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Gender Roles in Society, and in The Atlantic

I was interested in the July/August cover story on “The End of Men” and the notion that women are “taking control of everything.” Fascinating. I note that 26 men contributed prose and poetry to the issue, compared with six women (two of whom wrote the story and sidebar about women taking over everything).

This would be funny, if it wasn’t historically and abundantly typical of The Atlantic and most other major magazines.

Sallie Tisdale
Portland, Ore.

In “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin is certainly right to point out how devastating recent economic transformations have been for many working-class men. But she leaps from a superficial analysis of this problem to a sweeping assertion about the rise of female dominance. In the process, she caricatures both sexes, stoking long-standing anxieties about domineering women and emasculated men.

The claim that women are on the brink of seizing power is simply false. Women occupy less than one-fifth of U.S. congressional seats; at the state level, they account for less than a quarter of all elected representatives. Rosin treats the wage gap as a mere vestige of the past, destined for closure. Yet according to a 2007 AAUW study, within a year of graduation, college-educated women working full-time made just 80 percent of what men earned; within 10 years, their earnings had fallen to 69 percent of men’s. And surely even Rosin would not dismiss sociologist Mariko Chang’s findings about the “wealth gap”—arguably a more accurate gauge of gender equality. According to Chang, while women ages 18 to 64 today earn 77 percent of what men make, they own only 36 percent as much wealth. It is impossible to reconcile these dismal statistics with the picture of female empowerment that Rosin paints.

Rebecca Jo Plant
Del Mar, Calif.

Hanna Rosin states that 30 or 40 years ago, 18-to-20-year-old males who were “temperamentally unsuited to college” could enter the mainstream economy through blue-collar industrial jobs. Let us not forget the draft. By junior year of high school, males were fairly focused on that possibility. Many voluntarily entered the service instead. The military taught us the self-discipline and responsibility that we carried into careers and marriage, or prepared us for college. Our nation lost a great “school” for male social and intellectual maturity when we eliminated the draft.

Russel Cannon
Oxford, Mich.

As I sit at home for the second summer in a row without a job or salary (albeit a self-imposed unemployment, to start my fifth company), I have really enjoyed reading Hanna Rosin’s article. I agree with and have felt many of the issues she raises, especially salary envy, as my wife continues to work full-time (and increasingly gets on me to get this company funded or get a real job). For the first time in my 10 years of fatherhood, I’ve gotten to spend significant time with my kids, and I can say that they are much happier. In addition, I have been able to teach them important skills, like how to build a tree house, how a car works and how to fix it, how an iPod touch works (and how to program/fix it, since I am an electrical engineer, one of the only jobs where men still have a chance), etc.

My point is, fathers’ staying home may not be all bad and may have some very positive outcomes (most likely in the longer rather than shorter term).

Steven Fastert
Boston, Mass.

Hanna Rosin replies:

It’s perfectly obvious that women don’t control all the positions of power. A quick look at Congress, the list of CEOs, and, yes, this magazine’s masthead, confirms that. And it’s also true that there is a wage gap and an even bigger wealth gap. But if you look at all the profound shifts I outlined—in American colleges, marriages, working-class lives—these gaps in power and money feel like holdovers from an old era, which are bound to give way. It doesn’t make sense that when women are more than half of all managers and hold way more than half of all college degrees, they continue to be treated like the second sex.

Fathers Are Necessary

A brief summary of Pamela Paul’s article (“Are Fathers Necessary?,” July/August Atlantic) might be: women are excellent managers who establish rules and carefully monitor their children to ensure they follow these rules, resulting in students with better standardized-test scores, better grades, and less delinquency; whereas men are much more likely to raise children who break rules, take risks, and fail spectacularly. The latter seems to be a classic definition of an entrepreneur, and so it raises the question of whether there is gender neutrality among entrepreneurs.

A 2009 Kauffman Foundation report, “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur,” would seem to indicate that men are significantly more likely than women to become entrepreneurs. George Bernard Shaw proposed long ago that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Given the state of the economy, it is clear that we desperately need many more “unreasonable people—that is, individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit. As we move toward a matriarchal society, the question naturally arises: will we continue to produce a sufficient number of entrepreneurs? The data are not encouraging. Here in upstate New York, the list of entrepreneurial ventures created in the 75 years or so before World War II reads like a Who’s Who of international business (Bausch & Lomb, GE, IBM, Kodak, Link, Westinghouse, Xerox, etc.). I suspect most people would have trouble naming even one post-WWII start-up from this region that has attained international stature. And of those entrepreneurs most people can name (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell), a remarkable number tend to be “bad boys” who did not finish college. Maybe there is something “objectively essential” about Dad’s contributions after all.

Kenneth J. McLeod, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Bioengineering
Binghamton University
Binghamton, N.Y.

Pamela Paul replies:

Kenneth McLeod raises an interesting point. Certainly entrepreneurship serves an important function. The Kauffman Foundation also discovered that in 2009, the number of both male and female entrepreneurs rose. One explanation is that in a faltering economy with waning job security, entrepreneurship—such as independent consulting—is the optimistic fallout of unemployment. In any case, while entrepreneurs are certainly valuable to any economy, whether a child becomes one is not typically measured by studies examining child outcomes.

Saving Journalism, One Search at a Time

It’s good to see that Google is committed to helping professional journalism survive, as James Fallows reports in “How to Save the News” (June Atlantic). Journalists provide a large share of the material that draws people to the search engine. Consumers know that Google (and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo!) provide one-stop access to the information they seek on a large variety of topics. In exchange, consumers allow Google to run sponsored links above the search results for the small fraction of search queries that are commercially valuable. A good analogy is commercial radio. Radio stations aggregate quality content that consumers want—songs from various artists—in exchange for the right to subject the consumer to the occasional advertisement.

The radio-versus-search-engine analogy breaks down, however, when we note that those who create the content that attracts consumers to the radio stations—the songwriters—are compensated for their creations in the form of performance royalties paid by the radio station. The fact that such an agreement does not exist between search engines and professional journalists is an accident of history, and need not be the case in the future. News organizations need to bargain collectively and require that Google and other search engines pay for the right to index their content. If a large fraction of news organizations were to simultaneously remove their content from Google, they would seriously impact the quality of the Google product (and give Bing a huge advantage if it were to pay for that body of content). In a performance-royalty system, news organizations would be paid a small fixed fee each time Google linked to their articles.

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