Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

The End of Men or the Rebirth of Class?

Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

The End of Men or the Rebirth of Class?

Article excerpt

This Essay argues that much of what has been described as the "end of men" is in fact the recreation of class. Greater inequality among men and women has resurrected class differences and changed the way men and women relate to each other and channel resources to their children. While women have in fact gained ground in the workplace and acquired greater ability to live, work, play, and raise children without men, a mere relative move toward sex equality only masks the more fundamental changes occurring in American society and the continuing existence of patriarchy.

First, the improved freedom women enjoy does not translate into greater power at the top. Greater societal inequality has instead offset these changes by increasing elite male dominance, marginalizing women in the executive ranks and in the most prestigious professional circles, and ceding political power to a conservative elite that has removed women's issues from the public agenda. At the height of the era that supposedly marks the "end of men, " the gendered wage gap has been increasing for college graduates even as it declines for everyone else. In a winner-takes-most world, the disproportionate rewards go to the alpha dogs, who remain overwhelmingly male.

Second, the genuine decline of working-class men does not necessarily benefit women. Instead, it means that an increasing number of women in Middle America have little choice but to raise families on their own as the men in their lives become less reliable. As society becomes more unequal, it writes off a greater percentage of men to imprisonment, chronic unemployment, substance abuse, and mental instability. The women left with low-paying but stable jobs at Walmart or Burger King have trouble finding partners who can either contribute enough to make the relationship worthwhile or who will assist the new female breadwinner as she both brings home the bacon and cooks it. These women have independence but neither power nor help at home.

In short, over the past several decades, men have lost ground everywhere but the top, increasing male inequality. While women have gained in the middle and the bottom, they are not equal - anywhere - because men retain "structural power" over women. Accordingly, we conclude that for the "end of men " to be a meaningful concept that describes a more egalitarian society, we must decrease economic inequality. The result would translate greater power for women into a better deal for men and a greater investment in all children.


Imagine a society in which women are known for their outspokenness and wit. They have access to the same education as men. They can own, inherit, and manage property. They enjoy a relatively greater degree of sexual freedom than in nearby societies. Would we celebrate the rise of women? Herald the "end of men"? If we learned that we had just read a description of Sparta, would we reinterpret the results?1 The sad truth is that the dominance of elite men can create conditions that look like the emancipation of women but only signal the end of male income advantage near the bottom of steeply graduated male hierarchies. It is a mistake to conflate the relatively greater advantages women enjoy in such a society with female power. Men - and male power - remain alive and well where it counts most, and that is at the top.

Looking at the United States today, the big story over the last two decades has been the growth of income inequality and the rise of a more dominant group of elite men. The true rise of women - based on the large-scale entry of women into the labor market and their increased control of their own reproduction - was largely complete by the end of the 1980s.2 The more recent changes do not involve a contest between men and women. Instead, the story that follows is a tale about the recreation of class with two overlapping parts.

The first part involves increased societal inequality, and it is primarily a story about men. …

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