Baby Cupid and the Fatherless Child
When we set aside all the mushy high-school love-friending, Valentine’s Day is about reproduction and Cupid with his arrow is a pregnancy tester. The event flourished during a sexual period very different than our own. Despite all that traditional formal morality business, it’s estimated on the basis of parish and similar records that at the turn of the last century from a third to a half of all marriages were shared with a pregnancy. The infant Cupid – infant – informs a potentially indifferent or recalcitrant male that “ “you are the one”. More elegantly than the old shotgun, Cupid’s arrow points to the male presumed or plausible enough to be the father of the oncoming or projected child. And whatever the seeming frivolity of the Day, it pivots on very serious business – the choice of a mate with whom to carry on families and in fact form the next generation of the species.
And it’s the female who makes the fundamental choice. The peacocks may flail their costly gorgeous feathers but it’s the dull peahen who decides which of the posturing lot is likely to be healthiest and most likely to provide the necessary goods and services to support the always-trying matter of bearing and raising offspring.
Same with humans. Exclude the sentiment for a moment: the applicant for a woman’s hand in marriage had better have some character and promise of resources – “prospects” in the terminology of Victorian novels and Sunday Night public television drama. The principal function of kinship systems is to protect the bond between mother and child from the vagaries of the links between males and females. Assets help, which is why in the flowing catch-as-catch-can-society of the growing United States it became an effective strategy for a female of a certain class to expect an guarantee of a man’s commitment by providing an utterly useless (and largely uncashable) asset called the engagement ring. The current norm is that the male must collect two months of after-tax income to convert to this special property given his fiancee.
Be my Valentine, with back up.
The biological bottom line is that it is the woman’s responsibility to manage her sexual code to secure an acceptable long-term partner. Her stakes could not be higher. Marriage as an institution has largely been a means of protecting her (and restricting her too, as in many non-post-Western societies). While marriage is by no means a romantic walk in the park or along the beach, it gets children raised and life goes on.
Then why the astonishing fact that 40% of babies born in the industrial work are to unmarried women? Of course many of such children result from loving and stable relationships and at any rate from at least ten minutes of convivial interaction. And not only formal marriage need be the core of raising children. Yet the number outside that system is dazzling.
Why? The likely reason is that not only are many men “unwilling to commit” but 40% of women do not think the candidates available to them are worth the time and trouble. The rapidly sharpening success differences between female and male competence in training and education has curtailed the available choices for increasingly affluent and secure females. Our system increasingly favors females and in countless colleges the first day of classes involves a rape seminar (largely to please the lawyers no doubt) which stigmatizes men as potential predators and women as victim. The back of every women’s bathroom door at Colby College provides a list of things to do surrounding rape while women entering Brown are given a whistle to use when rape threatens. What a welcome to everyone just leaving home.
Historically and women prefer to marry men slightly older and wealthier than they are, if for no other reason than to have an available helping hand during the 5 to 8 years the average mother withdraws full commitment to the labor force. And 85% of women have children, which of course explains the false fatuity that women earn 77% of the male dollar, which is accurate but for the reason that they are forgoing annual increases for significant years and may elect – as the Department of Labor reported last January – to take less risky and uncomfortable jobs and more parttime ones.
Women planning on children don’t have enough men willing to marry them. Those who are candidates appear in harsh factuality to be unworthy. Of course women can control their reproductive lives which is at it should be. However men are to coin a phrase becoming alienated from the means of reproduction. They become outlaws not inlaws. No one wanted this situation yet everyone is in it or affected by it as children and citizens. Clearly parents have already joined the parental pageant but if they want to have grandchildren they are luckier with female children than male. Valentine’s Day needs a month not a day to do the job.
Dr. Lionel Tiger is Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He has been Co-Research Director of the H.F.Guggenheim Foundation and Chairman of the Board of Social Science of U.S. News and World Report. Among others, he has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Canada Council. Among his books are Men in Groups (1969) which introduced “male bonding” to the language, Optimism: The Biology of Hope, (1989) and The Decline of Males (2000).