The End of Men - Part II

Christine Whelan | Posted on 06/16/10

In the July/August edition of The Atlantic gender, marriage and family takes center stage. Hanna Rosin argues that women have gone from the second sex to the ones who will run the entire show in the 21st century. And as if to ice the cake of doom for half the world's population, Pamela Paul pens a short piece in the same issue asking if fathers are necessary.

On the surface, this section of the ideas issue of The Atlantic raises the same old power-struggle debate: Who has the jobs, and who has the power? Women hold the majority of the nation's jobs and are graduating with the majority of college and professional degrees, and Rosin writes

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men's size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today-social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus-are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world's first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation's banking system, and who vowed to end the "age of testosterone."

Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained-at least in part-by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. Guys, one senior remarked to me, "are the new ball and chain." It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it's unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.

The American Prospect's Ann Friedman disagrees

Rosin makes the same oversight as all of the other hand-wringing articles about the state of the American male. She thinks the problem is men; really, it's traditional gender stereotypes. The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others -- that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers -- is actually to blame for the crisis.

OK, broad-brush statements about gender are bad, but if we accept as fact that young women are displaying more ambition and achieving more education as men, then the question becomes: Is this a problem?

Yes.

Rosin quotes my colleague Brad Wilcox at the National Marriage Project as saying that "the family changes over the past four decades have been bad for men and bad for kids, but it's not clear they are bad for women."

I think there are some tried, frazzled women who might disagree.

Women are zooming ahead and men aren't keeping up. And, as I have written about -- in several places -- that means we're going to see a lot of ticked off women.

In families where women earn the majority of the income, most will also be responsible for the majority of the childcare and housework (or overseeing someone else to get it done). The second shift is alive and well. As women work harder and set ever-higher, laudable ambitions for themselves, women risk becoming second-class citizens of another type: Exhausted, strung out achievers who provide the money, and the caregiving, but still don't have the power to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

To prevent this means empowering men to take an active role in family life, to find their purpose and pursue education at the same rate as women and to stop perpetuating misandry

And current research isn't helping, as Pamela Paul concludes in her short piece questioning whether father's are necessary to the successful upbringing of kids: 

The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there's nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we've gotten used to him.

As a society, we're allowing men to play video games and not take initiative around the house -- because we women have been raised to do it all.

"Everything you can do, I can do better," seems to be the message guys get day in and day out from their successful female peers. Yes, the guy will be better at beating up an intruder (but the woman might be better at calmly talking everyone out of violence.) Yes, it's nice to have a man around the house to move heavy things and tinker with the car. But if we relegate men to those occasional brute-force chores, that leaves 99% of the daily work for women to do.

The solution is to put aside outdated gender norms of who should be doing what and raise our children to be productive members of the community, to be dedicated parents and to be ambitious whatever their purpose and skills may be. And that's challenging enough without writing off half the world's population as useless.

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