Home / News / Article




July 15 1999

The Decline of Males

In a recent discussion with Barbara Ehrenreich published in Harper's magazine entitled, "Who Needs Men?" Lionel Tiger made a keen statement of principle that could easily be the mantra of the Independent Women's Forum.

Ehrenreich queried Tiger: "You have no particular stake in the kind of world we're heading toward?" And Tiger ably responded, "I have a stake in getting the argument right. I have a stake in trying to ensure that when people live their lives, they do so with a measure of information that is as uncorrupted as possible by sentiment, cant, and ideology. Ideology is a form of brain damage, and too much of the world makes easy judgments based on ideology rather than the harder work of going through each case on its merits. So to that extent, yes I do have a personal position, but it is a functional position. Not, I have to assure you, out of some nostalgia for the Montreal of the 1940s in which I grew up working in my father's economic colossus, Martin's Herring Store."

~Barbara Ledeen, IWF Director for Policy


It seems to me that when we consider Aristotle's comment, "Man is by nature a political animal," we all pay attention to the word "political," but not adequately to the phrase "by nature." What indeed is "natural"? You can sell horrible food by labeling it "All Natural," but there is no such equivalent in behavioral terms. It's time to restore some notion of what is natural and to look at behavior as potentially polluted, just as we know the environment can be polluted.

Ehrenreich queried Tiger: "You have no particular stake in the kind of world we're heading toward?" And Tiger ably responded, "I have a stake in getting the argument right. I have a stake in trying to ensure that when people live their lives, they do so with a measure of information that is as uncorrupted as possible by sentiment, cant, and ideology. Ideology is a form of brain damage, and too much of the world makes easy judgments based on ideology rather than the harder work of going through each case on its merits. So to that extent, yes I do have a personal position, but it is a functional position. Not, I have to assure you, out of some nostalgia for the Montreal of the 1940s in which I grew up working in my father's economic colossus, Martin's Herring Store."

~Barbara Ledeen, IWF Director for Policy


It seems to me that when we consider Aristotle's comment, "Man is by nature a political animal," we all pay attention to the word "political," but not adequately to the phrase "by nature." What indeed is "natural"? You can sell horrible food by labeling it "All Natural," but there is no such equivalent in behavioral terms. It's time to restore some notion of what is natural and to look at behavior as potentially polluted, just as we know the environment can be polluted.

Ehrenreich queried Tiger: "You have no particular stake in the kind of world we're heading toward?" And Tiger ably responded, "I have a stake in getting the argument right. I have a stake in trying to ensure that when people live their lives, they do so with a measure of information that is as uncorrupted as possible by sentiment, cant, and ideology. Ideology is a form of brain damage, and too much of the world makes easy judgments based on ideology rather than the harder work of going through each case on its merits. So to that extent, yes I do have a personal position, but it is a functional position. Not, I have to assure you, out of some nostalgia for the Montreal of the 1940s in which I grew up working in my father's economic colossus, Martin's Herring Store."

~Barbara Ledeen, IWF Director for Policy


It seems to me that when we consider Aristotle's comment, "Man is by nature a political animal," we all pay attention to the word "political," but not adequately to the phrase "by nature." What indeed is "natural"? You can sell horrible food by labeling it "All Natural," but there is no such equivalent in behavioral terms. It's time to restore some notion of what is natural and to look at behavior as potentially polluted, just as we know the environment can be polluted.

I developed a notion of male bonding because I was very interested in the relations between males-and how males work out a structure within which they can compete with each other and also attract females. Some of you may have been victims, as indeed, I was. Being a small person, I was a ready victim looking through ads in the back of comic books, which offered a 97-pound weakling great dates for Saturday night if only he does the exercises. If I followed the course, then I could kick sand in the face of the town bully. That is a paradigmatic male issue. That's how males are wired.

This is not to say that men have to be savage and mean, but there is constant jockeying among males for position on the basis of which females select the appropriate candidate for their reproductive agenda.

With the sexual revolution there's been a decline of males. One sign of this is that about a third of males are not active fathers of their children. You could say that they have the advantage of putting their genes into the future but get away with not having to pay the orthodontist. On the other hand, parenthood is part of the life cycle in an amazingly complicated way. To not be a father is a sign of real loss for the male.

That's one kind of loss. The second kind of decline has to do with economics. Women now comprise 55% of the college students in this country. Why? One reason is that women have quickly understood, and so have their parents, that they should assume that they will have to be self-supporting. Greg is not going to come riding around in a Chevrolet by the subdivision followed by a side-by-side refrigerator, so Susie had better learn how to support herself.

