I know, I’m a little late to the game in reviewing Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men”, which came out on September 11, 2012. That’s what happens when your day job is coaching smart, strong, successful women and your night job is being a good husband and father. And so it goes.
As you may know, I’m a big reader, but tend to only read books for pleasure. If they feel too much like homework, I’m not going to bother. Which is generally why I have a lot of trouble reading most relationship books. Too close to home. But when it comes to accessible, scientifically researched, mainstream nonfiction, I’m a sucker. I’ve read most of the seminal books on behavioral economics like “Predictably Irrational”, “Nudge”, “How We Decide” and “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. And I really enjoy books that talk about larger societal issues revolving around gender and relationships: “Marry Him” by Lori Gottlieb, “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “Unhooked Generation” by Jillian Straus. Which brings me to “The End of Men”.
Women have become more traditionally masculine. Men haven’t become more traditionally feminine.
Rosin starts with some unassailable premises: women are gaining ground in education and the workplace, gender roles are fluid, and both genders are confused about what this means.
So is the author, I would suggest.
“Men could move more quickly into new roles now open to them – college graduate, nurse, teacher, full-time father – but for some reason, they hesitate…Men do a tiny bit more housework and child care than they did 40 years ago, while women do vastly more paid work. The working mother is now the norm. The stay at home father is still a front page anomaly”.
This is true. But Rosin’s built-in suggestion to men is a bit one-sided: the answer to these dilemmas is for men to change. Rosin points out that “women have become more masculine in their traits – assertive, independent, willing to take a stand. Men have not come towards the center, seeing themselves as tender or gentle.”
Yes, and that’s my point. Women have become more traditionally masculine. Men haven’t become more traditionally feminine. And so we find ourselves at an impasse – one that we’ve broached many times on this blog. Women’s answer to men: you need to change. Men’s reply to women: we like the way we are! Accept us.
Screaming back and forth at each other – as we often do – doesn’t serve a purpose. In a perfect world, we’ll try to meet in the middle. But Rosin spends a lot more time reflecting – on how men are falling behind than she does telling women how to adjust to the new world order. To be fair, this new world order, with women at the top, is the central premise of the book. And, to be fair, Rosin does a good job weaving a narrative based on anecdotes and statistics that support her case. Except they don’t entirely do so.
For example, “Among college graduates 25-39, women make up 45.9%.” Women earn 60% of masters, half of all law and medical degrees, and 44% of all business degrees.”
I find this information to be amazing. Inspiring. Heartwarming. Groundbreaking. Yet Rosin is arguing that these statistics represent not just the rise of women but the “end of men”.
That’s not the end of men. It’s the BEGINNING of true equality! Now, for the first time, there will be just as many women who will be able to choose men because they are cute, kind, and loyal, not because simply because they’re educated and wealthy. Now, for the first time, a woman who makes $300K/year will have no trouble picking up the tab for a lavish European vacation with her boyfriend who makes $50K, just as men have been doing for their wives for a hundred years. This is good news, and it requires two shifts:
1) Men have to not feel emasculated when there are many women are smarter or wealthier.
2) Women have to not look down on men who are less educated or less successful. Just as men (like me) don’t look down on our stay-at-home mom wives; we cherish them for what they DO bring to the table – kindness, generosity, warmth, laughter, companionship, love, sex, and 100 other things that don’t involve money.
The author continues much of the book on this path, “The number of women with six figure incomes is rising at a faster pace than it is for men. 1 in 18 women working full time earn 100K or more in 2009, a jump of 14 percent over 2 years.”
The hard-driving businesswoman may mute her natural tenderness and vulnerability, two traits that men find both attractive and accessible.
Rosin calls this “the last gasp of a vanishing age” – when men had all the top jobs and wealth. But this is progress. This is as it should be. The number of women with six figure incomes SHOULD be rising at a faster rate because there’s a lot further for women to come to break thru the glass ceiling. Again, this doesn’t represent the end of men. It represents the closest we’ve come yet to a gender-blind work environment – and even that is far away.
Of course, I’m leading with my criticisms, not my praise, but Rosin does take an even hand – not just talking about the “end of men” but shining the light on the contradictions of the modern, smart, strong, successful woman – who makes $200K, but still wants a man to make more. Not only is this a challenging crossroads for women, but Rosin points out another dilemma that comes with equality: the hard-driving businesswoman persona may mute her natural tenderness and vulnerability, two traits that men find both attractive and accessible.
“With sex, as with most areas of life, women tend to preserve a core of their old selves – romantic, tender, vulnerable – even while taking on new sexual personas. The women at business school no longer needed a man to support them, but that didn’t mean they didn’t want one. And years of practice putting up their guard made it hard for them to know when to let it down. As Meghan Daum writes in My Misspent Youth, “the worst sin imaginable was not cruelty or bitchiness or even professional failure but vulnerability.”
Such shifts have only made the already murky dating world even murkier, as gender roles get blurry. And women who choose to put career first do quite well. Reports Rosin, “There is hardly any earning gap between women who don’t have children and men. Mostly, what happens is obvious: women with children start cutting back hours or seeking out situations that are more family friendly.”
So, if you’re a woman who chooses to go all-in on your career, no one’s judging you – certainly not on this blog. I would just hope that you follow the wisdom of the men who do the same; choose a partner who puts the relationship first. The high-power women interviewed in the book came to the same conclusion; a less ambitious husband enables a successful partnership. Writes Rosin, “The powerful women I spoke to all admitted being utterly dependent on their husbands. All described this as the first rule of success: “Choose your spouse carefully…”
Rosin and I both agree that the rise of women necessitates change. And while I disagree that this signals “The End of Men”, I do agree that men have to come to terms with a new world in which, potentially, 50% of the women they meet will make more money. But since this blog is for women, my directive isn’t to tell men how they need to change; it’s to remind you that you can only control your own actions and reactions. Thus, the onus is on you to adjust to the new world order that you’ve created.
Concludes Rosin, “If diversity is good in the workplace, then it’s also good at home. In a massive Dept of Education study, a child’s grades were more closely correlated to how many times the dad showed up at a school event than any other factor. Children with involved fathers measure as having higher IQs by age three, higher self esteem and in the case of daughters, grow up to be less promiscuous.”
And if you’re a woman working 60-hour weeks and pulling in a half million a year, you know what kind of Dad will be a perfect fit? Not the high-powered brain surgeon/marathon runner, but the high-school English teacher who makes $60K, gets home at 4:30, has summers off and pulls in a generous pension.
That’s the model for success. Which means no more clamoring for the male version of yourself.
Do what successful men have done for eons; marry “down” a little bit and find a happy marriage with complementary (not necessarily “equal”) roles.