to do and be able to do? What will be their games and their nightmares?
In this chapter we’ve encountered three realms in which new questions about men have produced suggestive answers. In pornography, symbolic sexuality and unrealistic erotic access may either replace or render more gratifying the real sexual activities that men engage in. Whether they provide cathartic adventure or fantasized sexual dominance, the burgeoning pornographic trades may reveal not only the pull of newly available freedom of communication but also the push of thwarted and confused opportunities for real and robust sex and reproduction.
Pornography is about symbolic affection. Sports is a thriving world of symbolic conflict. It mainly involves men who identify with other men who are their psychic representatives when they perform physically skilled and elegant heroic actions. It usually stimulates commitment to teams or territories from which individuals receive secondhand affirmation of masculine effectiveness that they fail to experience more directly.
The third subject was warfare, all too real when it happens but also now an emblem of changes in technology, the nature of warfare, and centrally, the meaning of sex to its man protagonists. If pornography and sports are metaphors of a changed environment of gender, warfare and the military are the altered thing itself.
To this list we can add yet another industry booming from severe perturbations in human arrangements: drugs. While countless women take drugs, illegal drug users are overwhelmingly male. The fantasies of omnipotence and invulnerability, and the reality of escape, that men purchase when they buy drugs have generated industries which have enriched and corrupted whole countries and caused radical convulsions in the flows of cash and wealth in the world. There have always been drugs, dealers, and users. But the combination of new agricultural skill and techniques of transport with an expanded market of needy consumers has proved combustibly dramatic.
The industries of drugs, sports, and pornography prosper due to men who lack confident connection with reality, their own reality, and whatever reveries of accomplishment they entertain. The numbers of their children and the richness of their families decline over time. So do their incomes and sense of confidence about work. They turn to other certainties even if they are illusions. But the businesses are real. The world they span is a changed place. Men have remained the same for hundreds of thousands of years. Now they try to do, and do, different things because they have to.
Informação do Conhecimento Comum em inglês. Edite para a localizar na sua língua.
Lost Males(Clique para mostrar. Atenção: Pode conter revelações sobre o enredo.)
Nothing males have done as a self-conscious gender group is remotely comparable, thorough, or effective. Men in groups do not appear to perceive themselves as men in a group. They do not define themselves as members of an assembly with a collective interest. To the extent that they are conscious at all of any problems they face, men seem to assume these will be solved in the traditional public way. Their fantasy is, all they have to do is behave in reasonably civil, even gentlemanly ways. Everything will turn out peaceably and well.
But they are enduring illusion and self-deception. In truth, “they just don't get it” and don’t get what they’re about not to have. They fail to understand the implacably coercive breadth of what is on their faces. What is under way is so imprecise but so general and atmospheric they do not realize what is happening to them. In response, men pursue a strategy that they barely realize is a strategy, perhaps because it is a failure. To maintain agreeable lives, they will use traditional tools and modes of power. But this strategy is also one that is clearly foundering. It is accelerating the decline of men. The new outcome for men is not yet clear. Nevertheless, their disorganized passivity may embolden governments and bureaucrats to devise schemes that work against them, such as the British plan to demand common child support payments from all divorced fathers, to be redistributed by the government, or the even more demented suggestion in 1998 that divorced fathers be obligated to pay for the opportunity to visit their children.
A young man dated a young woman at a New York college with a lively women’s studies program, of which she was an enthusiastic accomplished member. One evening he was present when some of its students discussed their futures. They turned to the subject of children. With warmth and anticipation they spoke of the books they would read to their daughters, the role models they would be to growing girls, the anti-sexist upbringing they would provide daughters. The young man destroyed their reverie with: “But what if you have sons?”(Clique para mostrar. Atenção: Pode conter revelações sobre o enredo.)
An ideology devoted to one sex won’t suffice.
Valuing Families(Clique para mostrar. Atenção: Pode conter revelações sobre o enredo.)
The second broad challenge will be to consider supplying extra money to workers with spouses and children for some phases of the work and life cycle—even men with wives and children. In the old days men often got more money when they were “family men.” New babies bumped up pay. These benefits were not acts of nobility or special male privilege. They acknowledged the fact that the only income a family had was from the husband, and it cost more to be a parent. Through its legal system, the community decided there was nothing wrong with that. It was discriminatory, yes, but pay raises were not given to people who bought Ferraris which were expensive to service. We have seen how difficult it is for many men, especially poorly educated and poor ones, to find work that allows them to contemplate marriage and fatherhood with some measure of autonomy.
Without conscious attention to the matter of income linked to family, we will replicate the communist countries. They were sufficiently interested in production that they set salaries so that one income was not enough to live on. The consequent requirement that all women and wives work was called the emancipation of women by those who imposed it. Perhaps it was, but it also had an impact on the experience of children and how many were born. In Europe and America the two-income family is virtually universal. Birthrates are very low. This obviously is desirable from various points of view but presumably not in the opinion of those who are reproductively unemployed or underemeployed.
I am suggesting here that there should be a pro-biology, pro-family bias in pay schemes during appropriate phases of the life cycle of a first marriage. One version of that is the decision of the United Arab Emirates to provide a dowry of $20,000 to local men who marry local women but cannot afford the ritual and bride-price obligations they must assume. Treating everybody, especially men, as independent contractors may induce or coerce many more of them to remain independent from the community. They just stand aside. A pro-family decision will have to be made, certainly in a revised context of legal equity, and it may well be against the objections of childless citizens who may regard paying school taxes as more than enough levy on their money.
Civilized Bureaugamy(Clique para mostrar. Atenção: Pode conter revelações sobre o enredo.)
Another broad decision the community has to make concerns supplying adequate support to unmarried women who have small children. This is widely available now, as we have seen; however, there exists the attitude that this is not a good thing. Efforts persist to make a mother of young children leave them—for example, to take care of another mother’s young children for money. Working for money is seen as redemptive. Mothering for money is acceptable only if done with an inheritance or a husband’s cash. This is heartless, senseless, economically picayune as a formal policy and, in my opinion, morally questionable. It is also stupid biology. No zookeeper would have Monkey Mother A take care of Monkey Mother B’s baby and vice versa. What can concernocrats be thinking when they devise their legislative schemes?
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Wikipédia em inglês (2)
A study of male behavior assesses the factors and forces that have transformed the sexual and family mores of American society, arguing that the single most important cause lies in the spread of contraception and in women's power to decide to bear children.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)305.3
— Social Sciences
Social Sciences Social groups ; Inequality By Gender
Classificação da Biblioteca do Congresso dos E.U.A. (LCC)