The Sexist

Lionel Tiger: You Had Me At “Acidulous Hostility”

2010-05-09 14.44.08

A few weeks ago, chief "Male Studies" proponent Lionel Tiger accused me of not having read his book. Guilty as charged! But now that Tiger tipster Dan has sent along the first two paragraphs of Tiger's latest, God's Brain, I can say with confidence that I've read about as much Tiger as humanly possible. Namely: "The first impulse animating this book was simple if  enchanted puzzlement about the remarkable difference between what the brain created about religion and the vast and long-lasting social systems that were the result." But which fires occupy the world in which the United States is inextricably embedded? The world in which the United States is inextricably embedded may never know.

  • Jess

    Good god. Has HE even read his book? And if so, why?

  • Katie

    Whaaaat? I used to be a writing tutor in college, and if a piece of writing like this came across my desk, I would have told the poor author to step slowly away from the thesaurus, and also to stop using yoda-like syntax.

  • Tasha Fierce

    This reminds me of that character on "In Living Color" who would always try to sound smart by using big and/or made-up words in the wrong context.

  • upk

    I'm sure he's full of crap but a lot of women's studies literature is no more readable than this.

  • whateversusan

    I picture him writing this in his well-furnished study, sporting with a vast handlebar mustache, and chewing on a pipe made of the tusk of some great beast he slew whilst on safari.

    Either that or he wrote it in a basement somewhere, I don't know.

  • Katie

    haha from an Amazon reviewer (who admits that s/he couldn't finish the book either):

    "The writers' style is particularly frustrating - wordy, repetitive, vague, abstract, trying so hard to be clever. As a former writing teacher, I'm reminded of my students who didn't have much to say or had no clue what they wanted to say, but bravely dove in anyway."

  • chris

    He didn't just write this book, he ANIMATED it! Just like Mickey Mouse did with all those brooms!

  • Toysoldier

    Tiger outwitted Hess during a radio interview, so instead of reading Tiger's books and using his own ideas against him, Hess scurries away to mock Tiger's verbiage in the confines of her lair.

    Wait, that sounds very familiar...

    Saturday-morning super-villain! I am marginally impressed as I have seen anyone deliberately channel the Legion of Doom since Dick Cheney.

  • Emma

    upk does have a point. The writing actually reminded me of Judith Butler, though vaguely. I say vaguely because her writing at least has some discernable content and she doesn't sound like a huge prick.

  • Jesus son

    I don't understand what the point of this is...You're making fun of the fact that he's not a very clear and concise writer? What does that have to do with the merit of his arguments? Isn't it kind of childish to attack someone over something so petty? I mean people, including Amanda, have yet to address the points he brings up regarding the primarily social determinist focus of most gender studies programs.

    And while admittedly his writing is unnecessarily verbose and could use some editing, it isn't really that hard to understand if you have a high school education.

    The fact is, Amanda, you really do a great disservice to your readers when all you can provide is some snark about a book that isn't even on the topic you disagree with him on.

    It's this kind of thinking--the sort simple-mindedness and dismissiveness of opposing viewpoints--that's really corrupting what should be a robust and healthy discourse in this country. How are you any better than the talking heads on the far right in these regards?

    I really would enjoy, sometime in the future, a point-by-point rebuttal of the arguments made by Tiger that could hopefully foster an interesting debate.

  • Jesus son

    And by the way, I am surprised you are so eager to pick on his unnecessary verbosity and use of jargon. After all, so many feminist scholars do just this in their own writing.

    Has anybody here read Judith Butler, the hero of the queer studies faction? While she has made some incredibly innovative arguments (that however lack validity) she too has a tendency towards abstraction and obfuscation. To wit:

    "When the disorganization and disaggregation of the field of bodies disrupt the regulatory fiction of coherence it seems the expressive model loses its descriptive force." (Gender Trouble)

    Can most educated people make any sense out of that?

  • Emma

    Care to explain why you think her ideas lack validity?

  • Jess

    "Can most educated people make any sense out of that?"

    Sure. It's a perfectly valid if complex English sentence espousing high-level ideas that yes, most educated people are capable of grasping. I'm not gonna say I fully comprehend Judith Butler but I understand her words.

    Tiger's very first line, on the other hand, is a classic garden path sentence. Unless his book was self-published, there's no excuse -- well, unless he's deliberately trying to pull a Sokal.

  • pipi long stockings

    Amanda already explained why male studies is unnecessary, and now the only thing left to do is mock his horribly written book.

    In the words of many men who feel compelled to post on feminist websites, "Lighten up dudes!"

