Does a changing economy mean the ‘End of Men’?By: ANNA LOUIE SUSSMAN
NEW YORK – For all the bluster of her book’s title, ‘The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,’ Hanna Rosin is surprisingly ambivalent about whether men are, in fact, doomed.
Women are quicker to adapt to the economy’s new demands, Rosin says, pursuing higher education in record numbers and dominating fast-growing professions such as nursing and accounting.
At the same time, men watch the shrinking of manufacturing, construction and other traditionally male industries as if paralysed, on the couch with a beer in hand.
More than two years of research and reporting, though, have left Rosin unconvinced that the end of men is inevitable.
“It’s an obnoxious title,” she conceded about her book and the 2010 cover story in the Atlantic magazine that launched it. “And I think my argument would have been much easier to make if I believed that women’s brains are one way and men’s brains are another way and the economy prefers our brains right now.”
Rosin draws on data and anecdotes from a wide range of sources to depict a new global matriarchy.
She charts the feminisation of pharmacy work, visiting the University of Wisconsin’s pharmacy school in Madison, where 62 per cent of the freshman class is female. A group of girlfriends there are aiming for six-figure salaries; one envisions a husband who greets her after work “with a freshly baked cookie”.
“The economy is incredibly fluid right now. There are always going to be some kinds of new jobs that the economy throws up, so the question is, who is nimble and willing to get with the programme and be responsive? And for whatever reason that’s not men,” she said.
A PYRRHIC VICTORY?
Rosin, a senior editor at the Atlantic and a founder of Slate magazine’s women’s site DoubleX, points to growth in female-dominated occupational sectors as proof that women are winning the day. “Of the 30 professions projected to add the most jobs over the next decade, women dominate 20,” she writes.
Her book reels off a slew of data points, including the facts that women now hold more than 51 per cent of managerial jobs and earn almost 60 per cent of bachelor degrees.
However, she barely pauses to acknowledge some realities behind the statistics, such as the thankless nature of many of the professions in which women dominate, including home health and food preparation, which pay low wages and lack benefits or flexibility.
Nor does she dwell on the “glass ceiling” that keeps the upper echelons of politics and corporations overwhelmingly male.
There’s also little mention of the gender pay gap, which means that woman on average still earn around 20 per cent less than men.
In an interview with Reuters, Rosin said these anachronisms make her observations on the rise of women more timely than ever. Women are moving into breadwinner roles, she says, and work culture must reflect that.
“You can’t have a workplace, half of which is women, and still pretend like we live in a nation in which men work and women stay at home – a nation that has so little flexibility, so little maternity leave. How can we possibly be the only industrialised nation that has no paid maternity leave?”
RESISTANCE AND BACKLASH
She points to the fact that households, like labour policy, have often been slow to adapt, and women still do a greater share of the housework than men, even if they are also holding down full-time jobs.
“I think we have a cultural block about men doing more in domestic roles,” Rosin said. “Our thinking about men and the way men behave has to change a lot before we can push through this last barrier,” she said.
Published this week against a backdrop of fierce debate about contraception and abortion in campaigning for November’s presidential election in the United States, ‘The End of Men’ is surprisingly silent on the legislative backlash in parts of the country on those issues.
In the interview, Rosin said this backlash was a reaction to the growing visibility of women’s success.
“The only reason to talk about contraception is because it is so directly related to the rise of women. There are all these retrograde ways to address what’s happening with women and to fight back at it without going at it directly.”
“The difference between sexism and racism is that many people have wives and daughters, so generally people don’t go at it head-on. They go at these in other ways, like saying, ‘This is about our moral values’,” Rosin said.
NOT QUITE THE END
Despite her arguments, Rosen – who is bringing up both a son and a daughter – said all was not lost for men.
She said nowadays, like women before them, some men were moving beyond restrictive gender norms.
Her book refers to managers at an offshore oil drilling company who tried to weed out macho behaviour to reduce workplace accidents. The workers, all male, became “kindler, gentler people”, according to a production operator.
One worker even sent his colleague, a new father, Baby Mozart and Chopin tapes.
The study moved her deeply, she said, because it showed the possibility of going beyond damaging gender stereotypes.
“You take the most macho guys ever, and you can acculturate them to be something completely different from what they think they are.
But it’s pretty awesome to think about, if you imagine that transition happening over a long, slow period.”
(Editing by William Schomberg and David Brunnstrom)