Sometimes a headline can overwhelm the thousands of words that follow.
“The End of Men,” the title of a book by journalist Hanna Rosin, does that for many people.
“Part of the book is read as feminist victory somehow – ‘We won and everything’s great,’” said Rosin, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine who will give a lecture next week at the University of Washington Tacoma. “I think of it more as taking stock of a moment.”
Rosin documents the tectonic shift in the economy between men and women that is now plainly visible as the United States emerges from the last recession. While the book was published a year ago, its themes continue to resonate, particularly among women who have become their family’s primary breadwinner.
Last month, employment figures showed women had regained all the jobs they lost since the beginning of the recession. Men are still out 2.1 million jobs.
The changes in the job market also come with a rapid shift in gender roles.
Rosin argues women are becoming more economically successful because in-demand jobs require skills that come more naturally to women — such as open communication, social intelligence and collaboration. Her book also explores women’s behavioral changes outside the workplace that are more typically associated with men: being aggressive, sexually adventurous and even criminally violent.
The News Tribune interviewed Rosin last week. Here is that conversation, condensed and edited.
Q: Is women’s success coming out of the recession a feminist victory?
A: None of the structural economic problems that people talk about have been solved. There’s a way women have an easier time clicking into this economy, but those jobs are segregated and lower-paying. A better question for society is: Why are the jobs that women tend to gravitate to always lower-paying?
Q: Large portions of the book are spent examining how women’s personal behavior has changed, starting in college. You write, “Feminist progress is largely dependent on ‘hook-up culture’” — this practice of casual, sexually intimate relationships in college that usually don’t translate to marriage. How is this empowering and not degrading?
A: Since I wrote that chapter, I’ve gotten a lot of letters from young women. They’ve written, OK, you’re right. We’re not looking to get married. And you’re also right that we complain a lot about one-night stands. But what you did not do well is define what are the kinds of relationships we’re trying to have. I chose, by the way, to feature women in the book who were really aggressive and grating and shocking to me. I wanted to see the connection between sex and power.
But the women who wrote me said the kinds of relationships we are trying to create are new. One wrote, “They’re not like we’re looking to make chicken soup and tuck each other in at night.” The relationships are intimate, sexual, friendly and might last a long time, but just not on the road to marriage.
These women described this as a third way I hadn’t considered.
College women do get married. They really do. There’s this false idea that the hook-up culture means they don’t value marriage. That doesn’t show up in statistics — not one whit. In fact, marriages of college-educated people are stronger than ever. It’s in the population of people without college degrees where marriage is disintegrating.
Q: You also describe the general coarsening of the sexual landscape. Somehow when women act like men, in ways that I think are just immature, it’s considered progress. But sameness isn’t necessarily equality.
A: The thing that I concluded at the end of writing this book is that we’re in a “raunch” phase of feminism. It’s a phase like the way not shaving or going bra-less was a phase. It feels like something the women feel like they have to prove.
Eventually women will come back to some different sense where they don’t feel they have to behave this way.
A gay friend of mine compared it to when being gay became acceptable, and gay people went through this phase of very promiscuous sex and then they got it out of their system. Now the focus is on gay marriage.
Q: No matter how raunchy women behave, there are still “rules” in the workplace that weigh behavior differently for women and men.
A: I speak about this a lot. Researchers who document this expectation gap find these results anti-feminist and irritating. You don’t have to play by these rules, but if you don’t there’s a price you might pay.
Q: Much of this discussion can seem like an upper-middle-class problem.
A: I think one of the great revelations for me was the huge class divide. This phenomenon I’m describing is manifesting much more strongly in the working class. There, the men are genuinely disappearing. It’s stark.