Women Debate the Status of the American Man

Two women, two publications, two sharply different takes

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In this month's Atlantic cover story, Hanna Rosin explores "The End of Men." She looks at a few statistics:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same.

In trials for a new sperm selection method, Rosin reports, parents request girls at a rate of 75%. Rosin also tosses in some anecdotes: stories of unemployed, divorced fathers attempting to make their child-support payments and business school classes trying to teach men the "feminine" skill of "social intelligence." Boys and men, she notes, are also increasingly found to have difficulties in school.

All this, Rosin argues, leads to the conclusion that a gradual shift in economic and social power is underway. Particularly due to the recession and the increasing importance of fields dominated by women (including "nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation"). She asks,  "What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?"

But The American Prospect's Ann Friedman isn't buying it. "It's not the end of men," she declares flatly in her response to Rosin. Her main problem with the thesis is simple: "Rosin makes the same oversight as all of the other hand-wringing articles about the state of the American male. She thinks the problem is men; really, it's traditional gender stereotypes." The very notions of male and female Rosin relies upon to declare female ascendance are based, in fact, on a "narrow, toxic definition of masculinity ... that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers." In this sense, she also finds Rosin's article peculiarly anti-feminist; its "underlying assumption" is that women are actually better-suited to those "nurturing professions" like teaching and nursing that are on the rise.

Friedman also points to a few areas where women remain at a disadvantage. For example, while "college-age women tell [Rosin] they hope to become surgeons and marry men who will be primary caregivers ... research shows ...they tend to marry other high-achieving men who expect their own careers to take precedence." Friedman also works in a telling observation: "Rosin's piece, I should note, appears in The Atlantic's annual ideas issue, in which only three out of 15 'ideas' articles are written by women."

To conclude she points out a tricky paradox at the heart of Rosin's argument:

If the, as she terms them, omega males of Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin are representative of the way men live now, shouldn't they be ideally positioned to take advantage of the nurturing and cerebral jobs that are the core of America's new post-masculine economy?
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