Wilson Quarterly Comment
It’s of course wholly understandable that in a culture wild with materialism and verging on comedy in the search for educational credentials, these three responsible articles about women today would focus on production, not reproduction. The most salient theme is the quality and equality of participation in the public sphere. There is a corresponding inattention to the nature and value of intimate experience. Family life and especially mothering are appreciated, yes, but also characterized as compromised experiences in comparison with corner offices, military combat, and participation in the legislative bodies which for countless tasteful Americans have come to appear as dysfunctional, too-often felonious, and hyper-active with little result. And as can be expected in a culture transfixed with seemingly endless versions of “American Idol” and other exemplars of “the American Dream” the focus of much public discussion is on elite accomplishment – who runs Hewlett-Packard – and not less dramatic but arguably more consequential facts such as that women are the most numerous and most successful small business owners in America. In part this is precisely because many find it easier to create a business which adapts to their family life rather than to join a business which requires them to adapt their intimate life to it. And in turn this surely reflects the fact that we are not exempt from the animation and enjoyment of biological process such as sex and raising children.
Just as it socially and morally significant for a society to do whatever it can to assure men and women fair and dignified opportunities for productive accomplishment, it should as well attend to reproductive ones. The experience of women in the dark-skinned community of the US suggests that the failure of men in their world to succeed economically causes them reproductive depression unless they engage the cooperation of their mothers and relatives to manage the rearing of children. At the same time, in a vast shift with consequences still unclear, the educational system is becoming feminized with a strong majority of female rather than male graduates, as Sara Sklaroff emphasizes. Fair enough, in historical terms, but with whom will college or high school graduate women marry if appropriate males are not making it in the central system of credentialing? As we know, women prefer to be with men slightly more affluent than they to help with the average 5 to 8 years of absence from the labor force which is common for mothers.
But where are the guys? When my THE DECLINE OF MALES (St Martins, 2000) was published the most unexpected response I had was from the mothers of boys in the school system who were given a hard time because boy-ness was treated as a starter version of what I called “male original sin”. The situation is now widely discussed but is factually little better in part because no sensible policy-maker is willing or able to take on the feminist establishment either in the military or civilian worlds which has been so effective in maintaining forms of affirmative action where they are largely no longer needed.
A few others issues need further reflection which is over the word limit here. For one thing, Yeager’s essay underestimates the “third rail” nature of sex in the military- it is a career-breaker for anyone to take it on. But as Kingsley Browne of Wayne State Law School shows in his forthcoming CO-ED COMBAT (Sentinal, November 07), the situation on the ground is very different from the situation in the mainstream media. And unfortunately for Sklaroff’s enthusiasm for A Woman’s World with its upgraded salad bars and bus designers producing narrower seats for dieting women rather than fatty guys, her description of The Other Chimpanzee, the bonobos, as the moral exemplars of what should be our real nice primate nature depends on bonobo research in zoos. Bonobos in the wild are as wild as the Bad Chimpanzees. In effect, the best primate model for Homo sapiens is like it or not us.
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).