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Sunday, June 13, 2010

On the "End of Men," or Why More People Should Study History

Recently, The Atlantic--which I admit I don't read, but it sounds kind of like a sensationalized, Boston version of Maclean's--published a piece titled
"The End of Men."

Ha! Oh, hahaha! Ha! Haha! Hahahahahahahahahaha! Haha! Ha!

Fortunately, the article itself isn't quite as laughably implausible as the title. But it is pretty close, as I will demonstrate as I rip it to itty bitty shreds.

For some reason I can't for the life of me fathom, Hanna Rosin introduces her topic by talking about scientific sex selection for babies. Apparently the guy who invented/discovered it is a Manly Man who thought that the fact that Y-chromosome sperm go faster than X-chromosome sperm was awesome. I really don't understand why this is here, and why the editor didn't ruthlessly fill it with red-ink question marks. Is she trying to say, "Ooh, maybe boys come from more athletic sperm, but girls are still more awesome!"

Let's please not attach too much importance to this fact of nature. Because that's what it is--a fact of nature. Even without Dr. Manly Man's sex selection, the agility of the Y-chromosome sperm means that more male than female fetuses are conceived naturally. HOWSOMEVER, male fetuses are ALSO more likely to be miscarried. This is Mother Nature's little way of keeping things balanced. Also, this way, if a group of people is suffering hardship and becoming malnourished, even MORE male fetuses are miscarried, so a disproportionately large number of girls are born. This makes an ideal situation for repopulating the society. Actually, demographers sometimes determine the relative quality of life of a society by tracking the birth rate of males.

(This also explains why in those historical drama movies, there's always that one really dramatic scene where the queen/lady/important person's wife miscarries late in her pregnancy and you find out it would have been a boy and her husband gets super-upset and everybody cries. It's historically accurate, yo!)

So, to recap: boy-making sperm are faster than girl-making sperm. This isn't about boys being stronger than girls. This is about not letting your society die out. It's about evolutionary biology. I don't understand why historians know this but scientists apparently don't, but whatever.

Anyway, in a society such as ours, when our quality of life is such that miscarriages don't happen very often (as late as a hundred years ago, every childbearing woman could expect to have at least three miscarriages), we have a higher birthrate of boy babies than girl babies. NO WONDER people want sex selection to have daughters. Supply and demand. Economics. Geeze Louise, Dr. Manly Man, don't you read???

Apparently Rosin doesn't read either, or at least she doesn't really think about what she's reading. She starts talking about how for centuries women who gave birth to daughters instead of sons could be scorned or even beaten by their husbands; but it doesn't seem to occur to her that maybe that was WHY women wanted sons so badly then. Men wanted sons, sons to carry on their bloodline and carry on the family name, often sons they could raise to be a chip off the old block, as they say. Women wanted to not get beaten by their husbands; ergo, women wanted sons.

Now that babies of any sex are all good, because babies are adorbs, and hey we're all equals here right?, I think it might be more that women want a chip off the old block also. Or maybe they want a baby girl to dress in cute clothes, a daughter they can go shopping with, a vibrant young woman who can hate on the patriarchy with them, what have you. The point is: I highly doubt that people now want daughters because they think their daughters will be better equipped to succeed at life than sons. This:

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.

Bullshit! I think that generally, dads-to-be are kind of hoping for a boy, and moms-to-be are wishing for a girl. This probably stems from the way that parents tend to encourage their kids to fulfill dreams that the parents themselves didn't have a chance to fulfill. Doesn't that sound great? Having someone who is essentially a mini-you doing all the stuff you always wanted to but couldn't? Yeah. Thought so. I feel like the increased demand for female babies comes from women having more of a voice when it comes to their family planning.

Well, that was long-winded, but so were Rosin's opening remarks. Seriously. This literally has nothing to do with the rest of the article, which is more like this little gem:

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?

NO. You think? I have ALSO had this thought! More than that, I'm sure I've read it in several Psych and Soc textbooks! Also several women's studies writings! What a crazy random happenstance!

And then she kills it. "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?"

BUT YOU JUST SAID THAT MEN AND WOMEN ARE NOT HARDWIRED TO BE DIFFERENT!! Make up your mind--are men and women hardwired to be different, and the new economy favours female characteristics? Or are men and women simply fulfilling social roles, meaning that ANYONE can be socialized into being nurturing and domestic, and ANYONE can be socialized into being ambitious and competitive?

