Fat Books & Thin Women

#Longreads : “The End of Men”
September 14, 2011, 12:26 pm
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Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Having lived abroad for the past two years, I have a narrow vision of what men in America look like right now, colored by that fact that so many twenty-something men in the Balkans are unemployed, live with their parents, and spend their days drinking coffee or beer, and that of my college friends most of the guys are unemployed (or at best hold temp jobs), live with their parents, and spend their days drinking coffee or beer.

Hanna Rosin’s article from The Atlantic, split roughly in halves, delves into the areas in which women are besting men, the impact opportunities for women have on a nation’s economy and collective ability to innovate, and how the increasing economic power of women impacts men left unemployed by downturns in manufacturing, building and other typically male industries. It’s not just that women are gaining ground, but that they’re doing so with, in Rosin’s words, with “remarkable speed.” What does this mean for men, for families, for the American middle class?

Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.

What’s so interesting about “The End of Men” is the ways it points out that the gains of women are due in part to the failures of men: the failure to pursue higher education, the failure to pursue jobs that have been classed as feminine while women have taken over occupations that were once dominated by men.

The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits. Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt. Over the course of the past century, feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature—first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered. As Jessica Grose wrote in Slate, men seem “fixed in cultural aspic.” And with each passing day, they lag further behind.

Rosin comes at questions how of men are lagging behind, how their roles have changed in recent years, why and how women have made such professional and intellectual strides in recent years, and how the failure of men to keep up with women impacts relationships. As someone who hasn’t been living in the States for two years now, who doesn’t have a real sense of where men and women stand (apart from what I can see in my own group of friends), I want to know: what do you think of Rosin’s article? Are the issues she addresses ones that you’ve noticed yourself? Do you think there’s value in her discussion of why men are “failing” while women improve their economic standing, or is it more overblown hokum?

Read Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men”


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I don’t want to generalize, but I think North American men don’t know what it is to be a man anymore. The self-esteem movement of the seventies gave birth to the little “selves” . It’s all about me-me-me my-projects, my-development-as-a-human-being. There aren’t much people that are thinking beyond their little petty problems and see the big picture.

Plus, all that’s represented about men is really negative stuff about them being slave to their pulsions and be rowdy and chaotic. It’s not like that, there are smart and outspoken men that still know what it means to be one. You know, the do-the-right-thing-by-your-people tradition that seems to be lost?

So is women’s uprising for real or just a scramble born out of a power vaccuum. A bit of both. Women have those models, those amazing feminists that stood for what they believed in. I do think though that women in power got there they were because of a vaccum. And that’s men’s fault. Those old decision-making farts who kept hogging the jobs and giving them to their friends and associates sons, well they alienated their own sons, who don’t have an idea who they are anymore. They do road trips, drugs, they study weird professions like body art. Males under 30 are really in a strange place right now.

Comment by Benoît Lelièvre (@BenoitLelievre)

I think there is a certain nostalgia for this past of…well, in the US, of that sort of “stand by your people” mentality you mention, of “men being men,” of people really going out and making their own way in the world, which until fairly recently would’ve involved more of a physical element. One of the things I liked about Rosin’s article is that she addresses, however briefly, the huge shift in types of occupations we’ve seen recently, so that now it’s men (and women) who are able to be analytic, intellectual, who can go into these high-powered office jobs that didn’t exist before. I’d love to see something about this sort of nostalgia movement that I know is going on in Brooklyn…hipsters growing beards, wearing plaid and getting into stuff like farming and raising animals, reaching back to that past you mention.

I’m not sure what I think of your argument that women got where they are today in part because of a vacuum left by men. As you write, I think women have had some incredible role models and that they’ve been a part of the change; but to me, women gaining some more power and stepping into traditionally male roles of the breadwinner or the major earner in the family seems natural and like the result of women responding, very strongly, to taking on these roles becoming more accepted. You make some great and interesting points, though, and as you say…guys are in a weird place right now. I think our generation as a whole is sort of off-kilter, in terms of how many twenty-somethings are moving back in with their parents, without jobs, without stable relationships let alone families of their own, but when I think of who is more off-center…it’s usually the guys, because that’s what it looks like in my own group of friends.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I think Rosin is sort of missing, or at least glossing over, the point when she talks about all these sectors where women are experiencing the most job growth – many of them are low-wage jobs. The census report on poverty that came out yesterday very plainly states that households headed by single women are hurting the most (almost 41%). You also have almost 20% of women under age 65 with no health insurance; the sectors experiencing growth aren’t exactly known for their generosity when it comes to health benefits.

Of course men lost more jobs during the recession than women did. They held more jobs to begin with, so it isn’t really a fair comparison to say that x number of men were financially hurt while y number of women were.

In general, Hanna Rosin bothers me. Every time I read her articles, I see where she’s going for the first third or so, but then it’s like she delves into this hand-wringing over the loss of traditional gender roles but still wants to call it progress.

Comment by ohemgillie

That’s a really good point about the wage level of the jobs Rosin is writing about. It seems that women are doing better, job-wise, in a quantitative sort of way (gaining more jobs) but that qualitatively, in terms of how much money they’re earning, they’re not making the strides we can say they are when we’re just looking at who’s losing and gaining jobs. And when are women going to be earning equal pay, let alone having the opportunity to ascend to the same management levels as men? I wonder/hope this will happen in coming years, as more families accept some non-traditional gender roles and split child care more equitably.

I was a little thrown by the last quarter or so of the article, which I think lines up with what you write about Rosin’s hand-wringing over loss of traditional gender roles/this is progress. Reading about how these job losses are screwing with men’s traditional roles in the families, totally disrupting them, I couldn’t help thinking, “oh my god, I am going by raising my future child on my own because there is no man out there who can match my education and blah blah blah levels.” Which suggests that she also managed to slip some fear-mongering in there, as well – at least, it worked on me.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Ellen, my point lies on the fact that you underestimate one big factor. Old farts at the top of the food chain (think banks or big societies) are really reactionary buttholes. They try to keep tight control over everything, even after their retirements so that they can have whoever they want running things. It’s a male-centric thing. Only death and an estranged son/nephew can keep those old rats from giving big jobs.

I have a friend she’s been working in the marketing department of an NHL club for about eight years and saw many people pass in front of her for promotions. “I don’t have enough penis” she told me once. Women will get on top of everything, because they are a lot more driven than men right now. But right now they are infiltrating themselves in the tiny cracks of power, so they can call the shots in the future.

Comment by Benoît Lelièvre (@BenoitLelievre)

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