'But I never said women are inferior'

Lionel Tiger January 1 1970

'But I never said women are inferior'

Lionel Tiger January 1 1970

'But I never said women are inferior'

Lionel Tiger

Last May, Maclean s previewed Men In Groups, a subsequent best seller in which Montreal-born sociologist Dr. Lionel Tiger theorized about differences in male and female roles in society. Men band together, he argued. In obeying this biological urge, men are different from women. That’s what Tiger said. But to feminists, New and old, his explanation of differences between the sexes was a red-flag proclamation of male superiority. All hell broke loose. As placard-carrying feminists picketed Maclean s offices, a beleaguered Tiger was learning the law of the jungle — the hard way . . .

Is IT POSSIBLE at last to tell the truth, that Men In Groups was written by a team of 25 nude lesbians of the Junior League of Montreal? That there is no real Lionel Tiger, just a cynical, exquisitely packaged product of the heartless imagination of the staff of Maclean’s, which first broke the story to a troubled world? Dare I, Dudley Kravitz III, shamelessly tell how the Junior League outfoxed the feminist movement by concocting a shocking book to distract at-

tention from the Real Plot? And how I, willing to do anything to get my false name in the newspapers, was their eager dupe?

No such luck.

But perhaps it will not be immodest if I make some comments and share some recollections of a troubling, hilarious and bizarre encounter with the faithless wrath of women, the silent fear of men, and the gaudy embroidery by the mass media on a rag of sociological sackcloth

TIGER continued

I dared — like my washing — to hang out for some fresh air, some commentary, some encounter with the acerbic toughness of scientists.

And perhaps I can clarify several things at the same time. The wretched book was not run up to fill a gap in the market opened by a number of books dealing with the relations between man, animals and human prehistory. I began to work on the project in 1963; the book appeared six years later. Even that was not really enough time because it was a large and complex subject. But Men In Groups was the best I could do under the circumstances.

I never anticipated that it would be so noisily received and that people would actually buy it. It was a surprise that some people thought the book worthy of attention in the popular press. Some reviewers have said Men In Groups is an academically oriented book, full of careful hesitancy and footnotes. An equal number have said it is entertaining and well-written. Of course it is an academically directed book, but enough people have enjoyed it, or said they did, to justify all that writing, and rewriting, and rewriting. The sociologist Robert Merton remarked: “No scientific virtue inheres in bad writing.” While it needn’t inhere in good writing either, at least there may be a fighting chance readers will remain awake long enough to cope with what is down there on the page, and with the issues.

Scientists are subsidized people, at least in universities, and when they are asked by the mass media to discuss their work there is a good set of reasons for them to say, “Yes, I will try to translate my professional concerns into terms meaningful to the people whose tax money eases my committed search for more certainty in the face of ignorance.” And most scientists are professionally honest enough to stop and figure out what they are talking about before they talk.

Therefore, it is both painful and confusing to be set beside a radio or television pundit and asked that famous emetic question: “Now, Dr. Tiger, in two sentences will you tell us what your book is about?” Translation: he or she has not read it. Sometimes even the researchers who prepare the questions for the Great

Interviewers haven’t read it. Once, when I was talking with a young woman who had compiled a set of questions for a talk-show Culture Hero, I suggested combining two questions to save everyone's time. Impossible, she said: the Culture Hero was too dumb; he would get mixed up.

But that’s the way the gateway to encounter with large numbers of people is guarded: by a lot of people with critical jobs but little time for the vitally central tasks of understanding and reflection. It was a revelation to enter the very heart of a community’s symbolic life — its radio, TV and newspaper-magazine complexes — and realize that smack in the centre of the culture is ... a vacuum. And naturally, fools rush in where stars are too busy to read.