Here comes the concept of reproductive strategy. Oysters and chickens have reproductive strategies. They don't know it, but they do. Humans have reproductive strategies too, even though they may not know it. Susie understands that she may not only have to support herself, but also a child. So she's studying for two. So she is much better at the university system and much more willing to do what is required, than the males.

How we create positions, jobs, and roles for males is something that we always took for granted. The androgynous commitment to the notion that the sexes are all the same is essentially causing chronic private trauma in countless lives because there is no articulation between the social structure and the real needs and feelings of people.

We've been through the First World Sex War. For about 40 years there has been a genuine war between men and women ideologically and symbolically. And males have been defined as having "male original sin." For any problem that exists, it's the male's fault. The males are the principle movers of behaviors that are seen as opposed to the interests of females.

There is an ideological commitment to the notion that any differences occurring between males and females represent a failure of society to create equal and perfect opportunities for everyone so that the sexes will end up the same. This is a mindless concept.

A manager at AT&T called me to help them solve a gender problem. Only 2 or 3 percent of women wanted to climb up telephone poles and crawl underground to run wires. But the government, the EEOC people, said they had to have 36 percent women doing this. AT&T had tried their best but they simply couldn't do it. Finally they compromised with the government. They split the difference. The government said, "You don't have to have 36 percent. You only need to have 18 percent." AT&T absorbed the fine, which we're all probably still paying in our phone bills!

It's obvious that so-called Attention Deficit Disorder is a disease in search of a drug company's profit. It didn't exist until Ritalin became available and now 90 percent of the victims of Ritalin are males. You might find Attention Deficit Disorder in the classroom, but not at recess and not in sports. We're now trying to solve the problem of young males by saying that they're essentially young females. What is happening though is that boys do less well in school and they don't go on to college as often. This will have implications for these young men to be seen as acceptable or plausible candidates for marriage.

We know that a child living with a stepfather is 11 times more likely to be killed than a child living with a natural father, and up to a 100 times more likely to be beaten. So if Greg is not committed then Susie has a problem. That's why we have these arrangements like "till death do us part." It's not casual.

The interesting question to me has always been why a man wants to get married. A man meets a woman at a bar, a church basement, or family's gathering. They court for two to three months and then marry, and for the rest of his life, he turns over all of his income to that woman and their children. Now that's really an amazing transfer payment when you consider it. It's really quite remarkable. Why does he do this? Well, he loves them. They're his children. He's defined as an important person. He's got dignified status.

I still remember Gloria Steinem's comment about the ads for laundry soap where the woman would show her husband's shirt and say that the detergent makes his collar sparkly white. Steinem's astute and compassionate observation was "Why doesn't he wash his neck?" Well, he was probably at work all day in a place that wasn't terribly elegant. And he was probably doing quite a lot in order to supply funds to Sue. And most men still do.

That commitment of males to females and to children has been made very tenuous. For one thing it comes back to this war between the sexes. Men who are beer-drinking, football-watching pillars of their little local society, have been mocked and have been treated as macho kinds of jerks. And, so what used to be a family man, somebody who was doing a worthwhile thing, suddenly got turned in a peculiar way into a kind of patriarchal exploiter.

This war against boys or against males has had a peculiar power. Males have become the portmanteau cause of evil behavior and it's acceptable to downgrade males. The impact on young men is that they don't know what to think or how to behave. One consequence is that they're turning to sports. Part of the reason for the intense interest in sports is because it occurs in real time. You catch the ball or you don't. You hit the ball or you don't. There is no seminar about this. Your attitudes and your feelings do not matter. It is a real time event just the way life used to be in the Upper Paleolithic on the savannahs of Africa. Guys like this. It's obviously a symbolic adventure because it captures a deep interest.

So all kinds of things are happening which you can say are behavioral pollution if you will. Or you can simply say behavioral change. I'm not altogether prepared to make that characterization one side or the other. But it does seem to me that it's absolutely vital if we see such change, we should understand that it's not necessarily the result of bad people doing bad things. We have had a very old, animal-tested and brilliant way of dealing with adversity after adversity, for generation after generation. Now, we find ourselves in a very new situation, which is treated as if it were self-evident and it may not be.

Lionel Tiger is professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. These remarks are excerpted from his talk in July 1999 to the IWF.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us