BOOK REVIEW: Ben Greenstein: The Fragile Male

1993. Boxtree.

Dr. Ben Greenstein is a biologist who, we are told, has spent twenty years studying the action of hormones. In this book he examines modern man. He presents him as threatened, dangerous, bereft of power, driven into a corner and therefore most likely to turn on his persecutors who are, need I say it, women. ‘The human male is being shouldered aside and he’s fighting back. He is losing ground and he knows it … using the same weapon he has always used – violence.”

Greenstein argues that there are powerful biological imperatives in the human male. ‘The need to hunt, for example, and the need to kill. In the Western world his prey are women, money and power. He is a most unstable, volatile and unpredictable life form and his possession of intelligence makes him the most dangerous and powerful creature on earth. From the time he first appeared, to the present day, man has run the longest and most tyrannical dictatorship the world has ever experienced. It has lasted over 100,000 years.”

Now, Greenstein points out, with sexual equality at work and increasing pressure on jobs, men are being pushed back into the home and are being forced to take on women’s duties. He paints a frightening scenario: “Men’s threshold to stress will become lower. He will become unstable and unpredictable. His resentment against his usurper will grow. He will either subside into a condition of pseudo female or third sex, or he will strike out at the only prey left to him: the women who did this to him in the first place.”

So what gave man the edge? According to the author the answer lies not in physiology but in biochemistry. The plight of women can be ascribed to a single chemical; the male sex hormone, testosterone. This one hormone, created by the female and placed in the body of the male has sealed her fate. It is this hormone that turns a boy into a man, gives his muscles bulk and strength, stokes his aggression and drives his search for sexual gratification. It may also, through its anabolic effects, cause the male brain to grow larger than that of the female although, as Greenstein points out, the only cranial exercise men do better than women is a test of spatial ability.”

However it is surely not simply physical strength and sexual drive which has allowed men to achieve dominance. Pressure on a child to fulfil his/her gender identity also plays a huge part. Unfortunately, as Greenstein shows, teachers (of whom the large majority are women) and, dare I say it, mothers, have contributed to the conditioning which has allowed and positively encouraged men to grab the interesting well-paid work and to channel dull, repetitive jobs towards women. Greenstein points out that television advertisements leave us in no doubt as to the natural superiority and importance of the male. “He is out there ruling big business, driving superb cars or jetting in to a golden beach where a stunning blonde in a transparent pink dress stands barefoot waiting to run (in slow motion) to her man. Her sister might stand flustered before a washing machine while the visiting engineer subliminally seduces her with the potency of his washing powder and his masculinity.”

A voluntary agency I know of recently advertised for a counsellor. The advertisement stated that managerial skills would also be desirable. The majority of applicants were male, attracted by the very clause which had made women shy away. There is no doubt that management is the difference between power and submission and it is strongly enforced by male bonding. The men-only club, the executive washroom, the sports field have all helped to ensure that those at the top shall be male. Power and money point the way to the stars and have created a situation where women hold a mere 2% of the world’s wealth.

Dr. Greenstein presents his case against the marauding male convinc­ingly, if rather repetitively. He does, however, make one extraordinary claim: “There is no evidence that women have ever made decisions which materially altered the course of civilisation.” I offered this gem recently to a gathering of women where it was greeted with outrage and quickly refuted. What about Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Marie Cure, Florence Nightingale or, indeed, the Blessed Virgin Mary?

His only solution lies in a resolution of gender conflict both inside and outside the home which would allow men and women to live and work together without conflict. It’s a Utopian vision and I doubt I shall live to see it.

Mavis Arnold