  • Flutterby

    I had to take a minute to put myself into big-words gear, but after that...well, it's a bit unnecessarily verbose and throws in an extra clause of big words that add nothing to it, but not THAT hard to make sense of. I actually find the topic of how religious influence has sculpted Western culture intriguing. I might head to my local library and try to read it, after checking around online to make sure he hasn't secretly laden it with 'Power to teh Menz!' stuff.

  • Flutterby

    Oh, and it reminded me of something, and I just remembered what! I just played through this iffily translated foreign videogame, and the not-quite-correctly-used words and clumsy syntax are eerily reminiscent of it.

  • Jesus son


    Ugh. I really don't want to get into it, because I've already had these arguments before and they inevitably lead into nebulousness. To put it as succinctly as possible (and please correct me if I'm wrong):

    Aside from all the talk of boundaries that borders on mereological nihilism, she argues that the old distinctions between sex and gender are false and argues that not only sex but gender is constructed. She adds that gender is primarily an act of performance.

    Hey, this is all fine and dandy, but this is for the most part not the case. As much as most gender theorists would like to argue otherwise, there is evidence that our genes and neurochemistry dictate our behavior--gendered or otherwise. The fact that there are differences between men and women has some (but clearly not a complete) root in our chromosomes. Butler, like most social theorists, doesn't bother with any evidence or facts to support the assertion that it is otherwise. She is largely content to use discourse and unscientific psychology to build a case that gender is nothing but a performance.

    Her case that sex is not based in biology (her boundary argument) is similarly weak considering that sex for the most part a binary. Deviations as such (which account for less than 1% of births) are not proof of a spectrum of sexes, but are rather just outliers (a product of genetic errors).

    So to recap: I am not saying that gender is completely a result of your genes, but it's part of the issue. The reality of the matter is men (in sum) are more aggressive and risk-taking (often to their detriment) then women and there is a biological reason for this as well as a sociological structure that reinforces these differences.

    I could go on, but what would be the point really? Like I said before her arrival at her conclusions is inventive, but I am not going to pretend anyone outside of academia takes it seriously or cares.


    I'm sorry, but you are completely full of it. To say that Butler's prose is less abstract, turgid, and unreadable than Tiger's is just intellectually dishonest. I can read through Tiger's horrible prose and know within seconds what he's saying. Butler's ideas are really not that complex, but like Adorno before her (but hey he admitted he was doing it), she chooses to hide her meaning behind horrid language (most likely, in order, to shield it from attack).

    The fact that you claim that Butler's ideas are coherent even though "you may not completely understand them" is quite telling. She has admitted that she needs this type of obfuscating language to truly express how "complex" her theories are. But the truth is great theories (even theories in quantum mechanics) at some level make things simpler and more ordered. That's what theories do by definition: order facts and knowledge.


    As far as I can recall Amanda simply stated over and over again that she felt that male studies was unnecessary since men's studies did the same job. She then got a quote from a men's studies professor to that same effect. What Tiger did was bring up an interesting point: that the possibility of biology playing a role in differential behavior between the sexes/genders in almost always ignored in gender studies departments. And the reality is, this is true. Gender studies focuses on how gender and sex are socialized. That there is a wealth of information from the fields of biology and social psychology that supports the notion that biology has a role (how much we don't know yet) to play in behavior is almost always ignored by gender theorists.

    Is this a valid point? I think, to a degree that it is. If Amanda wants to debate him, she should spent time cultivating her ideas on why a field dedicated to studying the cross-sectionalities of sociology and biology in the study of gender is unnecessary.

    And hell, she may have a point to make, but she has yet to make it.

  • Nancy

    Hey, this is all fine and dandy, but this is for the most part not the case. As much as most gender theorists would like to argue otherwise, there is evidence that our genes and neurochemistry dictate our behavior–gendered or otherwise. The fact that there are differences between men and women has some (but clearly not a complete) root in our chromosomes. Butler, like most social theorists, doesn’t bother with any evidence or facts to support the assertion that it is otherwise. She is largely content to use discourse and unscientific psychology to build a case that gender is nothing but a performance.

    Evolutionary psychologists don't bother with facts either - they are famous for their just-so stories and Lionel Tiger is one of the worst.

    They use "science" and morons who don't know what real science is completely buy into it. That's why when an actual scientist like Elizabeth Spelke or Stephen Jay Gould get their hands on the EPs they always kick their ass with actual facts. Spelke vs. Pinker is a good example and Gould thoroughly debunking Helena Cronin's "The Ant and the Peacock" is another. And there are PLENTY MORE.

    So take your evolutionary psychology BS "the notion that biology has a role (how much we don’t know yet)" and shove it. Lionel Tiger and the rest of them all claim to know EXACTLY how much - and it's almost always just about 100% if you actually follow their arguments.

