We talked to Hanna Rosin about her controversial claims that men are being edged out of society.
"Chivalry is dead. And women killed it."
A man and woman went on a first date. The woman -- let's call her Caitlin -- seemed in every way an ambitious young woman. As they looked over the menu and wine list, the man -- let's call him Bill -- asked her, "What kind of wine do you like?" She put down her menu, looked at him and said, "I make decisions all day. It's your turn." Bill was shocked. He had expected, given her somewhat aggressive exterior, that she would want to be the one holding the reins. But what Caitlin actually wanted was some straightforward, macho decision-making from Bill. She didn't want a lot of conversation or discussion. She just wanted to sit back, relax and have him take over.
This is author Hanna Rosin's story, as she told it to me (somewhat altered). About a year ago, her article "The End Of Men" was published in The Atlantic and went viral. Today her book, The End Of Men And The Rise Of Women -- which was born from that article -- hits stores.
Rosin suggests that college hookup culture (in which women want casual sex and not much more) and the new economy (colored by the decline of manufacturing and the rise of fields that favor skills traditionally considered feminine, like healthcare and communications) confuse -- and even ruin – men and favor women.
"Men are caught between two poles where they’re not supposed to be super-aggressive macho guys, but they’re not supposed to be super-effeminate, either," Hanna told me. "We vaguely understand, more so than our fathers did, that it’s OK for men to show up at school and love their children and read to their children. We expect that of fathers. But is it then OK for a father to work part-time? We’re not sure about that one. So it’s these things are not exactly worked out."
Like Bill -- and most of my guy friends -- I'm sure you've gone on a date with a woman and been unsure of her expectations: whether you should pay the bill or walk her home or sit back and let her choose the Merlot over the Pinot Grigio. The new economy, combined with the uncertainty of what it means to be manly, is confusing. Men are not sure what women want from them in dating, and they're not sure of their place in the today's workforce.
It’s true, as Rosin points out, that men lost three-quarters of all jobs during the recession. And that's impacted many men who thought they would work at the same factory their fathers did. She also cites a study of online dating that shows all these guys wanting to marry -- more than their female counterparts. So how are they supposed to navigate this new economy and this new dating scene that’s supposedly so confusing and new?
I don't buy that men are on the decline, even if manufacturing has died down, and I'm not sure I agree that the college hookup scene is so detrimental to dudes, either. The guy friends I had in college were, for the most part, pretty damn happy to have a selection of "aggressive" college girls who didn't want anything but a drunken night of fooling around. So I called up Rosin to talk about whether guys really are frustrated by hookup-friendly women and what they can do to improve their odds given the grimness of her forecast.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
What do guys stand to lose, if anything, in the hookup culture?
People have this sense that’s it’s really great for guys. But there’s an idea that guys are being ruined by the sort of inability to form intimate relationships. There’s sort of, like, fear of the ambitious or aggressive woman. To start out thinking you’re not really supposed to commit isn’t a great place to be for guys who are already having a hard time graduating from college and figuring out what they want out of life. So we’re just making it more confusing for guys.
So what should guys who actually want relationships do in order not to come on too strong but also not to undervalue a woman?
Hooking up with no romantic commitment -- nobody loves that for very long. What girls are trying to avoid is the guy who wants to get married and tie them down. Most women want a boyfriend but just not a permanent life arrangement.
Men In The New EconomyI know when I was in college, I was probably more settled down and focused when I had a boyfriend than when I was in the hookup scene.
That’s a good point. Maybe what women want, it’s not necessarily the hookup culture; it’s the option to not be permanently tied down. So if you could create a world in which you could have a serial monogamist boyfriend who you were sure would not derail you and force you to move to a city you didn’t want to but you could have each one for a year at a time, that would be ideal. People are feeling their freedom and their raunch, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the place we want to end up.
Is this really what women want, though? You say that in hookup culture, women are able to focus on their studies and careers. But one of the women you interviewed says she wishes some guy would just take her out for a frozen yogurt.
Girls complain about it, but they wouldn't have it any other way. Women need for it to be this way so they can establish their careers. But... that’s why the need for human connection is stronger than any other thing and where they are now is not where they’ll end up.
What can men do to feel empowered if their career is failing or on hold? What did you see some of the men you interviewed doing to not only help themselves but help their relationships?
At first it was forced upon them, where they were home, let’s say with the kids, or had to go to school or do things that were really against their nature. And then, over time, it took on a kind of dignity, dealing with the children.
For the younger guys, there’s sort of solidarity in the fact that a lot of people have a hard time when they leave school now and are living with their parents or are not in a steady job that’s going to immediately lead to a career. I think the fact that that’s a fairly common situation for young men might make it a little easier to bear.
