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Essay Review
"The End of Men" — or the end of class analysis?
Anne Slater
volume:  
volume 31
issue 4
October 2010
imagestuff
Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

According to “The End of Men,” a buzzed-about article in The Atlantic, U.S. males are failing in employment, education and the family while women surge ahead. Author Hanna Rosin argues that this role reversal is occurring because men are less biologically suited to postindustrial society.

Rosin paints a vivid picture of the bleak situation for many men and of the disorientation and desperation that accompany long-term unemployment. With manufacturing and construction hard-hit, men have lost almost 8 million jobs during the recession — causing women to become the majority of the workforce.

Despite a breezy style, Rosin’s own outlook, too, is bleak. She seems to accept that if one gender is up, the other must be down.

Shall gals rejoice? Really? Nearly 4 million women have also been laid off, and unemployment among women of color is now the highest it’s been since the recession began. Women earn 20-30 percent less in almost every field and hold two-thirds of the part-time jobs, often without healthcare or sick leave.

Imagine the struggle of a two-income household suddenly surviving on one woman’s wages! (Or maybe you don’t have to imagine it.)

Nevertheless, Rosin declares that women are on a rocket ride to the top because they dominate the still-growing service sector: food preparation, home health aid, childcare, nursing. Office work is alien and dispiriting for men, she claims, while it’s suited for “smart, dutiful” and “more reliable” women.

A life’s fulfillment through filing — thanks a lot! Not to mention the hit to the pocketbook: one-third of the working poor hold service-sector jobs.

Women succeed because they are bright, flexible, innovative, nurturing and communicative, Rosin asserts. On the other hand, men are jobless and earn fewer college degrees because they are biologically unable to adapt, focus or commit; they are irrational, overemotional and passive.

How can Rosin seriously put forward the same stereotype that has been used for so long to keep women down?

Economic critique: nada. Let’s leave the realm of fantasy and get objective. U.S. manufacturing declined because of technological advances that increased productivity and because companies moved plants to countries where they could pay workers pennies a day. Women are in the service sector because sexist discrimination kept them a minority in higher-paying jobs. And unemployment is not a crisis of manhood; it is a built-in byproduct of capitalism.

Having a huge pool of people seeking work provides an excuse to drive down wages and conditions. Bosses pit the employed against the jobless and native-born against immigrants while busting unions. This is good for business. The Wall Street Journal reports that corporate profits rose by $1.5 trillion in 2009.

Rosin’s idea of female solidarity is likewise surreal — a “traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other wo-men.” Wonder how fabulous those jobs are? Check out Domestic Workers United, an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers. They just won a Bill of Rights as part of their fight for respect and decent conditions.

Because she rejects a class perspective, Rosin’s article invites men to blame women for their increasingly cruel circumstances.

Impact of feminism. I do agree that the social status of “the second sex” has dramatically changed. As a Radical Women paper called “Women Workers: Sparkplugs of Labor” puts it, “With their life sentence of solitary confinement in the home commuted, they have a new social weight and power — and a proud consciousness of their new role.” But the feminist movement must get much of the credit for this! And these hard-fought female gains do not make men losers.

Rosin has a tired notion of masculinity. Those who don’t wield ultimate authority at home and control “their” women are submissive wimps. Men who garden and host dessert parties are weak. A young male friend told me, “I was offended by her definitions of manhood. It’s almost a parody of the old macho definitions from the 1950s. The young men I know want and are trying for more egalitarian relationships.”

Rosin tells the “success” story of a single woman going to school, working and raising kids; she’s so exhausted she falls asleep in a community college elevator. Heroic, yes. But instead of declaring that a victory, how about fighting for childcare, housing and free education!

We don’t have to buy into the myth that this is as good as it gets. Working-class women and men have both lost during this economic free-fall. Together we can organize for a society that helps every member of the human race thrive.

National Radical Women Organizer Anne Slater eagerly awaits the end of premature “post-feminist” analysis. Contact her at anne_slater@comcast.net.

Also see: Women in troubled times