    And just because someone points out that Lionel Tiger is a crap writer doesn't mean that they therefore think that Judith Butler is a great writer. You won't win any battles in favor of Lionel Tiger's literary merits by saying "yeah, but SOMEBODY ELSE SUCKS TOO"

  • chris

    Dude, when one SECTION of your comment is longer than the actual blog post, maybe it's a sign you should just get your own blog.

  • Jesus Son


    Damn, you schooled me good.

    Except not.

    All you've done is set up a straw man and then attempted to knock it down (and have done a piss poor job in the process).

    I never, NOT ONCE, mentioned anything related to evolutionary psychology or used EP to justify my arguments about the biological explanation for some gender differences. After reading your post twice I have to assume you don't know what evolutionary psychology is.

    Here's what I said:

    It is well established that hormonal differences are correlated with differences in behavior. You will find no one in the scientific community who will disagree with me there. People with more testosterone tend to be more aggressive and risk-taking (a fact!). Men tend to have more testosterone (again, another fact!). Maybe that influences their behavior?

    It's also been found, for example, that males with two Y chromosomes are more prone to aggressive behavior (although there has been some debate about this as of late).

    I pointed out that these differences have validity and should be examined along with social forces to try to determine how gender identity is shaped in society.

    Here's what I didn't do:

    Explain those facts by saying that males were evolved to be more aggressive because those traits were selected for by women who found them more desirable in our early history. NOW THAT would be an EP argument.

    Did I do that? No.

    To the rest of your points:

    1) The Pinker-Spelke debate has nothing to do with what we're talking about now. A) Spelke would agree that there are differences in between how the sexes learn and process information and it's the job of a scientist to figure out how much of this is nurture and how much nature (hmmm, sounds like what I said). B) She didn't kick Pinker's ass. Pinker remains one of the most respected minds in his field (he's certainly not a "moron") and is certainly more well known than Spelke.

    And Gould didn't exactly wipe the floor with Pinker/Wilson either. I'm not sure what debate you're following.

    Also, I never said anything about intelligence. Did I? Once again, you're just putting words in my mouth.

    2) Where does Lionel Tiger claim to know exactly how much? If these people knew they wouldn't be doing research. Oh, and thanks for telling me to "shove it". Real classy and civil. Keep it up.

    3) My point was not that Butler's a bad writer therefore Tiger can't be bad. My point was that academics write like this: poorly. Calling him out for it is unnecessary when you're not addressing his points (please go back and read what I wrote for god's sake).

    To end:

    You could have asked me civilly about my views on EP (I'm actually not a fan of it and feel it's one dimensional as an explanatory system--although I believe it has some merit when examining sexual selection behavior). Or you could have asked me to clarify my points...but you know, you decided to be a huge prick instead (because it's just that much easier and fun). What's clear is how little knowledge you have not only of science but of academic feminism.

    But you know, I'm just one of those "morons" with two degrees in Biochemistry and Sociology. Maybe I don't understand your "complex" Judith Butler-esque arguments.

    Gee wiz, what I wouldn't give to be a real scientist like you.

  • Jesus Son


    Thanks, brah. But I don't think my nuanced and measured approach would get many page views.

  • Eo

    You only have to come to one of the many blogs like this one and witness the constant outpouring of hatred and bigortry to see that people like Tiger have a point.

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son: Correlation does not imply causation. Stop acting like it does.

    Ahhh, simplicity.

  • Jesus Son


    Please, for christ sake, don't start with that. I'm not going to write another two pages on that. I'll safely say that it's well established that testosterone causes increases in risk-taking and aggression.

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son

    Don't act like that's a ridiculous point to make. You said that testosterone are correlated. You implied no form of causality indicated by these phantom studies you are referencing, and your word "correlation" does not imply that either, as per the adage.

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  • Jesus son


    It is a ridiculous point to make because you don't understand the difference between correlation and causality and you seem to be parroting something you heard in a beginner's social statistics class.

    All relationships that exist between an independent and dependent variable are correlated. This we can "know". Causality however can never be proven. Causality as David Hume so greatly reminds us is inferred and ultimately is a product of our conscious minds. There's no "reasonable" way to say A causes B:

    So yes, I apologize, I shouldn't have bothered playing it safe and parsing my words. For instance, there's a correlation between patriarchy in society and use of prostitutes as there is between patriarchal societies and sexual harassment and rape. Of course, you could argue this is purely correlation, but all know this is not. We create causality by logically linking societal attitudes towards women towards their willingness to condone rape.

    The relationship between testosterone and aggressive behavior is even more well established (way more so) and we can infer the relationship is causal.

    But even if all this was just correlation and speculative(which it is not), the notion that we should dismiss biological explanations for gender/sex variation completely would still be in error. That was my point.

  • Toysoldier

    Tiger outwitted Hess during a radio interview, so instead of reading Tiger’s books and using his own ideas against him, Hess scurries away to mock Tiger’s verbiage in the confines of her lair.

    Wait, that sounds very familiar…

    Saturday-morning super-villain! I am marginally impressed as I have seen anyone deliberately channel the Legion of Doom since Dick Cheney.

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son
    Don't be so quick to assume I do not understand statistics. I have plenty of experience with statistical analysis, considering I went to a very research-heavy school for my undergraduate degree in psychology and am now in graduate school for counseling, still taking courses on statistics and their application to real-life counseling situations. Your response was unnecessarily rude. I wanted to make sure you were not simply trying to shove a correlation into this discussion and assert that it proves a causal relationship.

    That said, of course hormonal differences play a factor in behavioral actions and reactions. However, I am loathe to quickly buy that these differences have a greater effect on behavior than socialization.

  • Jesus son


    I apologize if my comments came off as rude, but I've heard this so many times it's frustrating. I was just trying to avoid a "be all end all" statement and state facts.

    So far, my arguments have not really been addressed or have been unfairly linked to a set of ideas I'm not even fond of.

    Nevertheless, I find it interesting that you concede that "hormonal differences play a factor in behavioral actions and reactions" but that you are "loathe to quickly buy that these differences have a greater effect on behavior than socialization."

    Why? Because it doesn't fit your ideological views? I am the last person to speak in favor of biological determinism (which is why I don't like EP), and would never state that biology is the primary determinant of social behavior, but why completely dismiss it as people in gender studies departments are prone to doing?

    This is my only point.

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son

    I doubt they have a *greater* role than socialization. I never doubted whether they had a similar role. And actually I've taken a few sex and gender courses that discuss the role of biology, so not to be rude, but you'd do well not to lump all such studies together as so many trolls on here tend to do. My ideology is far from wounded by the interplay of biology and psychology, as I am an avid believer in the diathesis-stress model. I would be doing the theory into which I put a lot of stock a great disservice if I proposed that it only had to do with mental illness.

  • Jesus Son


    I'm not sure what "gender studies" classes you have taken that discuss the role of biology in sex differentiation. You are most likely referring to a class taught in a psychology department versus one taught in a true SWAG department.

    Feminist theory has by in large ignored the role of biology and have at times insisted that science is a patriarchal enterprise. There are a few radical feminists who focus on female essentialism to the point of biological determinism but their ideas suffer from the same flaws as any essentialist ideas and have been repudiated by later (and now more popular) queer theorists.

    So really I have no idea what feminist thinkers or scholars you can point to who would truly embrace a scientific approach to biological sex differences or a study of how both biological and social factors affect behavior.

    And thanks for calling me a troll!

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son

    The courses I took were offered via the sex and gender department at the school where I got my undergrad degree. Please stop assuming you know more than I about the coursework I've taken.

    I identify as a feminist and I still consider biological and social factors as equally important. I know there are others like me. I'm sorry you've found none.

    I did not call you a troll. I compared you to them, based on your lumping everything into one idea of feminism, gender studies, etc, as they tend to do. I did not say "as trolls LIKE YOU tend to do".

  • Jesus Son


    I'm not assuming. I'm just stating how unlikely it is to be the case. Your department is likely the exception and not the rule. You have still to point me to one school of thought or even one feminist who takes both sociological factors and scientific biology into account.

  • Kristina

    @Jesus Son

    Actually I don't have to. I don't comply to one school of thought or feminist thinker's ideals. I, personally, believe what I want to believe based on science and socialization combined. And, as stated, I know other feminist ladies who feel the same.

    And I'm frankly tired of co-opting Amanda's comments section for what has become a two-person conversation ending in nothingness, (as it will; we will not see eye-to-eye on this, clearly). So, you're welcome to talk to yourself about this, but I know what I know.

    Sidenote before I go: I transferred halfway through my undergraduate career and took gender studies courses at both universities, (one of which was a state university, the other of which was a private university across the country), both of which included biological issues and both of which were hosted by the universities' respective gender/women's studies departments.

  • Jesus son


    This is a nice cop-out since you don't have to actually offer proof or evidence and instead can simply state that you "experienced it" as such--whatever that nebulous experience may be. I'm not asking for what school of feminism you agree with but an example of a school of feminism that professes what you claim is the norm.

    But you are right, this debate has become tedious. Not that I think anybody here cares about "co-opting" the comments section of an internet blog.

  • sarahbee

    I hated that he accused you of not reading his book when the topic was NOT his book but his proposed university department. Do we have to read his book to understand "Male Studies"? If so then it's a better idea for book sales than education. Oooh, that's the first good idea I have heard attributed to him!