Talking with male friends, the general consensus I hear seems to be that manhood is more about taking care of yourself so others do not have to do it for you, and then meeting all your other obligations as well – to family, to society, to work, and so on. What most strikes me about the rambling descriptions of "manhood" that I hear, though, is how applicable they are to women as well. This isn't about having other people as possessions and markers of standing — such as wives, maids, secretaries, or children – it's about taking responsibility; about being an adult who can not only stand on their own two feet, but can if necessary help support others as well.

Frankly, I find this a far healthier perspective, especially since current projections show it is the "nurturing professions" (107) which will offer the most new jobs in the near future. It is bleakly amusing to me to note that many of these jobs will "replace the things that women used to do in the home for free" (107); it's about time we gave more credit to the extremely hard and often currently thankless work of raising the next generation. Further, I live in Silicon Valley, which Rosin notes is one of the best places to live for both ambitious women and flexible men:

All the problems that companies elsewhere agonize over, the Silicon Valley women seem to workshop informally and on the fly. Worried that [a particular] rule stigmatizes mothers? [Google's Marissa] Mayer had it [beneficially] apply to everyone. … Life problems are not all that different from technological ones: With enough creative thinking, anything can be solved. (161)

We'll see how things turn out in the long run. In the short run, I am not at all surprised to realize I've (accidentally?) settled myself in one of the few places in the country where flexibility is seen as a desirable human trait – rather than humiliatingly feminine.

Finally, while reading the book I found myself also dismayed — because I'd thought my dissertation idea was a concept that was potentially fresh and new for us in the US — not something that's well on its way to being the norm for the 70% of working class women in the US, and which the 30% of college-educated women casually live for at least part of their lives. However, after some reflection I think the concept still has value, since there are still many, many questions which need answering: how do we shift over family styles without socially damaging men? How do we change the concept of manhood to one that is healthier for both men and women? Once we're there, how do we mutually organize scheduling on who works and who cares for the children and/or the house? One single woman can't do it all, though many are trying. Imagine how much more and better two or more women, or women and men, could do!

Further, what of the men? There must be a satisfying and productive place for them in this hopefully-wonderful new world as well. I strongly believe that masculinity and femininity are social constructs, and that flexibility — like violence — is socially trained. That being the case, I agree with Rosin: "even some of the most discouraged men … in this book, will eventually learn to decode the new flexibility, and will begin to adopt it for themselves" (214; italics mine). That will be an excellent thing – one I'm happy to help promote.

Finally, there's still the issue of women moving into men's places in a still-destructively-patriarchal society, rather than attempting to improve society and working to make the world a better place. I find this so short-sighted! Further, the empirical data is utterly fascinating, especially in its near-world-wide scope: "the greater the power of women, the greater the country's economic success" (194). Now, a time of astonishingly swift change, seems to me the absolute best time to try and change masculinity and society itself for the better, rather than leaving them in the current damaging status quo.

Rosin's book closes on a strong example of such a marvelous new conception of manhood. She discusses changes on two oil rig platforms, which are ordinarily bastions of violently aggressive masculinity. The corporation which owned the platforms got tired of the high injury rate and low production numbers, and tried an experiment in effectively redefining masculinity, so that workers were more cooperative and safety-conscious in accomplishing work goals. The results were startling: the men nearly gobbled up the training into a more social form of masculinity! Injuries plummeted and production went way up. Further, the complete report is on the web – check it out! It makes extremely encouraging reading.

This was perhaps the most wonderful, surprising, and encouraging discovery for me: the realization that redefining masculinity so it is less painful for men is something they eagerly welcome. We have such promise in ourselves! We need to start sharing it fearlessly. In the end, this is precisely what I want to have be a major part of my dissertation: helping make sure our families and our world both survive and thrive.


Similar Posts: