Sunday, June 13, 2010

The End Of Men

That is the title of an Atlantic Monthly article by Hanna Rosin which I just finished reading. It's not about all men being killed, though it does sound like it and is meant to sound like it so that you are prepared with your panic juices flowing. It's about a world in which women rule and men are nothing, hear me, nothing!

And this is the world we are going to live in the future.

I wasn't surprised seeing that article because a) Atlantic Monthly is now famous for handing all matters feminine to the capable hands of one misogynistic Caitlin Flanagan and also famous for general bashing of women and such, and b) you can always trust that people will read a story like this one. Nothing is better for clicks and circulation than something that engages our reptile brains and awakens the MRA guys from their testosterone perfumed caves.

The Comments

The best way to read it is probably to wade through the comments first. They are fun if you have a masochistic bend. Probably about 70% are from MRA guys based on the same talking points they get given, a handful of feminist commentary and the rest people seriously fearing a world in which men are NOTHING! and women rule everything. In the whole world!

Lots of comments about how men create everything of any value: houses, inventions, physical protection, arts and sciences, and how women create nothing. Lots of comments about testosterone and the inevitability of male power, lots of comments about how there is no wage gap whatsoever not caused by women's own behavior, how men are the ones who always had the hard time and how the society will now implode, completely. Because women have taken over all the power.

But the most upsetting bit was the subtext in several comments: We have a choice between patriarchy and matriarchy, nothing else, and we should choose patriarchy, because in a matriarchy we get violent young men in the streets and in a patriarchy we don't. That, my friends, sounds like a threat.

Not sure why I keep reading comments like that, unless it is for understanding. If so, I'm struck by the hostility of the comments, the extremely militaristic division of people into "us" and "them" (most of those, for obvious reasons, classifying men as "us"). I'm a feminazi of the highest caliber and I don't do that! But people who hate people like me do exactly that. It's one of the wonders of the world.

The comments are not logical when read all together. For example, women do so well in academia, I read, because of affirmative action that chivalrous men decided to offer to women, and they can always take it away. Women do poorly as CEOs and in sciences because women are inherently not good in those fields, but men do poorly in college because they are discriminated against by this society in which feminists are in power.

Feminists demand more affirmative action only in fields that pay well! Why don't feminists demand more men in low-paying fields such as social work? Which, in any case, would pay nothing at all if men had not been so chivalrous and allowed women to have more money than the marketplace would award them. No, don't mention to me that men don't want to enter those low-paying fields.

And so on and so on.

The Beginning of the Article

Then to the article itself. I should notice that perception is a funny thing. I read it as an anti-feminist piece, for reasons that I shall come to shortly. Several comments stated that it was a feminist victory song: We had finally gotten the world where men are NOTHING!

Rosin begins her article with sex selection. She argues that Americans now prefer girls to boys. The evidence? This kind of stuff:

Even more unsettling for Ericsson, it has become clear that in choosing the sex of the next generation, he is no longer the boss. "It's the women who are driving all the decisions," he says—a change the MicroSort spokespeople I met with also mentioned. At first, Ericsson says, women who called his clinics would apologize and shyly explain that they already had two boys. "Now they just call and [say] outright, 'I want a girl.' These mothers look at their lives and think their daughters will have a bright future their mother and grandmother didn't have, brighter than their sons, even, so why wouldn't you choose a girl?"

We are talking about fertility clinics, and we are asking individuals there what the general trend in the United States might be.

I happened to research that topic once when writing on gender selection in India, and I found that the trend in the U.S. is toward greater parity of boys and girls as the desired sex for the next child in the family. But there is a slight preference for boys, shown in surveys from mid-2000s and from 2007.

That bit about "These mothers look at their lives" is totally anecdotal. In fact, it could have been pulled out of one's ass. But note that this is what sets the stage for the piece: It's women who want to have girls because their own lives are so wonderful, and that information is provided by a not-quite-neutral Mr. Ericsson.

I am spending so much time with these beginning paragraphs because they point out one of the main tactics of the article when it comes to evidence:

It is to a large extent anecdotal, a case being built by interviewing individuals who agree with the thesis of the author or even by pulling movies as evidence for what is actually happening or by quickly listing arguments by linking them to their creators*, without giving any information about the credibility of the arguments or the evidence they are based on.

We spend some more time with Mr. Ericsson's family and are to draw conclusions from that. Next we move to patriarchy and its eternal aspect. Wonderful stuff it was, but now it's changing and changing so quickly! Perhaps too quickly. And back to the idea that girls are now preferred by parents in the U.S.:

American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind's eye.

