Why 'The End of Men' Is More Complicated Than It Seems

Hanna Rosin's new book is optimistic about the state of the world for women—but the TV show Girls offers a different, perhaps more accurate, perspective.

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Women are taking over the world and men are ending. So says Hanna Rosin, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of the forthcoming The End of Men, based on her 2010 Atlantic cover story.

Rosin's argument is more nuanced than the title suggests; it's not that men are ending, it's that the benchmarks of a particular model of masculinity—like being the sole or even primary breadwinner—are disappearing. Their disappearance is creating a sense that men, as a gender, are "losing." And women are, in many ways, "winning."

Women are now far more likely than men are to graduate from college or from professional schools. Upon graduation, they enter a labor market that no longer puts a premium on physical strength and instead values supposedly "feminine" traits like the ability to communicate and collaborate, and in which women are outpacing men. "At a certain point in the last 40 years," Rosin writes, "the job market became largely indifferent to size and strength. From then on, men no longer held all the cards." Almost all the job sectors that are projected to grow the most in the next decade are female-dominated and "feminine": child care, nursing, home health aide, food preparation. And women, in addition to being better-educated and more likely to be employed, are simply more "together" than men, Rosin argues. They're more ambitious, more tenacious, and more adaptable. And while they're gaining ground, "men have been retreating into an ever-narrower space."

The End of Men offers a long view of this shift in gender and power, replete with statistics and demographic evidence. A lot of the hard data that Rosin presents indicates that many of the gender gaps that have held women back for so long are finally closing, and then some. But the anecdotal data, the experiential accounts of what it's like to be a young American woman in this particular cultural moment where women are on top and men are "ending," suggests that even if the statistics say that they're winning, young women feel like losers. This year's critically acclaimed new HBO series Girls, created by and starring Lena Dunham, takes that experience of floundering and lays it out for all to see. Dunham's Hannah and her friends, despite their privilege, don't feel like they're running the world. Their personal day-to-day experience flies in the face of the rosy statistics, and the show, which is semi-autobiographical, has struck a chord with young women who know all too well what that feels like.

While Rosin's book is generally thoughtful and well-reported, she unfortunately glosses over some of the realities of young women's lives. She writes, for example, that we're in the middle of a female self-esteem boom. In the most recent survey, for example, 71 percent of girls of middle school or high school age said they were satisfied with life as a whole. Even more, 75 percent, said they were satisfied with themselves, Rosin reports. This doesn't square with the figures on body image and eating disorders in America. According the National Eating Disorders Association, more than half of American teenage use unhealthy methods like cigarettes, laxatives, vomiting, and self-starving to lose weight. Anorexia is the third most common chronic condition among American adolescents. Young women who are satisfied with themselves do not ex-lax themselves thin, or consider an expensive and addictive carcinogenic habit an appropriate price to pay to be beautiful. That 75 percent satisfaction statistic tells an interesting story, but I suspect it's not the whole one.

Similarly, Rosin notes that the rate of sexual assault in America has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years. "Rates are so low in parts of the country—for white women especially—that criminologists can't plot the numbers on a chart," she writes. That may be true, but they're still appallingly high for women of color. For Native American women, it's 34.1 percent: In other words, more than one in three Native American women has been a victim of sexual assault. And you don't have to be a radical feminist to believe that any sexual violence is too much.

Finally, Rosin says, women are just more "together" than their male counterparts. They have more ambitious visions for their lives, whether those visions include education or career, or doing both while also raising children. Rosin profiles a number of couples in which the woman is the go-getter who's gone back to school, or the breadwinner who also bears most of the brunt of childcare. While the guys watch Tosh.0, the women watch documentaries. The men see their professional opportunities dry up and make no plans to replace them, while the women study hard at pharmacy school and laugh about joining the "109 Club," so named for the six-figure salary they'll soon be making in the now female-dominated field of pharmacy.

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Chloe Angyal is a freelance writer and an editor at Feministing. She is currently working on a book about romantic comedies.

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