Rosin never does make up her mind on this issue, which is probably one of my main problems about the article. She demonstrates handily that women are gaining economic power in the working class and political power in the middle class and who knows what the upper class are doing.

Basically, the recession mostly hit male-dominated industries like the auto industry, meaning that most of the people who were turned out of work are men (she's not the first person to write about this; I have heard the more or less ridiculous term "Mancession" bandied about a few times. Recessions ALWAYS hurt men more than women, because men are always a higher percentage of the labour force, at least at the beginning of the recession). So women are making most of the money in the working class, in retail and nannying and housekeeping and I dunno, whatever other lady-crap they do. Rosin describes the environment created by this phenomenon as a "matriarchy". And all the poor sad unemployed men who defaulted on their child support have to go to support groups where they talk about things like this:

'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'!' […] '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 write 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.'

Holy jumping' Jehosaphat! What is this, How to Be a Massive Asshole Patriarchal Misogynist to Your Wife and Kids 101? (Or a humorous Amanda Bynes movie? Anyone? Anyone?) If I may speak directly to the men in the support group for a moment: You're not a fucking paycheck, you are a FATHER. You know what your role is? You're supposed to love your kids and teach them all about values and hard work and how to make good choices, and you're supposed to set a good example and make sure your kids eat healthy and get enough exercise. So excuse me while I crash your little pity party for your defeated breadwinner masculinity, which, for your information, is a construct of masculinity that was only formed about a hundred years ago, when the LAST major crisis of masculinity happened. Oh, boo-hoo, you don't make as much money as your wife/partner. Guess what? As long as you have a penis and identify as male, YOU ARE STILL A MAN. Grow up and get over it already.

So, yeah. As you might be able to tell, I think this situation isn't leading to "Awesome, look how much economic power working-class women now have!" as much as to "Massive Crisis of Masculinity Ahead!" As I mentioned, there was another massive crisis of masculinity about a hundred years ago, in response to the rise of maternal feminism, men losing their livelihood due to increased industrialization, and a few minor recessions. You know what they did then? They took it out on the loose young women, and in some places (including Ontario) legislation was even passed to the effect that young women could be locked up in a "reformatory" (prison) just for being "promiscuous". Also, Boy Scouts were invented to make boys into Real Manly Men and Not Girly Boys. Does that remind you of anything? Countless editorials about young women and hookup culture, perhaps? A new academic discipline called "Male Studies"? (Seriously, check that website. It's worth a few laughs at least. That's it, white boy, cry your heart out.)

So, yeah. The whole more-women-than-men-employed thing? Not exactly an unalloyed blessing, here. (Also, what's going on now? Nothing new. Literally.)

According to Rosin, women are also doing really well in white-collar job areas. Well, yes and no. She is correct in saying that women hold more than half of all managerial and professional jobs in the US. But "managerial and professional" is an enormous category, one that includes nurses, teachers, and mid-level retail and fast food managers. And that's why women hold more than half the positions in that category. She glosses over mentioning the glass ceiling, only commenting that female CEOs are very rare. Yeah, funny that. She tries to salvage it by pointing out that female CEOs make on average more than male CEOs, but really--when so few women make it that high up the ladder, the ones who do have got to be fricking formidable.

Here is another gem, this time on the subject of male vs. female leadership styles (which, I would like to remind everyone, are socialized and not innate):

A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

Hmm. This sounds suspiciously like Columbia Business School is lacking in students who already have a feminine side, i.e. female students. Either that or they want their male students to become proficient with both management styles. Do they also offer courses in ambition and aggression, or do they expect their female students to learn as they go along? Oh, dear. Women may, as Rosin suggests, be the future, but apparently not the immediate future, at least so far as the Columbia MBA classes of 2010 through 2012.

This is where Rosin gets distracted and goes, "LOOK AT ALL THE EDDYCATION THE WYMMINZ IS GETTING!" Okay, not quite, but I was surprised that the pulled up the stat that BAs are granted to three women for every two men. Which, unpacking the awkward phrasing, means that women earn 60% of BAs. I entirely believe this is true--thank you for reminding me of my minimal dating prospects--but, as my dad says, the BA is the new high school diploma. Rosin has apparently not talked to many BA students, or she would know that the number one question people ask us is, "Oh, you're studying (blank)? But what are you going to do with that?" And the answer is usually: something completely different! There are very few jobs you can get with just a BA--you could work for the public service. I guess. Of that's really what you want to do with your life. Or you could do like everyone else and go back to school! Grad school, business school, law school, teacher's college, library school, culinary school, beauty school--anything! You just have to get in! If your school is like mine, most programs (outside of the BA, nursing school, teacher's college, the gender studies department, and maybe a few others) are more or less male-dominated. And for all the female students, women aren't exactly ruling academia. In fact, the old guard of the history department at my school has begun to make noises that 40% is close enough to 50%, so we can probably stop hiring women now. (Granted, this might be because they're historians, and thus not particularly mathematically inclined.) Not exactly the most female-friendly environment in the world.

I'm also going to take a moment here to point out that the male-dominated trades--plumbing, carpentry, etc.--pay a lot more than the public service, or anything else you can do with a BA, as well as most things you can do with a BA and another degree.

Another odd quote from Rosin:

One afternoon, in the basement cafeteria of a nearly windowless brick building, several women were trying to keep their eyes on their biology textbook and ignore the text messages from their babysitters. Another crew was outside the ladies' room, braiding each other's hair.

Excuse me? What is going on here? How come all the female students are either mothers or preteens at a slumber party? Also, why are the mothers ignoring the babysitters? It takes ten seconds to check a text message. What if the house just burnt down, or the kid fell down the stairs and got a concussion? Or maybe the kid's sick and the babysitter's texting to say, "Yeah, cleaning up puke? So not in my contract." Seriously. CHECK YOUR TEXT MESSAGES FOR GOD'S SAKE. YOU GAVE YOUR BABYSITTER THE CELL NUMBER FOR A REASON. As for the ones braiding each other's hair--why are they doing it outside of the ladies' room, when they could just as easily be inside the ladies' room where there are mirrors? Why are they braiding each other's hair on campus at all? This is just too confusing for me.

Anyway, the upshot of all this, according to Rosin, is that women are becoming more like the dominant sex, i.e. being more violent and dating younger men (think Jihad Jane and Demi Moore), while men are apparently all turning into Judd Apatow characters. Apparently this is a bad thing? I personally find that a lot of the men in Apatow's movies are more likeable and sympathetic than those in movies by a lot of other male directors. Think Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, or Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Totally adorkable, right?

Okay, so now that I've basically disagreed with Rosin on every point, and/or called her an idiot, I think it's time to return to her initial question. Are women more suited to the new postindustrial economy?

Maybe. Usually I stay away from generalizations based on sex, but this time I'll go with it. First of all, being on the wrong side of the hegemonic order kind of gives you a different perspective from "the man", with ideas that at least appear to be new and fresh. The different strategies women have developed to try to exert their agency lead to a different ways of organizing interpersonal relations, which could be especially useful in this information age. This has a lot to do with teamwork, cooperation, and communication. There is also the fact that women have been and continue to be very… versatile, for lack of a better word. I'm thinking here particularly of women like my mother, who has a degree in computer science as well as an MBA, but who can still make a bolt of fabric into a floor-length, bell-sleeved Mediaeval princess dress (don't ask), makes the best desserts in the world, and quite literally ALWAYS wins at Scrabble. I firmly believe that my mother could do literally anything; and if it didn't come easily, she would work at it tirelessly day and night until she achieved her goal. I think that this might be the legacy of that whole "second-shift" thing, that we have women like my mother, who can do everything. Still today, girls are more likely than boys to learn how to do complex, occasional household tasks like sewing. This collection of wide and varied abilities, combined with the "women must do twice as well to be thought half as good" mentality, just might make many women suited to the information economy.

That being said, I don't think it is "The End of Men," and I don't think men will "end" very soon. In fact, I don't want them to. I don't want women to become the dominant sex, I don't think anyone wants that. What I'm looking for is more like a decrease in the importance of gender roles, hopefully to the point that they no longer exist. I do think that the conditions described by Rosin might lead to a transition period to that kind of world. As more girls than ever grow up with mothers who are employed, and an increasing number have stay-at-home dads, hopefully careers will seem to them more like a certainty than a choice; and even though their mothers are more than likely working in the nurturing professions or other "female" fields, hopefully these girls will see possibilities that extend beyond that, into a future that is apparently really cheesy and sentimental.

Sorry about that. I started writing about my mom and it made me emotional, because my mom is awesome and I don't see her enough. I feel like a lot of this is about mothers and daughters, and so…


A Mommy Duckie and her baby duckies.

AWWWWWWW!!!!! Isn't that adorable?

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