Are men really necessary any more? That question is being taken very seriously around the world with the publication of Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men, expanded from its first outing as a cover story in US Atlantic magazine and recently excerpted in The Observer newspaper in the UK.
The book, “Heralds the ways current economic and societal power shifts are bringing ‘the age of testosterone’ to a close and the consequences,” says Vanity Fair.
Conservative theologian Al Mohler says the book raises the issue of “What does it mean for large sectors of our society to become virtual matriarchies? How do we prepare the church to deal with such a world while maintaining biblical models of manhood and womanhood?”
Rosin begins by introducing us to Bethenny, 29, studying to be a nurse while running a daycare centre out of her house, with a daughter, 10. Was she married, asked Rosin? “Well, there’s Calvin,” she said, meaning her daughter’s father. She looked over at her daughter and tossed her a granola bar and they both laughed. “But Calvin would just mean one less granola bar for the two of us.”
The author follows up and contacts Calvin, who turns out to be a victim of the recession. And Bethenny, while struggling financially, has learned how to survive without him.
As the months pass it dawns on Rosin that this breadwinner was not going to be able to find his way back. “My hope was to stay in touch with Calvin long enough that he would start earning enough money to pick up the grocery bill again, that he would find his way home. Part of me kept imagining some distant point in the future when Calvin and Bethenny would be saved, the happy trio would drift back together and, in the dramatic crescendo, the streets of the town would once again become peopled with men.”
Looking wider than Calvin and Bethenny, Rosin discovers they are the face of change. “With a lot more reporting and research, I was able to put a clear story together. In the recession, three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of those jobs have come back, but the dislocation is neither random nor temporary. The recession merely revealed – and accelerated – a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years and in some respects even longer.
“In 2009, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who continue to occupy around half of the nation’s jobs. (The UK and several other countries reached the tipping point a year later.) Women worldwide dominate colleges and professional schools on every continent except Africa. In the United States, for every two men who will receive a BA this year, for example, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the United States over the next decade, 12 are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the US economy is in some ways becoming a kind of travelling sisterhood: professional women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.”
The Rosin theory is that the global economy is producing jobs suited to women, and the jobs lost, in western societies anyway, are those traditionally done by men.
In Australia, men still outnumber women in the workforce, but the gap is narrowing.
“In 2010-11, males aged 20-74 years had a higher labour force participation rate (80%) than females in the same age group (65%),” the ABS reported in its Gender Indicators report issued in July. “The labour force participation rate for males has remained steady between 2001-02 and 2010-11, while it has increased by five percentage points for females during this period, with most of the increase achieved in the older age groups.”
Newly created jobs are going to women, according to Anne Junor from the UNSW Industrial Relations Research Centre. “The figures show that women’s employment growth has been in areas where jobs growth has occurred. By and large women have not been moving into male areas, but have been occupying new jobs in areas of growth – particularly in the service sector,” she wrote on the UNSW Knowledge today website.
In education, just as in the US, women are in a stronger position. “In 2011, 75% of boys entering high school were likely to be studying until Year 12, compared to 84% for girls”, according to the ABS Gender Indicators. “The report also showed that this gap continues into adult life with only 30% of men aged 25-29 years having completed a bachelor degree or higher compared to 41% of women of the same age.”
ABS statistics show that the education gap is widening.
To the conservative Christians who accept a sharp difference between the roles of women and men (especially in the US where the idea of different roles more commonly extend beyond home and church into wider society than in Australia), the book extends some comfort. That is because Rosin’s thesis can be read to support the idea that women and men tend to be better at other, different tasks.
(Rosin has form for raising challenges for Christians; in another Atlantic article in 2009 she examined the effect of the prosperity gospel on the housing bubble.)
But Rosin also contains a challenge for “complementarians” – the name that people who believe that women are “equal but different” often use for themselves, by suggesting that the sort of jobs that men are better suited to are in decline in our modern economy.
In addition, women’s relative success in education increases their competitiveness.
Those who believe that men should be the primary provider for their families (based on 1 Timothy 5:8 for example) should be alarmed of the news Rosin heralds.
Al Mohler, a prominent Southern Baptist leader and blogger, is alarmed.
“God intended for men to have a role as workers, reflecting God’s own image in their vocation,” Mohler blogs. “The most important issue here is not the gains made by women, but the displacement of men.”
