Man is polygamous
—attributed to William James
Well, yes, men and women differ. But after granting that, what do we say next? Can we find encompassing statements that apply to every member of each gender? We all know of polygamous women and monogamous men, which would refute one sweeping assertion, however deftly rhymed. Still, the impulse to universalize springs eternal, especially in professions that place a premium on theory. To make their arguments sound conclusive, authors are wont to cite authorities. Scripture used to be a source. Today the source is more apt to be science, which has an even greater aura, since its laws and principles and findings are the closest we have to settled truths. In fact, reliance on science goes back a long way. Recall how classical economists cited Newtonian physics as part of their rationale for unregulated markets. Now even fundamentalists who seek to sway curriculums call their alternative “creation science.”
Of the six books under review, all on women and men, three are by anthropologists who draw chiefly on human evolution to explain differences between the sexes. As it happens, none refers to “evolutionary psychology,” even while accepting its major premises. Departmental turf aside, psychology is still largely a speculative discipline and not widely accepted as a science. In order to resolve the basic natures of men and women, Lionel Tiger asserts, “the broadest and most comprehensive answer to the puzzle…is to be found in biology.”
Nor should it be surprising that these authors rely heavily on Charles Darwin. Tiger proposed that his Rutgers chair be named after him. Michael Ghiglieri dedicates his book to Darwin. For her part, Helen Fisher cites him more than any other authority. Some of the other books to be reviewed do not claim a scientific base, but the certainty they show is at least as emphatic. Only one, by Susan Faludi, sets the interplay of men and women on a historical stage, on which she considers the effects of social forces on human choices in today’s sexual terrain.
In Tiger’s view, these are parlous times for men. He sees a “growth in the confidence and power of women, and of erosion in the confidence and power of men.” Even more distressing, in his view, is that moves toward sexual equality fly in the face of a primal fact: “Differences between men and women are in some tangible sense derived from evolution.” Clues to their disparate natures are best “found in biology,” a “basic science” too often scorned by proponents of “a broad and general antimale ideology.”
Technology has also shifted the balance of power. Modern contraceptives not only prevent pregnancies but allow women to decide by themselves if or when they wish to reproduce. This is an important shift. “Pater-nity certainty,” Tiger writes, “has long been at the heart of…male efforts to control women and their sexuality.” With that gone, we now have studies showing that 10 percent …