When a woman writes a book entitled “The End of Men,” you might expect a little solidarity from her fellow females.
But as I meet Hanna Rosin at her publisher’s office in London, she’s preparing for a BBC debate with a somewhat unlikely foe — Mary Beard, a prominent English feminist.
As Rosin begins to tell The Times of Israel about her much-discussed new book, the 42-year-old writer wants to make something clear: “The End of Men” is not — as many critics have described it — a feminist manifesto.
“It may be something to do with the cover, which is yellow and pink, but it’s really not about that,” she says.
Rather than a political argument, the book is intended as an objective look at men’s relative decline in the workplace, as well as women’s rapid professional rise.
“In the United States and other countries, large sections of society are becoming matriarchies. Nobody wants that. Men and women do need each other,” Rosin says.
The author — who was born in Israel in 1970 and moved to the US four years later — says “The End of Men” came about partly by accident. In 2010, she began writing an article on the topic for the Atlantic Monthly, where she is a contributing editor. The initial narrative focused on how women, for the first time in American history, were becoming the dominant sex in the workforce.
As Rosin began interviewing hundreds of men and women across the country, she realized that what initially seemed a question of economics also had profound cultural implications.
‘I don’t think that women have evolved to be better than men,’ Rosin says. ‘It’s just that the economy now favors activities that women have been socialized to do, or are naturally better at’
“I don’t think that women have evolved to be better than men,” she says. “It’s just that the economy now favors activities that women have been socialized to do, or are naturally better at.”
Rosin argues that the loss of manufacturing jobs in the West since the 1970s has meant that men — predominantly those in working-class communities — have lost their social and economic preeminence, a pattern she says has been exacerbated by the global recession. In the US, where one in 20 men was not part of the workforce in 1950, that figure is now one in five.
“It’s terrible that we have a society where men have nothing to do. It’s highly dysfunctional, because when the men don’t work, they tend to commit crimes, and then go to prison,” Rosin says.
The book offers a complicated cultural explanation for women’s rise, downplaying traditional explanations for differences between the genders.
“We tend to believe the reason men have determined the social order so far is because they have got this aggressive and competitive urge that goes back to the caveman days. This is not necessarily true,” she says.
Instead, Rosin argues that as women become more powerful, they’re displaying confrontational, aggressive characteristics that were previously thought to be reserved for men.
“I don’t believe that if you put women in power, we will see a happy, wonderful world,” she says. “It’s not that women have become inherently more violent, it’s just that they used to, for social reasons, suppress violent urges.”
While Rosin’s research included works by evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and neuroscientist Louann Brizendine, she largely avoids biological arguments as she makes her case, including data on the differences between men and women’s brains.
“The truth is I don’t feel that qualified to comment on this,” she says. “There are some obvious biological inclinations, and they do interact with culture. Instinctively, though, I tend to favor the cultural side of this debate — therefore, I’m reluctant to make any conclusions about the biological nature of this argument.”
She takes a somewhat stronger position on differences in academic performance, asserting that girls outperform boys in school for two reasons: First, because women have dominated teaching positions in elementary schools for years, helping to create an environment that benefits girls, and second, because boys typically don’t mature as quickly, meaning they often struggle to keep up with their female counterparts and are more likely to see themselves as failures early on.
During times when women were expected to marry and stay home, these academic differences proved less consequential. “In the past, it didn’t matter that girls got better grades,” Rosin says, “because it was assumed boys would be the greatest beneficiaries from an education [by going to work]. Now it’s the opposite. Girls are the gold standard.”
As part of her research, Rosin looked outside the US and found that women are ascendant across many continents and cultures — but observed that social norms aren’t necessarily keeping up with changes in the workplace. In South Korea, she discovered that even as women advance at the office, they’re still expected to conform to patriarchal traditions. The resulting conflict — additional work outside the home, but no additional power within it — has led many women simply not to marry.
‘In Iran, for example, women were banned from certain majors in schools because they were doing so well in them,’ Rosin says. ‘Iranian women are getting educated, and this threatens the men’
In some Muslim countries, where women’s rights are largely ignored, there are signs that females could succeed in the workplace. But they are deprived of the opportunity, and in some cases are held back even in the classroom.
“In Iran, for example, women were banned from certain majors in schools because they were doing so well in them. Iranian women are getting educated, and this threatens the men in society,” Rosin says. “Does this mean the end of patriarchy in the Middle East? Obviously not, but it suggests that women outcompeting males in many areas is not just a Western phenomenon.”
While Rosin declares the end of men — at least in the West — statistics from her book acknowledge that women still have a long journey ahead of them. Figures from this year’s Fortune 500 — an annual ranking of America’s largest corporations — show that women account for just 3.6 percent of CEOs.
That number may partly be a generational issue, or reflect a difference in priorities. “Women get bored when they are in their 40s, climbing the hierarchical ladder, so they don’t want to put the time in,” Rosin says.
But social norms are also at play, and may not be changing as quickly as women want to advance.
“Women pay a social price for behaving in an aggressive manner,” Rosin says. “In the same way that we are uncomfortable with the overly domesticated man, we are also uncomfortable with the overly aggressive woman. Such a woman exists today, but I don’t think we have adjusted to her presence. “