thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

The End of Men: And the Rise of Intense Conversation

In books, class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

Sarah S.

Men are over. O-V-E-R. Or so says Hanna Rosin—journalist, author, founder of Slate’s woman-centric blog “Double X,” and mother to a son she worries about and a daughter that thrives. In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin claims that patriarchy is deader than J.R. Women have won, men are in decline, and the only reason we (women, men, Americans, global citizens, etc.) don’t recognize this fact is because the reality is far from the egalitarian utopia our second-wave foremothers promised.

Rosin’s premise incited quite the conversation among feminists, including Stephanie Coontz, who takes umbrage at the notion that women’s successes equal men’s decline, and Emily Blazelon and Liz Schwartz, who defend Rosin’s premise and methodology. Regardless of where one falls on this issue (or one’s gender), it’s an important conversation to have for several reasons.

One, it makes feminists quite uncomfortable; if women have actually “won,” and the world is still a cultural cesspool riddled with inequality, then are women just replacing their male overlords? Is a matriarchy doomed to be just as distasteful as a patriarchy?

Second, if newly dominant women dislike the world we see, what do we do about it? How can we take this newfound power out for a spin and see what it can do for universal equality and global improvement? If nothing else, how can we avoid turning the men that we love—husbands, sons, partners, brothers, gay boyfriends—into a new underclass?

Third, are Rosin and her ilk dead wrong? Does Rosin selectively order information in such a way as to make her case while not accounting for real and ongoing gender inequality? Further, does she account enough for race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in her assessment?

These and other questions are so important that I was excited to have a conversation with members of Girls Like Giants about the book. Alas, most of our crew were too busy dominating the world to read and respond to the book in a timely manner. So the weighty task of leading this discussion fell to me—your humble narrator and hopeful guide.

I would have liked to have had that conversation in order to get into the nuances of Rosin’s argument. Are her uses of individual stories distractingly manipulative or competent ways to humanize the discussion? How about examples from her own biography—honest or smug? And why oh why did she allow a desire to provoke controversy overcrow arguments against such an inflammatory, ultimately lousy title? But beyond these rhetorical choices, Rosin’s main point matters to any thinking person as she articulates a profound, unshakeable shift in the makeup of our world.

However, I don’t want to just review the book or to give a rundown of my thoughts on it. If nothing else, I’m too conflicted by the argument, and frustrated by Rosin’s way of making it, to venture an objective opinion. I thought that, instead, I would briefly summarize each chapter of the book and then open it up for discussion. I’ve also included a series of links at the bottom that highlight some of the conversation that’s gone on surrounding Rosin’s work. After reading the following, what say you? Have we really reached “the end of men”?

Introduction: Here Rosin lays out her core argument: not only are men “over,” but their decline comes from a specific cause—the rise of a postindustrial economy that favors “feminine” traits such as flexibility, collaboration, emotional sensitivity, and communication and has less and less jobs for rigid, domineering males—particularly in the blue collar sectors: “A service and information economy rewards precisely the opposite qualities—the ones that can’t be easily replaced by a machine” (5).

“Hearts of Steel: Single Girls Master the Hook-Up”: Rosin looks to college women as the “canaries in the coal mine,” so to speak, or the harbingers of the new world order. Young women often bemoan the hook-up culture of contemporary colleges, and complain about the double standard that stills dubs them “sluts” and their male counterparts “studs.” But in the research she cites, Rosin finds that young women are also using hook-up culture as way to satisfy sexual desires while avoiding the constraints of serious relationships: “The women still had to deal with the old-fashioned burden of protecting their personal reputations, but in the long view, what they readily wanted to protect was their future professional reputations” (23-23). Notably, none of the women interviewed wished for a return to the olden days of “courting” to replace their current freedom—even with the flaws. She ends by looking at the hyper-competitive, hyper-self-assured world of the MBA, where women thrive alongside their male counterparts while privately agonizing about their lives beyond career.

“The Seesaw Marriage: True Love (Just for Elites)”: Here Rosin begins to lay out her argument that women’s rise has led to a strengthening of marriage among the upper middle class—and a weakening among the working class. This chapter focuses on what she dubs the “seesaw marriage” of the middle class, where one partner frequently earns more money while the other is in school, or establishing her career, only to have the financial landscape tilt over time. This leads to slightly more egalitarian marriages but also encourages women who “do it all” or men who find the most accomplished woman they can and then “shut her down” through marriage and childbearing—the “educated, successful women reduced to ‘mommy’” as a new sign of dominance and achievement: “Couples are not chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage” (67).

“The New American Matriarchy: The Middle Class Gets a Sex Change”: This transitional chapter moves to small town America, examining the decline in blue collar jobs that were often a family’s gateway to a middle class life—and highlighting how the wives of these displaced men have stepped into the gap, becoming teachers, bureaucrats, health care providers, and administrators. In these families, women have been forced to step into the breadwinner role and the men are often very disheartened by the transition. She notes how this new script in white communities mirrors that seen in African American communities since the 1970s. Subsequently, you see a trickle down disdain for marriage in girls and young women who cannot see partners for themselves in the (presumably) emotionally stunted, financially draining men and boys around them. Marriage among the working class is in decline, with women finding it more emotionally and financially lucrative to focus energy on themselves and their children, rather than on romantic relationships.

