The End of Men and Equality for Men
A little less that…
An interesting commentary from The Globe’s Margaret Wente on how women are better able to adapt to the changes in global economy than men are. Wente is summarizing the argument from Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men (reviewed by Jennifer Homans for The New York Times). There are problems with the argument, but the broad trend about middle- and working-class demographics in the US seems persuasive. In short:
Today, the things that women excel at – human contact, interpersonal skills, verbal skills, creativity – are more valuable than brawn and muscle. These skills can’t easily be outsourced. Women are good at interpreting feelings and ideas. They’re smart, diligent and reliable, and they mostly stay out of trouble. On top of that, they’re extraordinarily adaptable. Women have taken on new roles and colonized male realms (pharmacy, veterinary medicine) with astonishing speed, and held on to their old roles and realms as well.
But the men are stuck. It’s much harder for them to adapt, and a lot don’t even want to try. Few men of any age are willing to go back to school, especially if they have to clean toilets for the privilege. Even fewer are interested in “women’s” roles, even though those fields are where most of the employment growth will be. Of the 30 professions projected to add the most jobs over the next decade, women dominate 20. Many of these jobs (home care, child care, food preparation) replace things women used to do at home for free.
What happens when women start entering a male trade? That job becomes devalued (at least in men’s eyes), and men flee – a phenomenon that Harvard economist Claudia Goldin calls “pollution.”
While women’s career opportunities and earning power have clearly improved in recent decades (see Liza Mundy’s book The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, And Family), men have ceded more economic territory to women than they needed to by refusing to work in certain industries. On the one hand, women have fought for the right to work as firefighters, as construction workers, and as soldiers. On the other hand, men have shied away from industries as they became more feminized. Somehow, our culture has signalled to men that it is not okay for men to become primary school teachers, nurses, and pharmacists.
This attitude of “pollution” permeates the US, Canada, and the UK at many levels, even for kids. Girls can dress as tomboys, but we become deeply uncomfortable if a boy puts on a dress. A young girl who cries in the playground is consoled by her dad. A young boy who cries in the playground is told to stop being such a sissy. Girls are encouraged to play with trucks, but when boys start dressing up Barbie dolls, parents get worried. We can see a lot of these concerns play out in the controversy around a Toronto couple who are raising their children to be genderless.
As women begin to colonize new service sector opportunites and make significant gains at the higher end of the economic spectrum, these types of attitudes on “pollution” will pose more and more of a social problem. Men will feel particularly squeezed because industries like manufacturing have collapsed. Through a few snide comments and some snickers about wanting to see that guy in a nurse’s uniform, we signal all sort of things about what is and is not acceptable for a teenage boy to aspire to.
That needs to change.
Here is the core of the problem: Women’s opportunities have expanded and become more flexible in the workplace and at home, and women have fought hard to gain societal acceptance for these changes. Culturally, we have made it acceptable, even desirable for women to have a choice of roles in the workplace and in their family life. In sharp contrast, the range of socially acceptable choices for men at home and in the workplace is tightly bound (though evolving). Stray outside of these boundaries and you risk ostracization.
Over the years, we’ve managed to destroy a lot of gender stereotypes about women. Now, we need to do the same for men.
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Hanna Rosin’s article, The End of Men, in The Atlantic, 2010.