Monday, January 17, 2011

Is This Really “The End of Men”?

Hanna Rosin provides some interesting discussion with the provocatively titled article, The End of Men, in “the Atlantic” Magazine. She begins with this preamble.
“Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.”
We will begin by letting Rosin make her case. That will be followed by some discussion of her claims. We will close with a counter argument presented by Ann Friedman in “The American Prospect.”

Rosin poses the issue as one of social roles rather than one tied to longer-term physical evolution. As such, societal roles can change quickly—in the case of women, within a generation.
“What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”
She then assembles a series of statements (some dubious) to support her thesis.
“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.”
I don’t know where Rosin gets her data, but if you go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website you will find this data: number employed over age 20: men 71.2 million, women 63.8 million. The term “workforce” would include the unemployed, but the conclusion would not change. The author’s reference to the workforce of the future is based on a BLS projection which indicates that the jobs expected to be created are numerically disposed to low-wage, low-skill jobs that have traditionally been populated by women for historical reasons. I would not agree that this represents a feminine trend, rather it suggests an unhealthy economy.
“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.”
At this point Rosin brings up what might be called the dominant characteristics provided to the genders by evolution. I have no argument with her selection of dominant characteristics. My problem is with the blanket categorization that implies that all members of a gender are confined by these characteristics. Men are bigger and faster, but a motivated female athlete can play basketball better than say 99% of the male population; a female marathon runner can outperform 99% of the male population. We won’t even touch the sport of gymnastics. Can we not recognize that men, properly motivated, can demonstrate the social skills she so uniquely attributes to women?
“But women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast. A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts. It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge. Perhaps most important—for better or worse—it increasingly requires formal education credentials, which women are more prone to acquire, particularly early in adulthood.”
We are all glad to note that women are beginning to receive their due in the commercial world. We will also acknowledge that they have demonstrated an aptitude in certain areas where they may eventually settle into a disproportionate fraction of the positions. College attendance and graduation figures also indicate that women are currently more aggressive in attaining educational goals, although recent evidence indicates that the male-to-female ratio in colleges is beginning to rise again. Women entered the workforce in large numbers only when the economic conditions not only allowed it—but demanded it. New types of jobs were being created and families began to need that second income. Women have generally chosen to not compete with men in science and engineering. Is this because they can’t? Of course not! It is because of some sort of cultural imperative that they tend to go in other directions. As Rosin points out this also is gradually changing and female participation is inexorably rising. If women can adapt to changing environments why can’t men? Men have their own cultural imperatives that society imposes upon them. They will not change overnight, but they will change.
“Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.”
Markets and risk are driven more by greed than by testosterone. If women have been charged with fewer dumb actions it is probably due to lack of opportunity. I will wait to see some of these studies before I find Rosin’s claim convincing.
“Over the years, researchers have proposed different theories to explain the erosion of marriage in the lower classes: the rise of welfare, or the disappearance of work and thus of marriageable men. But Edin thinks the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are setting the terms—and setting them too high for the men around them to reach. “I want that white-picket-fence dream,” one woman told Edin, and the men she knew just didn’t measure up, so she had become her own one-woman mother/father/nurturer/provider. The whole country’s future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans: the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don’t follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.”
The emergence of women as competitive wage earners has caused social changes. It is something with which both genders have to learn to deal. The studies I am familiar with seem to indicate that men are beginning to accept a relationship in which the woman is the dominant wage earner—perhaps even the only wage earner. Women are probably still driven by the social imperative to mate with someone who is capable of providing for them. Clearly that can’t always be the case. Business conditions have mitigated against married women, particularly those with family obligations. Those constraints are gradually easing as everyone, including businesses, learns how to better deal with this new work environment. Rosin associates finality with what is really just a snapshot of an ever-evolving situation. We have a long way to go yet. Stay tuned.

Ann Friedman provides an interesting counter argument which addresses a number of Rosin’s contentions that I did not include here. I do need to include her most relevant passages. They informed my own thought on this matter.
“It's disappointing that, despite a history of sharp observations about gender and 5,000 words to work with, 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.”

“Unlike some other chroniclers of the so-called decline of masculinity, Rosin acknowledges men are not biologically predisposed to jobs that require strength and aggression, just as women are not biologically destined to be better thinkers and caregivers. Yet her underlying assumption is that the growth industries we currently consider to be "women's work" (nursing, home health care, food service, child care) will always retain that designation. Maybe it's just my feminist idealism talking, but I fail to see why these "nurturing professions," as Rosin dubs them, must forever be the province of women. Not once does she posit what would happen if we stopped writing articles that reinforced the stereotype that men are best suited to the manufacturing and finance sectors.”

“Perhaps the answer lies in the success of these high-achieving women. In previous generations, women busted all sorts of gender stereotypes in order to get their piece of the economic pie. While there were various schools of thought among feminists about how to best make the case for hiring women, all involved reshaping popular notions about women's abilities. Women could be firefighters and floor traders, CEOs and carpenters. The best man for the job just might be a woman, or so the 1970s slogan went.”

“It's long past time we also acknowledge that the best woman for the job might just be a man.”
Clearly, we are experiencing a massive social and cultural revolution. I can’t believe that only half the people will chose to participate.

1 comment:

  1. Matthew LaFrancescaJanuary 24, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    I wonder if society is really changing. A man has a hard time maintaining his self-respect if he must depend on a woman to support him. A woman on the other hand is not only respected but held in high esteem if she doesn't have to work outside of the home.


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