Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Is It the End of Men, or Are Men Still in Power? Yes!

Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Is It the End of Men, or Are Men Still in Power? Yes!

Article excerpt


You would have to have been napping - as those legions of stay-at-home dads are said to do - to have missed the hoopla over Hanna Rosin's cover story in the Atlantic1 and the big news about her book.2 Well done! But I think the book has also been alarmingly misread. Rosin has been called both a radical feminist for celebrating men's demise, and an anti-feminist for suggesting that women have already won and that discrimination is a thing of the past. I think some of this misreading is deliberate - people read with agendas, after all. And I think some part of it has to do with the way Rosin and her marketers have framed the book. After all, the central thesis of the book is contained not in the big, bold headline, "The End of Men" but in the smaller print subtitle, "And the Rise of Women."

I believe that the subtitle of her work is entirely right and that the title is just as surely wrong. I will explain in a moment. But first, a story.

I have been teaching gender-studies courses at large public universities for twenty-five years. Being a sociologist and teaching large classes of 300 to 450 students, I often do little surveys in class. When I started twenty-five years ago, I asked my female students what they thought it meant to be a woman. The typical responses I might receive would be "be nice, pretty, smile, cooperate." When I would ask men what they thought it meant to be a man twenty-five years ago, they would say, "John Wayne."

When I ask my students now, the women say, "Huh? What does it mean to be a woman? I don't know. I can be anything I want. I can be an astronaut, a surgeon, Mia Hamm, or Lady Gaga." When I ask the men, I get "Ah-nuld."

Okay, so maybe not Arnold. Maybe some other cardboard cut-out action figure. The women believe that the feminist revolution is over. And they won. They believe they can have it all, they can do anything they want, sleep with anyone they want, pursue any dream they want. And the men are still locked into the same ideology of masculinity that defined my era, that defined my father's era.

In a sense, this is what Hanna Rosin is writing about. This is the dramatic change in women's lives over the past half century. The question is what has been the impact on men of these enormous changes in women's lives?

I. Assumptions: Is Gender a Zero-Sum Game?

In exploring the impact these changes have had on men, I want to tease out some assumptions in Rosin's argument. Then I want to point to a couple of areas in which I think a different framing might lead to a more accurate understanding of the state of American masculinity.

One assumption in Rosin's argument is causal: the relationship of title to subtitle makes it appear that men ended first, and women have risen to take their place. Surely this is not the proper sequence. If men are ending, it is attendant upon, and a consequence of, the rise of women. They are women, we hear them roar, and we shrivel right up.

The second assumption is logical. Rosin's title and subtitle - indeed, the entire book until its conclusion - assume that gender is a zero-sum game: one rises while the other falls and neither can rise together nor fall together. Even if Rosin does not share the interplanetary theory of gender, that women are from Venus and men are from Mars, she does believe that there is a battle of the sexes and that at present, as one of her male informants puts it, "our team is losing."3

This is what we might call the "either/or" assumption. Either women are winning or losing, and, conversely, either men are winning or losing. Either things are getting better or they are getting worse. Either we are all bowling alone or we are connecting with everyone we have ever met in a virtual friending frenzy. Either hooking up is his wet dream (and her nightmare) or her sexual empowerment at his expense. We sociologists see things differently. We see things as "both/and." Both statements are true. …

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