It’s the New York Times again. This time it’s the “Science” section that offends. You’d hope that someone who’s interested enough in the field to be a science reporter for the nation’s “paper of record,” would pay attention to things like empirical evidence. And often they do, but just not here (The New York Times, 8/31/09).
Author Natalie Angier wants to tell us about the 15-year research done by Monique Borgerhoff Mulder into the marrying, mating and procreating habits of the Pimbwe people of Tanzania. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but I suspect it wasn’t far enough for her editors. “Give it a hook,” I imagine they said. “It needs some controversy. Make it interesting to today’s New Yorkers.” So she did.
Mulder’s research tells her that both men and women in Pimbwe society marry frequently, abandoning one partner for another as many as five times in a lifetime. That’s interesting enough, but scarcely controversial. So if you’re Angier, what do you do to spice up your otherwise humdrum story? Simple. You play the misandry card. That always works with Times editors. Indeed, sometimes it seems like a prerequisite for getting published.
So Angier begins her piece with her foil, her “straight man.” Her “hook” is the corrupted nature of men. By way of introducing Mulder’s Pimbwe research, Angier recycles a few outworn misandric myths. In the U.S., so her story goes, divorce is a big economic boon to men and an equal blow to women. So when men divorce they’re free as birds and they always trade in the old wife for a newer, more fashionable model.
Moreover, this constitutes “harem-building,” just like the Turkish pashas of old. Our harems are sequential; theirs were contemporaneous. That’s the only difference. My guess is it’s no accident that her comparison is to Muslim society.
Well, where to begin to debunk this rot? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Which do you shoot first?
I suppose it’s too much to ask Angier to actually read a book. As but one example, Sanford Braver’s Divorced Dads, shows that, when we look at all the economic consequences of divorce to men, including child support, lack of tax credits, etc., the ”benefits” to them of divorce are nil to negative.
Failing that, I could recommend a couple of not-too-demanding studies on why women sometimes lag men economically post-divorce. As one British and one American study show, it’s because men, even men with child custody, work more and therefore earn more than do their female counterparts.
Of course, if divorce gave men such an economic boost, you might think we’d do it more, but 70% of divorces are initiated by women. Why would they do that if it meant plunging into the abyss of poverty? Angier doesn’t explain.
And finally, Angier’s portrait of men casting off women at the first sign of a wrinkle or sag in favor of tauter more resilient ones, bears no resemblance to the reality of marriage and divorce in this country. Maybe a few Hollywood stars do that, but for the rest of us vassals, it’s nothing but an urban myth.
But those are all facts, and what place, after all, do facts have in the “Science” section?
More interesting, though, is what happens next. From mythology about men in the industrialized West, Angier skips on to Mulder’s research on the Pimbwe, and a dramatic, if subtle, transformation occurs. In her telling, the practice of multiple marriages changes alchemically from an evil done by Western males to a good done by Pimbwe women. Base metal to gold in a few paragraphs.
When done by men in the United States, even if mostly in Angier’s imagination, marriage hopping is a narcissistic practice whose twin goals are massaging the ego of shallow men and the impoverishment of women. When done by Pimbwe women, it’s all for the good of the children, because it provides more resources (i.e. kin) for them.
To those who would point out the frank dishonesty of making up a story about Western men in order to compare them unfavorably to women of a little-known African people, I would say only this: when you write for the Times, you gotta do what you gotta do.