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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.

Google will argue that the legal concept of fair use allows it to aggregate short portions of content from copyrighted sources and therefore prevents such a system from being enforceable, but it is not clear that fair use applies, since the creation of the search index requires an entire copy of a document to be stored on the Google servers.

David Hardtke, Ph.D.
Oakland, Calif.

James Fallows omitted an important component of the paradigm shift that is occurring within the news industry: the establishment of the reader as the primary editor of the news. The current model, in which the reader selects the news corporation and then relies on it to provide the focus and slant of the news piece, is being supplanted by a new model, in which the reader selects the focus and slant of a desired article and the appropriate news corporation is selected by a search engine based on the reader’s criteria.

For example, if a reader were a proponent of extending human rights to the fetus, the reader would search a news event using phrases such as right to life or rights of the unborn. These phrases would match the reader’s language to articles that would resonate with the reader. Conversely, using phrases such as abortion rights would most often produce results with opposing views. In practice, we do this without thinking. When I type in Red Sox to find the results of a game, I get an analysis of the team’s performance, win or lose, instead of getting an article focusing on the opposing team. Whether readers will prefer to rely on an algorithm rather than an editor is a fair question—and whether Google or its successors will maintain machine-like neutrality remains to be seen.

Gerry Sullivan
Shrewsbury, Mass.

the patriotism of the tea party

I am astonished that Michael Kinsley cannot identify the central theme of the Tea Party movement (“My Country, ’Tis of Me,” June Atlantic), and sees in it only inchoate self-indulgence. I’m not a participant, and have followed the movement with only mild interest, but its core complaint seems perfectly clear to me, and no more incoherent or self-contradictory than that of any other mass popular movement. The Tea Party fear is that federal spending will increase until it requires either ruinous tax increases, ruinous deficits, or ruinous currency devaluation. These fears have been simmering ever since the 2001 recession put an end to the fortunate Mr. Clinton’s budget surpluses. They exploded when Congress, while the country was still recovering from the 2008 recession, enacted a huge expansion of government benefits, against the will of the people (if you believe the polls), with a preposterous claim that it will not increase taxes or deficits.

Tea Partyers know perfectly well that all of this was done by their duly elected representatives, but they claim with some plausibility that their representatives were elected to do one thing, have done another, and need to be voted out. If that is self-indulgence, then anyone who wants to avoid economic ruin for his own country is self-indulgent.

Roger Chapman Burk
Wallkill, N.Y.

Michael Kinsley’s overall take on the Tea Party movement is hard to fault, but he dismisses its members’ influence too quickly and lets them off too easily. Their dangerous brand of tantrum populism poisons the well for future populist movements, and invites comparisons to a farcical tragicomedy.

At a time when taxes are as low as they’ve been in six decades, the “Taxed Enough Already” acronym, like the movement, is tragically (or comically?) divorced from reality. The Tea Party Patriots preach fiscal restraint while opposing cuts to defense spending, which is 59 percent of discretionary federal spending. Polls show that self-identified Tea Party members are predominantly Republicans and George W. Bush fans, so most of them certainly voted for the Republican presidents who bear primary responsibility for the astronomical growth in the national debt that they claim to loathe. When the Bush administration failed to react appropriately to the developing mortgage crisis and housing bubble, the economy failed and federal deficits soared. This presumably got them off their couches, to express their deep anger at the administration trying to clean up the mess, not the one that created it. While they rail against the Big Government that protected them, albeit belatedly, from the failings and excesses of Wall Street and mortgage lenders, they let the perpetrators off with barely a peep. As with health-care reform, this seems to be a common theme for them—abusing the protectors and protecting the abusers. Now they want to take America back? I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Jon Thingvold
Murrieta, Calif.

I would ask Michael Kinsley to rethink this statement: “The government’s main function these days is writing checks to old people.” This humorously points out the inconsistent arguments of many Tea Party Patriots, but comes too close to misinformation if applied to out-of-control federal spending. Although Mr. Kinsley doesn’t refer directly to Social Security, the implication is there, and I see many references made elsewhere to Social Security contributing to ballooning budget deficits. This is not true. Social Security has long-term funding and spending issues to balance, but this specific set of programs is funded by a specific set of taxes. The taxes collected in the name of Social Security typically exceed annual expenditures.

There are future problems to address with Social Security budgets, but for explanations of the current trillion-dollar federal deficit, any honest analyst will have to look elsewhere.

Mark W. Holmes
Round Lake Beach, Ill.