“Christians had better know that matters far more important than economics are at stake. These trends represent nothing less than a collapse of male responsibility, leadership, and expectations. The real issue here is not the end of men, but the disappearance of manhood.”
The Wall Street Journal describes the book as “shaking up the conservative Christian notion of ‘head of the household’”. They draw a link between the decline of men as primary breadwinner and leading the family.
For complementarians the issue is more than unemployment, but a shift in roles. Men who drop out of the workforce like Bethenny’s Calvin may also drop out of the family. Alternatively, there may be more house husbands in the future.
“Rosin makes her most powerful argument when she looks not at the current workforce, but at what is happening on America’s college and university campuses”, says Mohler.
‘There, she explains, “we can see with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women.”
Mohler is concerned for the effect on marriage. “This pattern has vast implications for marital prospects, since women express a strong preference to marry a man of equal or greater educational and professional potential. The collapse of the marriage culture within the working class, Rosin argues, is due to the fact that women are in control and have set expectations ‘too high for the men around them to meet.’”
The End of Men has been criticised by feminists. “As I was reading this book,” one reviewer on Goodreads.com remarks, “it seemed to me that Rosin made no real attempt to de-construct the social anxieties surrounding these shifting paradigms of power and gender, in fact I felt that parts of her book played dangerously into fears of emasculation”. In this view Rosin is seen to give too much credit to the idea of a male identity of “gender stereotype”.
The End of Men can be seen to be overstated. The commanding heights of our economy are still male dominated. Of the CEOs of the top 200 companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, 97% have male CEOs, according to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), Australian Census of Women in Leadership.
But looking at managers, a key difference emerges in local statistics. “People in line manager positions in a company have responsibility for profit-and-loss or direct client service. Support manager positions provide functional support to the line operations. Experience in line manager positions is considered essential for employees seeking to rise to the top corporate positions.” EOWA reports.
“At 30 April 2010, out of the 1,300 executive key management personnel positions, 81% (1,047) were line manager roles and the remaining 19% (253) were support manager roles. Women held 4% of the line manager roles and 24% of the support manager roles.”
The support managers roles had increased from 17% in 2008 – a relatively rapid change.
A complementarian of the sort who advocates different roles for women in wider society could see in these figures support for their ideas of gender difference.
The keener competition for managerial jobs between men and women will have an effect on who is the provider in elite families.
But Bethenny’s Calvin was not a manager – although Rosin’s book does have several chapters on Silicon Valley and Yale.
Rosin reports an adult education class in Kansas city. “None of the 30 or so men sitting in a classroom at a downtown Kansas City school have come for voluntary adult enrichment. Having failed to pay their child support, they were given the choice by a judge to go to jail or attend a weekly class on fathering, which to them seemed the better deal.”
“The men are black and white, their ages ranging from about 20 to 40. A couple look like they might have spent a night or two on the streets, but the rest look like they work, or used to. Now they have put down their sodas, and El-Scari (their teacher) has their attention, so he gets a little more philosophical. ‘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 writes 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.’”
Many of the jobs that are being created, for example, child care and nursing, are things that women used to do for free. They are not high paying. Rosin argues that it is working class jobs that are moving from traditional male jobs towards traditionally female jobs.
“Judging by the men I spoke with afterwards, El-Scari seemed to have pegged his audience perfectly. Darren Henderson was making $33 an hour laying sheet metal, until the real-estate crisis hit and he lost his job. Then he lost his duplex—’there’s my little piece of the American dream’—then his car. And then he fell behind on his child-support payments. ‘They make it like I’m just sitting around,’ he said, “but I’m not.” As proof of his efforts, he took out a new commercial driver’s permit and a bartending license, and then threw them down on the ground like jokers, for all the use they’d been. His daughter’s mother had a $50,000-a-year job and was getting her master’s degree in social work. He’d just signed up for food stamps, which is just about the only social-welfare program a man can easily access. Recently she’d seen him waiting at the bus stop. ‘Looked me in the eye,’ he recalled, ‘and just drove on by.’”
Meanwhile not even Rosin, who says she is no super feminist, is happy. In the world where men are in retreat, women are not liberated.
“Women like Bethenny have a kind of ambiguous independence right now…One reporting experience that lingers with me is waking up a woman in the elevator at a community college in Kansas City. Between floors one and five she had fallen asleep, so hard had she been working to get her degree, hold down a night job and raise three kids.”