Or, more often, some one or two or three people do the work and the other people copy their words, their ideas, even their quotes. In an interview we did with Margaret Daly of the Toronto Star, my wife commented that, since she had not had a child by the age of 26, she was “biologically irrelevant” — the genetic trick was to do it at 15 and shorten the generation gap and let geometric expansion Work For You. That little remark, honestly noted in April, subsequently appeared again and again in papers as far from Margaret Daly and Toronto as Chicago and Long Island, but now with some irony, for by this time my wife was gorgeously pregnant and, though a decade late for that kind of relevance, was nonetheless involved in a process of poignant and demanding relevance. So never believe anything you say in the newspapers.

Of course, it isn’t all that bad; at least in Canada the carnival of publicity has not altogether overcome the quiet confrontation with phenomena. In my own case, I was immensely fortunate; basically, the story got across. The articles and reviews were largely acute and fair. But because they are made up in a different department, the headlines were as cockeyed as could be. What they chose to emphasize is the key to what happened next.

Both Maclean’s and the Toronto Star headed their stories with something to the effect that I, Lionel Tiger, born of woman, wedded to wife, ardent adoles-

cent kisser, long-term and committed friend of intriguing women, colleague to the best and most arch of them, thought men were superior to women. Since I do not for a moment hold to this tiresome, tidy view, I can only assume that something in the culture translates the notion of “difference” into one of “inferior-superior.” I did say that males and females were different in social activity, interest and propensity, and supported this point with a wide spectrum of scientific arguments, all of which reinforced the joyless principle that men and women do not live by bed alone, that sex may have something to do not only with exploding populations but also with politics, business, fighting wars, running religions — with social life in general. I was depressed to confront the depth of uncertainty on this continent about the relationship between difference and status, to realize we are so tantalized by status we can hardly face the fact that social differences can exist independently of it. I was surprised by the twisted logic of some to the effect that if women are different from men in more than the simply perfunctory reproductive ways, they must be worse, they must be abject; at the very least, according to this peculiar reasoning, they must be brainwashed.

If we are to believe those who claim that the position of women in society results from the brainwashing they undergo, we must also accept that if the whole female sex tolerates this, then perhaps it is less ambitious and less discerning. This is both nonsense and unflattering to women. It also implies that males are universally and brilliantly capable of maintaining this conspiracy against females. But, of course, men are simply not so perfectly clever and effective.

I don’t mean to gloss over the genuine ways in which women are exploited — in marriage laws, in virtually all employment, in the quiet cruelties of informal exclusion and social wounding. I don’t claim for a fleeting careless instant that we needn’t ardently insist on serious and painful structural readjustments of our social patterns and even of our ideals. But the point I made in my book, and my retort to the waves of outrage that splashed me, is that if you want to change a system you have to understand it.

I assembled evidence about male-fe-

` I said men and women are

afferent. Twisted logic interpreted thät to mean women are inferior99

male differences that even the great varieties of culture, with their sickening differences in wealth and in enthusiasm for equity, could not obscure: that males and females are, like some of the primates, the result of evolutionary pressures that yielded a certain result — us — and that this genetic result predisposes us to act in certain ways. If we want to change these ways, then we have to know what these predispositions are.

The success of women in the ways they wish success will depend on the accommodation of social structure to this reality: that males and females are different, and boast some of the same, and some different, skills, needs, resources, hesitancies, and dreams-in-the-wakinghead. That was, if you will, the socialpolitical point of what it appeared I had been doing in preparing Men In Groups. The scientific issues are something else again, though they are ultimately related. It is probably pointless to say this because most people quite reasonably do not understand the peculiar faith scientists have in contention and testing, but I would be just as pleased to be shown that what I argued was dead wrong as I have been made glum to see evidence in the misfortune of women and the misunderstanding of men that what I was getting at may be more right than not.

It was all very well for Maclean’s to print an outraged letter-to-the-editor writer’s witless, charmless, senseless, hot-airy retort to Alexander Ross’s article (The Natural Superiority Of Men) and my (what that evidently troubled chap so pungently called) “little exercise in defensive masculinity.” But it is another matter entirely to begin to deal with the problem of sexual difference in view of what we are learning about our history and our living genes. That makes us try harder. And it hurts.