Art at the Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum regrets that John Freeman Gill’s article on New York’s architectural fragments (“Ghosts of New York,” June Atlantic) does not reflect the substantive content of his hours of conversation with Brooklyn Museum staff, or of the extensive and detailed information provided in response to his questions. The museum always investigates a range of possibilities for public disposition of works that have entered the deaccession process (the first step in releasing objects from a museum’s collection), but currently has no agreement with any sales venue regarding the sale of recently deaccessioned architectural fragments. The museum looks forward to continuing our plans for the full installation of the architectural-sculpture collection, in consultation with specialists in the field who in recent years have contributed to the first qualitative assessment of these holdings.

Arnold L. Lehman, Director
Teresa A. Carbone, Curator of American Art
Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn, N.Y.

John Freeman Gill replies:

While it is the Brooklyn Museum’s prerogative to back away from its plan to use salvage dealer Evan Blum as the middleman for its sell-off of more than a third of its unique public collection of New York City architectural sculpture, there is no question that the museum did indeed intend to scatter the artifacts to private bidders through Blum’s business. Not only was I told, during a two-hour interview with Teresa Carbone and Chief Curator Kevin Stayton, that the museum was developing auction plans with Blum alone and no other dealers or auction houses, but Carbone later responded to my follow-up questions by providing, in writing, additional details about the magnitude of the planned transaction. “There are approximately 650 objects in the architectural fragment collection,” Carbone wrote. “This number includes 223 objects that we plan to sell at auction through Evan Blum.” The museum’s chosen method of disposing of its deaccessioned artifacts may now have changed, but the facts surrounding the institution’s earlier plans, as reported accurately in The Atlantic, have not.

As for the museum’s assertion that it plans a “full installation” of the architectural-sculpture collection, Carbone, subsequent to penning the above letter to The Atlantic, wrote on a Brooklyn Museum blog that the planned installation will showcase only about 200 objects. It remains to be seen what will become of the several hundred uninstalled pieces of New York’s architectural patrimony.

The Future of New York

Though I’m delighted to see my book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places reviewed (“Gentrification and Its Discontents,” June Atlantic), I am taken aback by Benjamin Schwarz’s distortions of what I have written.

The book does not focus on the “rarefied” districts of Lower Manhattan. Half the chapters travel around the city, from white hipsters in Williamsburg to black rappers in Bed-Stuy, and from Red Hook’s Salvadoran food vendors and IKEA shoppers to community gardeners in East New York. I track the ambiguous overlap of social class and race in both the ghettoization and gentrification of Harlem. And when I do focus on gentrification in Lower Manhattan, I trace it through the stories of shopkeepers on a single block.

Cities today are shaped by many forms of power: the power of the state and of capital investment, to be sure, but also the power of the media in forming images of the city and the power of consumers’ tastes in adopting these images—especially the tastes of highly educated, upper-middle-class consumers who likely read The Atlantic. Few areas of New York can escape the pincer effect of media buzz and real-estate development.

I’m mystified as to why Schwarz seems so resentful of efforts to identify the ramifications of rapid development in the very heart of global capitalism. Is it really so “quaint” or unrealistic to hope for policies—zoning, rent controls, new forms of public-private partnerships—that would allow all New Yorkers who value the city’s shifting mosaics to remain rooted there?

Sharon Zukin
New York, N.Y.

Benjamin Schwarz replies:

There was no distortion in my review. I make clear that Sharon Zukin ranges beyond Lower Manhattan (and I mention Harlem and Williamsburg specifically), but that the bulk of her book focuses on areas—the East Village, the West Village, Union Square—of rarefied Lower Manhattan. As for the question of whether Zukin’s desires are unrealistic, I’d say, again, yes.

Advice and Consent

I enjoyed Graeme Wood’s piece on witchcraft prosecutions in the Central African Republic (“Hex Appeal,” June Atlantic), but was annoyed by the last sentence, where Mr. Wood states that the principle of “an eye for an eye” is “preached in the Bible.” This statement leaves out an important fact. While the Old Testament does refer to the principle of lex taliones, Jesus famously rejects the principle in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

Edmund C. Baird
Burke, Va.

Graeme Wood replies:

Edmund Baird is correct: advocates of witchcraft criminalization are in the company of Jesus Christ himself when they reject Jewish law, in favor of a less gruesome fate for meddlers in the paranormal.


In response to the July/August Ideas issue, readers offered their own ideas:

1. Treat newspapers like cable TV.
2. Establish national universities.
3. Donate Gulf-state quarters to oil-spill-cleanup charities.
4. Prioritize clean drinking water in international policy.
5. Let athletes dope up.
6. Target employers, not illegal immigrants.



Correction

Caitlin Flanagan’s “Love, Actually” (June Atlantic) incorrectly stated that Anita Shreve’s novel Testimony was based on the 2005 sex scandal at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. According to Shreve, the novel was not based on that incident. We regret the error.

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