Men have been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But Hanna Rosin was the first to notice that this long-held truth is, astonishingly, no longer true. At this unprecedented moment, by almost every measure, women are no longer gaining on men: They have pulled decisively ahead.
Rosin’s assertions have left many of us scratching our heads. Not surprisingly, her book has garnered a lot of feminist critique, including an article titled The Myth of Male Decline by Stephanie Coontz. Rosin has responded by posting an excerpt from the epilogue of her new paperback edition on Slate, calling it “The Patriarchy Is Dead. Feminists, Accept It.” I follow a blog by University of Maryland, College Park, sociologist Philip N. Cohen, and he pointed out a little problem with this excerpt.
For glass-half-empty feminists — like me — eager to obsess over data minutia, and jump on her every mistake, she is very obliging:
The 2012 elections inspired a similar reactionary response in some quarters. A record number of women were elected to Congress, bringing their number to a third of the membership, the level many sociologists cite as a tipping point when a minority becomes normalized and starts to enter the mainstream. In other words, it’s no longer big news when a woman gets elected; it’s the expected.
Yes, seriously. That happened.
Anyway, Cohen’s blog post led me an article he wrote last fall that I somehow missed. It was titled The End of Men Is Not True, and catalogued Rosin’s factual inaccuracies and distortions. It seems that Boston University School of Law held an entire conference evaluating Rosin’s claims last October, at which Rosin delivered the keynote address, and then published the entire conference in their journal, and all of these papers are now available online, including Cohen’s. The entire thing slate of papers is incredibly fascinating and rich with information. What I want to call your attention to, is Cohen’s paper, which I just read thoroughly and cannot recommend more highly. You can read it here. It’s not short, but it is extremely readable.
Hanna Rosin has written that she “hesitate[s] to get drawn into data wars” (and suggested my blog to those readers who have “an appetite for them”). Statistics, however, are not mere technical details, academic in the pejorative sense. They are reflections of reality – numbers that represent characteristics of a sample which, if done right, reflect the population from which the sample is drawn. It is in the broad sense of measuring reality, not the narrow sense of quibbling over details at the nth decimal place, that the “end of men” is not true. Rosin’s depiction of reality is not accurate.
While her prominent 2010 article in The Atlantic launched the “end-of-men” phenomenon, it was only later, while watching her TED Talk, that I realized the scale of the problem. Many of the facts offered in that talk were either wrong or misinterpreted to exaggerate the looming approach – or arrival– of female dominance. Since reading her book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, I have come to see Rosin’s tendency toward exaggeration and misrepresentation as fundamental to its narrative and crippling to its credibility. Because the anecdotes that comprise the bulk of the text have little weight without the broader context provided by the statistics, the story cannot survive on its colorful illustrations alone. In Part I of this Essay, I debunk the most prominent of Rosin’s erroneous empirical claims. The book and its surrounding debate, however, have encouraged me to think about framing the current state of gender inequality. I therefore discuss in Part II a few policy approaches to advancing beyond the current stall in progress toward gender equality that require shedding the mistaken “looming-matriarchy” perspective, as well as its less extreme “equality-is-inevitable” cousin.
Seriously. Read the whole thing. Let me offer another excerpts for those who may not have the time to click through, or the desire to read an entire paper:
C. Women’s Power
According to Rosin, the growing economic advantages women enjoy have given them a newfound social dominance outside of families as well, reversing millennia of patriarchy. As one of her laid-off male informants in Alexander City, Alabama, reportedly told her, “Suddenly, it’s us who are relying on the women. Suddenly, we got the women in control.” She quotes a local Southern Baptist leader as saying, “The real issue here is not the end of men, but the disappearance of manhood.” This rising female dominance is the core the “end-of-men” myth.
Alexander City is a small town devastated by the shrinking manufacturing sector, especially the departure of Russell Corporation, an athletic-wear maker. To that description Rosin adds ominously, “This year, Alexander City had its first female mayor.” But what is the model of power behind such a portrayal? A laid-off man’s bitter outburst, a conservative Christian’s apocalyptic pronouncement, a woman as mayor, an economic shift disproportionately affecting men – is this what makes women dominant over men? Is this what makes a matriarchy?
To see the limited nature of these isolated indicators, consider several facts. To begin with, Alexander City mayor Barbara Young was actually first elected in 2004, and then re-elected in 2008 with 85% of the vote – clearly not a recent takeover of the city’s political power structure by women. The city council also included five men and one woman in 2012. All five contenders to replace Mayor Young in 2012 were men, including the winner, Charles Shaw. In the city government, moreover, just one of the fourteen department heads featured on the city’s website in fall 2012 was a woman – the manager of the Senior Nutrition Program. Far from a matriarchy, this seems like a normal level of male domination in American politics.
Alexander City undoubtedly is a poor place, and men’s earnings are especially low. Forty-three percent of men who work fulltime all year earn less than $30,000, compared with just 24% nationally. And there are, in fact,more women than men with jobs in the $30,000-to-$50,000 earnings range. But at the top of Alexander City’s economic hierarchy, 70% of the people earning more than $75,000 are men (which is where 15% of men are, compared with 7% of women). Men’s fulltime year-round median earnings are about $5,000 more than women’s earnings.
Rosin especially highlights the economic plight of young men with low levels of education, belaboring out an anecdote about a couple in which the woman works two jobs while attending nursing school to support her deadbeat boyfriend and their son. According to Rosin, this man’s situation is so common that when he does the family’s shopping, all he sees are “aisles and aisles of dudes” at the store. But in Alexander City, 77% of the twentysomething men are employed, compared with only 53% of women. In fact, the employment rate is higher for men at all ages, and the employed labor force overall is 53% male.
Down the road from Alexander City, meanwhile, Auburn, Alabama, is Rosin’s flipside, representing the successful response to the “rise of women.” She writes, “Auburn has become the region’s one economic powerhouse by turning itself into a town dominated by women.” 80 Again, the claim of women’s “domination” is very strong, but what is the evidence?
Rosin starts with the relative income of young women, reporting that in the Auburn-Opelika metropolitan area, “it turns out that the median income of the women there is about 140 percent of the median income of the men.” Although she mentions that the source for this data is the Reach Advisors analysis, she does not clarify that “young women” and “young men” here again refer only to single, childless, fulltime and full-year employed workers between the ages of twenty-two and thirty. She describes Auburn as a “perfect reflection of the modern, feminized economy: a combination of university, service, government jobs, with a small share in manufacturing.” But after that, the story relies mainly on anecdotes, such as one about a woman who “works in the female-dominated economic development department”(which is actually directed by a man), and her “three best girlfriends[,] . . . a consultant, a lawyer, and an engineer.”
To consider some other indicators for Auburn, I checked the mayor’s gender (male) and the composition of the city council (100% male), the city government’s department heads (80% male), and the top leadership of Auburn University (the President, Provost, and Executive Vice Provost are all male, and the board of trustees is 86% male). For labor force indicators, Auburn city has a workforce that is 54% male, with women on average earning 71% of men’s earnings, men filling 70% of management occupations, and male managers earning on average 36% more than female managers. And within married couples (with wives between the ages of twenty and fifty-four), the total percentage of families in which the wife earns more than 50% of family income reaches only 20%, little different from the national rate.
In short, I find no indicators of anything approaching equality between men and women in Alexander City or Auburn, Alabama, and even less suggesting systematic domination by women. There may be interesting or important stories to tell about those families or organizations affected by the declining fortunes of men displaced from the manufacturing industry, but the story of female domination is false.