The End of the Battle of the Sexes

The rise of women does not have to lead to the fall of men.

20th Century Fox

Last month's New York Times cover story about the rise of women in the United States as primary breadwinners caused otherwise intelligent men to make some pretty absurd statements loaded with Marlboro-man-machismo.

Talking to Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Lou Dobbs attributed "what is happening with women in the workplace" to the "fact that we have marriages breaking up." Erick Erickson said, "when you look at biology...the male typically is the dominant role."

David Granger's editor's note in Esquire's June/July "How To Be A Man" issue indicates that this anxiety over the rise of women is about more than just these new breadwinner numbers. He worries that "the gender gap is widening to the detriment of men" because "in some telling areas, women have flown past men."

I can hardly feign shock at meat-headed gender prejudice anymore. I take it for granted. I've seen so much of it.

When I was raising money to start my company, DailyWorth, I was often turned down by venture capitalists who believed that a financial media business geared to women didn't stand a chance because "women don't care about money." I just rolled my eyes and hurried to my next pitch. Or, how about the other day when I rode Amtrak home from New York, I sat next to a pin-striped trusts and estates lawyer. When I described my business to him, he looked me dead in the eyes, grinned flirtatiously, and said, "but really, on some level don't you just want to be taken care of?" I sighed. Since my business invokes a constant dialogue around issues of women and money, examples like these are commonplace. They hardly faze me anymore.

What does irritate me, on the other hand, are cliched fears of emasculation. Granger agonizes that the definition of "what a man is...will become smaller and more restrictive." He's terrified that for men, the ubiquity of patriarchal privilege can only be replaced with a kind of flaccid subservience that has been familiar to women for centuries. Female empowerment is met with castration anxiety.

Women's accelerated traction in the workplace and financial self-sufficiency, though, isn't about a new era of feminine rule. This is not a "goddess" thing. There are other possibilities besides patriarchy and matriarchy. I'm not interested in a competition between the sexes.

I am, however, interested in the "End of Men." But I'm also interested in the "End of Women" in the sense that humanity should no longer be confined by gender assumptions. I'm interested in seeing both women and men freed from gender-specific professional and domestic expectations. We've been conditioned to believe that women are biologically inclined to nurture and men are hard-wired to lead. But both can be either and either can be both.

Change is hard for anyone to accept. Female breadwinning is just as perplexing to women as it is to men. One DailyWorth subscriber admitted to being "overwhelmed with the role of mom, wife, and primary breadwinner" because domestic responsibilities "haven't shifted with the added responsibility." The predominant narratives haven't necessarily conditioned any of us for the new landscape of gender equality. Readers constantly tell me that women are "bad with money" and "clueless about investing." I hear the confusion in their voices: "we are programmed to take care of everyday needs, not plan for the future," comments a reader who calls herself "AmysHerbals." But I'm encouraged because I see first-hand that the opportunity for freedom that comes with financial self-sufficiency far outweighs the stress that comes with producing it.

Granger's distress is rooted in an honest concern that we prepare boys for maturity in an ungendered future. He writes, "our education system needs to stop treating boys as problems that must be medicated or punished into submission." Unfortunately, his call for education reform demonstrates a misplaced confidence in gender-specific assessment and a reliance on a dominant/submissive dichotomy.

Granger may be correct that "imbalance is always a destructive force." But his solution is weighed down by oppositional thinking. "The pendulum must begin to swing in the other direction." Swinging your stuff back and forth from one extreme to another is not the same as equilibrium. Still, I like the metaphor. The thing about a pendulum is that both trajectories are geometrically dependent upon the pivot from which it's suspended. In this case, the pendulum is held up by an unnecessary dichotomy of gender opposition.

It's not "us" versus "them." It's not male against female. The only inversion of gender roles that we should be worried about has to do with violent and combative opposition. I fear the hyperboles of militant feminism will soon be replaced with the moral "phallacies" of militant masculism.