This month, journalist and editor Hanna Rosin is releasing her already infamous book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” (Riverhead Hardcover). It has been eagerly anticipated ever since the 2010 publishing of her article for The Atlantic which bears the same name. Just a couple of days ago, The New York Times printed a preview under the telling title “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?”.
The article is an interesting read, if you want to learn about a certain American demographic. That’s right: a certain demographic, because I think there is no way this text can claim universality. It outright ignores the realities of the working poor or of minorities. I sincerely hope that this will be problematized in the rest of her book. But yeah, if you were ever interested in the psyche of middle-aged, middle class, mid-Western white folks, it will surely be enlightening to discover the obvious disconnect between their ideals, and the harsh realities of modern American life. And it tells you about why certain ordinary people still vote Republican.
But I digress. Rosin has clearly chosen to interview these couples to prove her point, that men who formerly functioned as the primary or only breadwinners of the family have had to give way to their more successful wives. Quite often, the husbands lost their jobs and the wives had to fill the income gap with their own pay checks, usually in less prestigious and well-paid jobs, but which had proven more adaptable to the changing economy.
In fact, the picture that Rosin draws is not that illustrative of the shift from a patriarchy towards a matriarchy; a word which pops up frequently and echoes the MRA (Men’s Rights Activists) rhetoric of women taking over via feminism. Instead she is merely tracing the symptoms of a neoliberal world economy and the shift from an artisinal to a skill-based labor market (see also: Richard Sennett’s The Culture of the New Capitalism). It’s not like the jobs that men lost went directly to their wives, but rather were moved to cheaper labor abroad, were devalued and then often taken over by women, or disappeared altogether. Feminism allowed women to step in and pick up the pieces; but it didn’t facilitate this development. What Rosin describes doesn’t sound like matriarchy, but more like damage control.
In 2010, Rosin asked: “[W]hat if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”, and I suppose she can now answer that question with a definite yes, at least following her own exemplary couples. The men appear so inflexible and so stuck in their traditional views of family and marriage, they clearly got left behind, clinging to a bygone era that never really existed in the first place. Their last refuge seems to be the belief that this set-up will sooner or later end in disaster. In a sad attempt to restore their wounded masculinity, many men resort to survivalist behavior, preparing for the apocalypse; that crucial time of fear and violence when they will finally be relevant again:
“If the country was self-destructing, and if we could no longer import food or rely on our government to protect us, then we would all remember what men were for.” (p.5)
Classic MRA statement.
And that is my main problem with the article: a lot of the content, along with the spectacular title, plays into the “end of the world”/ “end of America as we know it” rhetoric we know so well from Republicans trying to blame Obama for everything that’s wrong. Certainly, the world is changing, the economy is changing, and it has had a huge impact on American lives, as well as on the rest of the world, and much of it is disastrous. But none of this is the fault of some macabre socialist-feminist-multiculturalist conspiracy; instead it is the direct consequence of a certain ideology and its implementation, created by an economic and political elite. And last time I checked, that elite was still primarily wealthy, white and male.
Profound changes are underway, but don’t worry about the “end of men”. If a few guys now have to rethink their ideals and convictions, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Neither is women being in the lead for once. If only it were actually true.