Women are ahead in academics. They’re jumping up the corporate ladder. And increasingly they’re the family breadwinners. Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men looks at the rise of the matriarchy in North America – and its impact on men. She talks with The Globe and Mail’s Zosia Bielski and Esquire columnist Stephen Marche about a new era of gender roles (and why Homer Simpson’s days are numbered).
Zosia Bielski: Let’s start even before the beginning, with the title of your book…
Hanna Rosin: Yes, I’m hearing readers have to hide the cover – like this is Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s embarrassing to read on the subway. I guess the man sitting next to you may not be that into you reading a book called The End of Men.
Stephen Marche: I think every man should read this book. And anyone who has a son.
ZB: And yet the first reaction I get when I tell people I’ve been reading The End of Men is that most CEOs are still male … so how is this the “end” for them? Is there really a crisis of masculinity? Or is what you’re writing about – women becoming primary breadwinners – more a blue-collar thing: guys losing factory jobs and not knowing what to do with themselves?
HR: It’s not just a blue-collar problem – it’s a deeper cultural problem. It’s about men’s self-image and what they will become in the future. And so, yes, men are CEOs and some people are still uncomfortable with women in power – but what I’m writing about hasn’t been going on all that long and you wouldn’t expect the very tippy-tops of towers would be flipped overnight.
ZB: You suggest, though, that it’s working-class men who have the impetus to really re-examine male roles. Many of their “masculine” skills – physical strength, for instance – are no longer required as factory jobs are outsourced internationally. These men are stranded, seemingly unable to shift gears for a new economy, while women pick up the slack. They're taking jobs in caregiving and the service industry, using their “soft skills,” while their husbands languish.
HR: It’s funny, having written a book called The End of Men, it took me a long time to start thinking seriously about what is happening to men. The book really is about the rise of women.
But I couldn’t define what it was about this economy or educational system that plays to the natural strength of women. I wasn’t completely sold on brain science – men are like this, women are like that. I just don’t think that can explain very complicated things like whom we marry or what college we choose. And so the only quality I can really put my finger on is a certain kind of flexibility that – because of some combination of culture and natural inclination – has defined women over the last century.
They’ve changed their roles so much in terms of how they behave in the public field, whereas men haven’t changed their roles all that much. Nor have there been a lot of role models for them. We’re only getting the very first men on TV who are somewhat domestic-minded and still sexy to their wives.
So it suddenly seemed to me like men have a more narrow range of options than women do. We don’t think of it that way, but that’s what it suddenly seemed to me at the end of writing this book.
SM: Yes, I think that the class issue is probably a red herring. This transition to power is happening – for blue-collar and white-collar families. I think it can’t be unrelated to the decline of the middle class: You have this situation where the average family is just desperately trying to hold on and educate their children and make a living, and gender questions become irrelevant in the face of that. It’s what happened during the world wars, where suddenly you had women working in factories, women working on farms and so on, just out of sheer economic necessity.
And the men I know – granted, I live in downtown Toronto – just don’t care about this stuff at all. Whether your wife makes more money than you, who wears the pants … that’s never come up in conversation and certainly both kinds of families exist. I just don’t see it as a big issue.
HR: Do they really not care? Because one of the progressive, young dudes I interviewed for the book happens to be Canadian, and was my favourite on this question so I quoted him a lot, and he says, “I shouldn’t care. If you asked me to describe my politics, I’m perfectly comfortable with women in power.” Yet, whenever it comes to crunch time – like buying a house, some place where the rubber hits the road – he realizes he does care.