It hurts a lot, actually. Hurts me, too. The position of women in North America stimulates the most massive ill use of human skill, energy, warmth, contentment and aspiration that exists. The racial fuss is nothing compared with it. The sexual one will occupy us for two or three generations at least, almost certainly more. Women have been deprived because they have been educated just like men to do certain things — and then have been prevented, by different men,

from doing them. All our structures militate against women. That is becauàë the formal assumption is that women are the same as men and hence can compete equally with them. But in fact, because they are different as a group, by and large they cannot.

For example, we know that the menstrual cycle affects women’s performance in jobs, usually adversely at particular times. Yet we make no provision for this, nor for women writing examinations that may decide their entire careers. We do not customarily give a woman two months or two years off to have and enthusiastically attend her child if she wants to, assuring her she will have her job back without penalty. Often when a woman leaves employment to have a child it is quietly assumed that her career, at least at her current place of work, has come to an imprecise stop.

Why, after all, should a work week be 40 hours and not two, or two days, or 15 minutes, or whatever period is available for the conscientious woman who is as careful of her child or children as she is eager to engage in the eventful round of human actions we call work? Or even play, for that matter: “Why don’t we invite 200 of my business friends to a little dinner, darling? Don’t fuss, it won’t be any trouble, you can make a stewish kind of thing — we'll even have some for the kids next day. I’ll help, I’ll buy the rye and ginger. See you later.”

This reveals a critical supposition in all this: that females are better equipped to cope with children than men. For one thing, the knowledge of a baby, the (literally) gut knowledge the mother has of the unborn, is an event of intimacy that gives her that much more commitment, that greater sense of the reality of the ongoing representative of the bngoing species, than the quickly obsolete male can ever have, (SOCIOLOGIST SAYS MEN


There is no such thing as “woman’s place” so long as women have children or marry men who want them. On current showing, this includes most women. It is all very well for Margaret Mead or Bruno Bettelheim to say the family may be obsolete because test-tube babies and government nurseries will be the answer

— so that women can go out to work and so that the inconvenient and relentless interpersonality of family life need not be encountered ever again. Maybe. But this isn’t very likely to happen in my lifetime or in my test-tube babies’ lifetimes.

We know much less than we want to about the effect in infants of uterine environment — except that, the more we know, the more important it seems to be. And when we are incapable of dealing with grown-up prisoners in a civilized and predictably constructive way, or of offering schools to near-adult students that they will eagerly join, or of providing jobs that give dignity, variety and income to all employees — do we seriously propose that we can reconstruct the human female’s womb and raise children on Anglican or Jewish or Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Icelandic baby farms? And like our battery chickens, which taste like grubby papier-mâché, what will these babies be like? Will we like them? We were sickened by the desperate effects of Thalidomide. That affected the obvious and sacred body. And when we tamper with behavior ... ?

Perhaps it is merely timid and sanctimonious, this caution about the incalculable social interdependence of a gregarious species such as ours (and this includes helpless infants who are endlessly troublesome and don’t pay anyone any money or even vote). All this makes one hesitate to recommend that we can so blithely dispense with these quintessential^ human social skills of which we are so boastful and in the name of which those of us who talk about humans and animals in the one breath are scornfully dismissed. That females have at least half these skills to deploy may hot be such an ignominy, such a bore. Marx said freedom is the recognition of necessity. What need a species do to keep alive? Would it be cleverly adaptive for turtles to build houses, for fish to build a supersonic trans-land jet? For people to build machine mothers in an age in which our reliance on machines both disturbs and perplexes us?

It is truly depressing to be on the side of the people, not the angels. But it’s a start; and perhaps people will be less hurt this way — though a squad of angels may find their theories clipped. □