How does she know this? Was there a study which demonstrated such a trend? If so, I missed it and would love the link.

Its Major Thesis

Next comes the major thesis which is written so that even the simplest misogynist can get its relevance;

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?

I hate this shit. I hate it, and having to go bang my head against the garage door. Women in the past could not specialize in flexibility and nurturing behavior. They were first fucking gatherers/hunters and then fucking farmers who worked from dawn to dusk and past it. They were not prehistoric Victorian housewives and men were not prehistoric Rambos or whatever the newest killer hero is called: They, too, worked their asses off all day long, most of the history. I hate intellectual laziness and nastiness.

Pardon me for that outbreak of my nurturing flexibility. Let's look at that paragraph just a little more: If this new era is better suited to women, were all those prior eras better suited for men? And exactly why and how? Is the only thing that has changed technology? No legal changes, say?

And why can't she ask if the new era is equally suited for both men and women? My guess is that she wants to sow gender war seeds, to get clicks.

So there you have it. We are at the dawn of a matriarchy where women rule:

Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.

What is this "profound economic shift" she talks about? She doesn't quite define it so we are left with guesses. Mine would be that she talks about women's increasing entry into the labor force in the 1970s and into higher education during the same time period. That women were in the labor force in larger numbers before 1950s goes unnoticed. That women actually entered higher education in large numbers in the 1920s and got pushed back in the next decade gets unreported. History is simplified, made simple, made to support the idea of the dawn of matriarchy.

Even the seasonal canary aspect of construction and so on are here treated as permanent changes. It's also construction industry where jobs come back first when recession turns into the beginning of the boom. The financial industry and its problems are more specific to this time and place, but I very much doubt that all those laid off stockbrokers will now remain unemployed forevermore.

It's Chicken Little stuff, intended to make men fear that the end is night, the way the title frames it. Men are becoming useless because their role as --- what? --- is ending. The author doesn't really state what that role is but clearly it is based on the idea of women at home and men out there working:

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.

That paragraph has three different things linked together (by being in the same paragraph). Thus we are told that women are now the majority of the labor force (of course women are also the majority of Americans), that working class families are matriarchies and that universities are full of women. Putting all this together implies that the issues are linked by some dawn of matriarchy.

But what is the actual evidence for them being linked that way?

The percentage of women out of all people in the civilian labor force fluctuates around fifty percent now, and so does the percentage of women in the population. Why is that a sign of some impending doom? Haven't most women always worked, in any case, even if only for their bed and board on the farms and inside families?

What is happening in working class families (IF it is happening) has much more to do with outsourcing and globalization than anything some matriarchal schemers are planning to do. Though it probably also has to do with the idea that the role of men is to be the heads of the households and that requires that they make the money.

"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." This, too, is linked to outsourcing and globalization, at least partly, because the traditionally well-paying male blue-collar jobs have been outsourced and their place has been taken by McDonald-type jobs for all. As the author points out later in the piece:

It makes some economic sense that women attend community colleges—and in fact, all colleges—in greater numbers than men. Women ages 25 to 34 with only a high-school diploma currently have a median income of $25,474, while men in the same position earn $32,469. But it makes sense only up to a point. The well-paid lifetime union job has been disappearing for at least 30 years. Kansas City, for example, has shifted from steel manufacturing to pharmaceuticals and information technologies. "The economy isn't as friendly to men as it once was," says Jacqueline King, of the American Council on Education. "You would think men and women would go to these colleges at the same rate." But they don't.

Look at those income numbers. Then look at them again. Then remember that college is a financial investment. You need to pay at least some of those costs and there's one pretty concrete reason why women would be more willing to pay for college than men.

But she is also right that more boys should go to college. The solution, however, is not a system which pushes girls down while pulling boys up. The solution is equal opportunity. Funny how that way of thinking is totally alien to the article I'm criticizing here. It's either the frightening rule of the petticoats or Biblical/Koranic patriarchy for all.

And that last bit about "the traveling sisterhood" is just plain mean. All it points out is that women are still responsible for child-rearing and that to be released from that role you have to hire another woman in your place. Then it's your fault that she can't be with her own children.

Masculinity Equals Being A Patriarch

Come to think of it, the whole article mixes the idea of what men are with the idea of what the patriarchal roles for men are, and argues that the change or demise of the latter means the end of the former. Here's the obvious example of that, a story about a support group for divorced men who are not paying their child maintenance:

Like them, he explains, he grew up watching Bill Cosby living behind his metaphorical "white picket fence"—one man, one woman, and a bunch of happy kids. "Well, that check bounced a long time ago," he says. "Let's see," he continues, reading from a worksheet. What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical. "But you ain't none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain't even that. And if you try to exercise your authority, she'll call 911. How does that make you feel? You're supposed to be the authority, and she says, 'Get out of the house, bitch.' She's calling you 'bitch'!"