Insofar as you can think of that [unemployment] as not a stain on your manhood but just kind of like a universal condition of young people today who have a hard time establishing themselves in their career, then it becomes less of a source of deep shame. You’re a guy out of work, trying to figure yourself out -- just like lots of other people. If you remove -- or allow yourself to remove -- that breadwinner urgency, then it becomes a lot easier.
We do kind of think it’s more acceptable for women to drift a little bit than we do for men, so there’s a lot more anxiety for men who are drifting. They feel like they’re somehow betraying their manhood, but just stop yourself short at, "This sucks that I can’t get a job," and not at, "I am betraying my manhood and this is a source of great shame."
It shouldn’t be a source of great shame. Don’t make it bigger than it is -- you’re having a hard time finding a job like a lot of people today, and it’s not some great tragedy.
So what can a man who has lost his job actually do to help himself?
They need to re-accustom themselves to going to school or retraining to be different than they’ve always been. However, I also think that we will destroy men and make them angry if we don’t leave some room for brawn and traditionally manly virtues to be important. So, for example, when people talk about remaking the manufacturing economy, they don’t just talk about making all those guys become nurses. They also talk about artisan manufacturing, specialized manufacturing. Both of these things add an element of intellect and creativity into old manufacturing. The other thing they talk about is high-tech manufacturing. It’s still manufacturing jobs that feel like a fraternity and manly, but it requires you to get some engineering training or go to a sophisticated community college and learn about the new ways and machines used in factories. So it’s like you’re meeting the new economy halfway. It’s still manufacturing -- it’s still working with your hands, and it still feels manly -- but it’s halfway toward the new world.
Career Options In The New WorkforceDo you think it's crucial, now that manufacturing has died, that men go to school in big cities, where they will inherently have more options career-wise?
If men want to do these new jobs, then moving to cities is probably the way to go. But if you want to stay home, there’s options… to get into this new manufacturing sector that’s emerging. If you’re not a guy who wants to go to school for four years, you can go to a three-year community college or do an automotive engineering program that they use in high-tech auto manufacturing these days.
What skills do men need to develop if they want to survive in the new economy?
They can be more flexible to the changes in the economy. When I ask economists, I always talk about new jobs, like the healthcare industry is expanding or the service industry. Economists will tell me, "Don’t focus so much on specific jobs because they can change all the time." But what is really important is to be flexible enough to change when the economy changes. That’s the important quality that men seem to be missing and women seem to have. It’s the flexibility rather than any particular skill.
The other traits are more complicated. It has to do with slowly shifting ideas about what makes good leaders. Whereas we used to think it was good to be top-down, take a lot of risks, be really aggressive and make decisions quickly -- that’s how we used to define leaders and those are fairly male-centered traits. Particularly after the Wall Street crash, we’re very suspicious of that kind of testosterone-driven decision making. So we think being cautious, taking some time, taking the long view, being more collaborative -- those are things that we think are good for every leader now.
Can flexibility be learned?
There’s no reason why men can’t be more flexible and adaptable now that they are more of the underdogs and the economy is demanding of them something different. They are forced to be flexible, in the way that men who, by economic necessity, are forced to stay home and take care of the kids for some time. Eventually it becomes OK.
How do we dissipate the perception that your identity is so tied to your career? Why is manhood threatened just because the manufacturing sector is disappearing? How does a career become less about “identity”?
The crappy economy is going to force this [a rethinking of the workforce] on people. Already people ask young men what their expectations and desires are for their workplace of the future, and the line of all these workplace think tanks is a 25-year-old man imagines his workplace almost in the same way as a 42-year-old woman with three children -- it’s like they don’t think of workplaces as places you’re tied to forever, as determining your identity. That does seem like a thing of the past. Like the manufacturing guys that I describe -- those guys don’t really exist anymore. Those guys’ entire identity was formulated by this one place, almost like it was their fraternity and their lifeblood. That’s a thing really of the past, so even if you want to be that as a guy, you don’t really get to be that anymore in general.
How can we, as a society, start rethinking the workforce today? Does that mean rethinking masculinity?
I do think we need to get over this idea that men can’t be more domesticated and do domestic work. If you see a guy at the park at 3 p.m., you shouldn’t be having the thought "What’s wrong with him?" I do think we need to get over the idea that men shouldn’t do jobs that are traditionally feminine, like nursing, teaching, whatever. But what about man as protector? The whole idea that the man will protect me in a firefight. It’s OK for men to still be the protectors. In the South what I was finding was that men weren’t necessarily the breadwinners anymore, but they still get to be head of the household. With the Southern families, it just takes a long time before they worked out a new language and a new way of relating to each other that allows the guy to preserve his dignity but also allows the bills to get paid.