“The End of Men: & the Rise of Women” by H. Rosin, part 2
Why did I find this book so disturbing? In some ways I completely agree with the author: “the picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and [economic] markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded” (166; italics mine). If I could see this psychological projection on the part of men… why did no one else seem to? All my life I’d wanted to be recognized as at least a peer to those boys around me — who were so incomprehensibly superior to girls. I was often just as tall or taller than they; just as strong and sturdy and enduring, even if in different ways. I was usually smarter despite not recognizing it in myself; I was just as good or even better at working with animals, just as articulate and a faster reader, just as logical and often moreso, just as whatever… name just about anything, and I knew girls and women who were — always unrecognizedly — already there.
But the statistics in this book shock me. Men, as a generalized mass, are just failing! This internalized, romanticized fantasy of manhood that we get from the middle class (12) is seriously holding them back! Friends tell me that a lot of men show no sign of being able to learn, depending too much on inherited privilege. They say there needs to be a paradigm shift. But it’s not even privilege in some cases, from what I can tell – it’s simple foolishness. There are a great many working-class men, for example, who refuse to take jobs that aren’t “macho” enough for them – jobs in, say, construction, transportation, or utilities. But those jobs are fading away (76) – they just don’t exist any more.
Even worse, frequently these working-class men aren’t just unemployed – they also give up on finding any work at all, since there are no jobs which are suitably macho to their way of seeing things. Similarly, they refuse to help out in the home because it’s supposedly not what a man does, and sometimes they become alcoholic and violent as well. Consequently, these perennially out-of-work men live off the women in their lives for as long as they can, and are surprised when the women divorce them or throw them out – the women who quietly went out and got the jobs, then often decided to go to school too, so as to get better jobs and help their children succeed — even while they’re still running a household all on their own:
In all these places, in fact, the women are stepping into the traditional ‘provider’ role. MIT economist David Autor calls it the ‘last-one-holding-the-bag’ theory. ‘When men start to flame out, women by necessity have to become self-sufficient, to take care of the kids. They don’t marry the men, who are just another mouth to feed.’ In 2008, working-class women had a higher median income than the men, says June Carbone, University of Missouri law professor and author of Red Families v. Blue Families. (77)
Is it any surprise these women often consider the men in their lives as “the new ball and chain” (19), or “a kind of hometown guy they [call] ‘the disaster’ – a man who never gets off the couch and steals their credit card” (26)? There are some significant swathes of the Deep South, for example, where women are running practically everything, because there are no men willing to pick up the slack – but the issue emphatically exists across the entire nation (76).
So what’s disturbing to me is that women are finally “winning,” yes – but winning in a way I never wanted. I wanted peers… not to be better than emotionally arrested post-adolescents. Not to have these men stupidly reduce themselves to the equivalent of drop-outs and bums. There’s no honor nor challenge in beating a perennial loser. I wanted to be equal with men, not for them to let themselves be trampled the way they’ve trampled women for millennia. I’m not a fan of retributive “justice” – I want real justice, where in the end we all win.
Let me take a moment here, as well, to make sure we have a realistic view of today’s society. Despite the changing statistics on marriage, graduation, and employment; despite the wonderful and growing changes in society, this is still by no means a woman’s world. As the author reports, in the very highest levels of power, women are still desperately underrepresented: only “3 to 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, 17 percent of congressional seats, twenty out of 180 heads of state” (163). Weirdly, this is despite repeated studies reporting that “increasing female managers makes a firm more profitable over time” (203), and that companies with women in top positions on their Boards perform better than all-male Boards (165). Further, women still suffer a behavioral double-standard when compared to men – a double-standard which is unfortunately applied by women and men alike:
The top still looks male, so women who make it that far still seem like an anomaly. In fact, they are seen as violating some essential quality of femininity — warmth, maternal instinct, communal feeling. Deep down we — men and women both — are not gender blind. We still expect women to act one way and men to act another. More than that, men and women both resist thinking any differently because it causes too much confusion and cognitive dissonance. We can glimpse the massive paradigm shift just on the horizon but we are not quite ready for it — a resistance that will fade as more and more women reach visible positions of power. (168)
As the author later notes regarding women’s business reputations, “For men, behaving in a friendly, communal way was optional. For women, it was mandatory” (173). Fortunately there is a way for women to successfully navigate around being considered too aggressive due to simply behaving in ways which men do all the time: a study revealed how women can ask for a raise without being seen as either too aggressive or too girlish. Despite it being a “formula [which] is maddening in its tightrope specificity and insulting in the capitulation it requires” (175), I consider this important enough that I’m going to quote the relevant statement here: “I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job” (175). What makes this work is how the female questioner attempts:
to meet the stereotype halfway. The woman was polite, but firm. More important, they accepted her advocating for herself when she portrayed her needs as aligned with the needs of the company. She had to be a self-starter and a team player. She could negotiate for herself in order to prove she could negotiate for the company later. The one thing she could not be was aggrieved. (175)
I’m not surprised that women are attempting to emulate men – historically the socially weak have always admired and emulated those who ruled, regardless of how creepy some of those behaviors were. For me, though, the creepiest part is that some women are apparently trying to completely emulate men within society. These women aren’t just more educated, more determined and hustling, frequently more and better employed, more often the breadwinner and running the family, and so on. They’re also sometimes startlingly more violent: they threaten to fight more than boys do, in high school (89); they’re applying violent and abusive male concepts of “respect” to their lives (151), they enjoy hurting others (150), they’re killing more often (147).
Admittedly, this is still a drop in the bucket: “men account for about 80 percent of all murders. And women, unlike men, rarely murder strangers” (145). Still, as the author notes, there is: “the broader unsettling possibility that, with the turnover in modern gender roles, the escalation from competitiveness to aggression to violence that we are used to in men has started showing up in women as well” (144). I find this repugnant: I don’t want women to succeed in this society by effectively becoming men and replicating all the old injustices. I want the society itself to change for the better.
Weirdly, one of the newly most violent groups is not younger women — but rather the category of women over 40 (147). This is the category I myself am in, and I find myself startled at reading about the external explosion of this apparent internalized fury. I’d always believed what science is proving: that women are just as inherently aggressive as men, given no social opprobrium (155-156) – but why this particular age group? Still, as the author notes: “The most distinctive trait of women is not necessarily that they are kinder or gentler or will do anything to protect their young… it’s that they tend to respond to social cues and bend their personalities to fit in what the times allow” (159). Currently women are, it seems, the ultimate in evolutionary flexibility – and women in their 40s or older have had a lot of practice.