“Pharm Girls: How Women Remade the Economy”: Here Rosin uses careers in pharmacy as a litmus test for her entire theory: women have officially begun to dominate the workforce and, thus, simultaneously alter and signal the change in the global marketplace. Women thrive in many professions, but none is so profound or so meteoric as pharmacy, a field from which women were once basically spokesmodels and are now the ideal—focused, educated, emotionally and vocationally capable: “Women have written the blueprint for the workplace of the future. The only question left is, will the men really adapt?” (141). This question of men’s adaptation is key to Rosin’s argument: for whatever reasons, women are adaptable to the new world and men, so far, are not.

“Degrees of Difference: The Education Gap”: This chapter is devoted to the well known fact that women, particularly white women, now achieve more college degrees than men—and this has recently shifted to equality or better in the numbers of PhDs, MDs, and JDs as well. The savvy point in this chapter is how neither political side can cope with this reality: Republicans don’t want to acknowledge this vulnerability in (white) men (i.e. see the Romney campaign) and Democrats don’t want to admit that their cherished, protected groups (women, African Americans, gays and lesbians) are thriving and no longer in need of special protections.

“A More Perfect Poison: The New Wave of Female Violence”: In what (I deem) the book’s weakest, least interesting chapter, Rosin argues that women’s increase in competitiveness and aggression has led to an attendant rise in violence. This reality extends from the increase in murders and domestic violence perpetuated by women to the higher numbers of girls fighting, bullying, and ending up in juvenile detention centers, jails, and prisons—“changes in women’s violence patterns that can shake up our notions about whether men are in fact the more ‘naturally’ dominant sex” (175).

“The Top: Nice-ish Girls Get the Corner Office”: Despite women’s advances, they have not been able to seize their newfound power with the zeal of men. Instead, they find themselves barred from workplace success if they are too aggressive, while women who ask—but ask nicely—tend to thrive. In sum, one must be competent, hardworking, brilliant, but also pleasant to be around. Having said that, women at the top are remaking corporate culture—led by visionary tech companies who see flexibility as the way to keep prime talent. Women executives still work insane hours but more and more all corporate employees can bracket time into their day to take care of other concerns—coming in late after PTA meetings, leaving early for soccer practice, ducking out for a friend’s bachelor party, anything so long as all the emails are answered by close of business at midnight. In this chapter, Rosin also addresses the problem of women not negotiating their salaries, leading to decreased financial benefits over time. Importantly, though, “A recent McKinsey survey on women and the economy uncovered an admirable and also frustrating trait common to women. Much more than men, women tend to derive their satisfaction and moral identity from aspects of work—and life—that are unrelated to lockstep promotion. … They don’t necessarily want to ‘trade that joy for what they fear will be energy-draining meetings and corporate politics’ that come along with a bigger title” (229).

“The Gold Misses: Asian Women Take Over the World”: In this final chapter, Rosin takes the conversation global. She points out how Asian countries’ intense work ethics in education translate to success in work. Further, as Asian women have entered the educated and working populations, they have proven that working incredibly hard to succeed is not only the province of men (with attendant cultural backlash of course). This effect is particularly pronounced in S. Korea, which has essentially condensed the history of American narrative of feminism into the last 20 years: “Despite her bad experience or maybe because of it, Stephanie Lee is doing her part to make sure the next generation of men will make a clean break. She has taught her son to speak softly, and she buys him pink stuffed animals and enrolls him in cooking and ballet instead of tae kwan do, even if he’s the only boy in the class, even if his teacher’s object” (259).

In my own summation, Rosin makes a compelling case. However, I feel that her numbers are offset by forays into personal stories. These exhibit her points in profound, memorable ways; but, at the same time, they detract from the hard data. Thus, I remain unconvinced that her argument represents inarguable truth and not just the same kind of hand-wringing that followed the First World War, the Great Depression, and women’s lib and the Civil Rights Movement. Last and most importantly, Rosin’s book is frustratingly devoid of solutions or ideas for the future. Assuming that she is, more or less, correct, how do we work to transition this current, flawed world into the place we’d like to live? Undoubtedly, inequality abides—in an array of ways; Rosin does not deny this. So the core question that drives any feminist opposed to inequality still remains: what do we do about it?

***

Please, join the conversation based on this post and/or the links provided below and/or your own reading of The End of Men. I can’t wait to hear where the readers of GLG take this discussion.

***

Related Links:
Rosin’s original article in the Atlantic, a compelling read if you want to get a quick-and-dirty (as compared to the book) summation of her argument and style.

Katie Couric and Gloria Steinem respond to the original article.

Liza Mundy defends Rosin and the rise of women.

Stephanie Coontz rejects the “Myth of Male Decline.”

Rosin’s response to Coontz, and Coontz’s counter-response. (All told, a fascinating back-and-forth.)

Slate ran a debate about this issue. Rosin argued for her side here and, grilled by husband, here. Christina Hoff disagreed.

  1. Sarah S., did you see this? http://nymag.com/thecut/2012/11/suzanne-venker-prescribes-a-detox-from-feminism.html (via Sarah T.). Seems in line with Rosin’s book or this particularly moment and anxiety about the decline of men …

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