The men are black and white, their ages ranging from about 20 to 40. A couple look like they might have spent a night or two on the streets, but the rest look like they work, or used to. Now they have put down their sodas, and El-Scari has their attention, so he gets a little more philosophical. "Who's doing what?" he asks them. "What is our role? Everyone's telling us we're supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed. It's toxic, and poisonous, and it's setting us up for failure." He writes on the board: $85,000. "This is her salary." Then: $12,000. "This is your salary. Who's the damn man? Who's the man now?" A murmur rises. "That's right. She's the man."

"You are supposed to be the authority." There you have it, and indeed, there you have the thesis of the article. It's not about the end of men. It's not even about the demise of male power in general. It's about the demise of the system of patriarchal domination where masculinity means being in control of the women and children and being able to dictate the rules within families and in the society in general.

If you don't have it, men are NOTHING! And the only alternative is to bring back the good-ole-boy patriarchy in a much stronger form, honestly. That women are NOTHING in it is unimportant, probably because women who are nothing sit at home and are not out in the streets killing people or some such thing. (They certainly aren't allowed to go and study mathematics which makes it easier to point out that women are better suited to staying at home and so on.)

My Opinion Summary

The theory Rosin presents is a form of tipping. She argues that we are going to go from eternal patriarchy, quite suddenly, to a matriarchy (now that would be news to the Talibans of this world and indeed to most continents in general), and she also argues that men can't survive that in some oddly defined sense of survival where survival seems to be associated with being the male head of the household and the breadwinner. That equal opportunity for women means no more heads of households and equal access to jobs and careers and, yes, child-rearing is completely ignored in the article.

It's unclear why men couldn't survive a matriarchy, given that women have survived a patriarchy. It's unclear what should be done about men's inability to survive in a world which actually is still pretty male-dominated and where just writing this kind of a fairy-tale article makes people seriously discuss a world in which women rule and how on earth men could survive it except that, of course, men are the genetically superior sex in the first place.

But then the women in Rosin's world have zero problems! They are the matriarchs in the working class family, muttering "my way or highway", they are the Cougars picking from young men for some careless sex, they are the women carting away all the degrees and all the good jobs, they don't have one single problem in the whole world! They rule.

Yes, I know. You can do a reversal on that paragraph and find out what patriarchy has consisted of centuries. What it still consists of, in many places on this planet. But instead of discussing that we are speculating on a reversal of the reversal: The monstrous regiment of the petticoats.

And all women are set on one side of the chess board, all men are set on the other side and the game begins! You might find this a very odd criticism from a feminazi like me, but ultimately my feminism is informed by the desire to be included in the group, to be seen as an individual, not to be judged on the basis of my gender allthefuckingtime.

Articles like this make achieving those goals (impossible in any case, I know) more and more difficult because the unquestioningly accept masculinity as subtractive: Whatever women are men don't want to be and whatever men are women cannot be, must not be allowed to be. They set up a seesaw where any gains women make are seen as losses to the men: IF being a man requires that one is the head of the household and the breadwinner, THEN that also requires that women cannot be breadwinners and that they must subject themselves to male authority. You cannot talk about the former without mentioning the latter.

Articles like this set up the world as consisting of two enemy armies, fighting an eternal war where the only reason for not utterly annihilating the other side is that pesky fertility thing. They stereotype and simplify in doing that in too many ways for me to count, but the obvious one is that the metaphor should not apply. Men and women are of the same species, belong to the same families and are largely pretty similar to each other. They even often love each other!

Now imagine a feminazi writing that. I must get treatment.

For a better take (one I read after writing this), check out Ann
* Throughout the '90s, various authors and researchers agonized over why boys seemed to be failing at every level of education, from elementary school on up, and identified various culprits: a misguided feminism that treated normal boys as incipient harassers (Christina Hoff Sommers); different brain chemistry (Michael Gurian); a demanding, verbally focused curriculum that ignored boys' interests (Richard Whitmire).

American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent (in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin), or a charmless misanthrope (in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg), or a happy couch potato (in a Bud Light commercial). He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. "We call each other 'man,'" says Ben Stiller's character in Greenberg, "but it's a joke. It's like imitating other people." The American male novelist, meanwhile, has lost his mojo and entirely given up on sex as a way for his characters to assert macho dominance, Katie Roiphe explains in her essay "The Naked and the Conflicted." Instead, she writes, "the current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex."