When I read Hanna Rosin's provocative essay, "The End of Men," in The Atlantic magazine two years ago, I felt like Neo swallowing the red pill in The Matrix. Suddenly, an abundance of anecdotal evidence appeared to suggest that a postindustrial society would favour those with a double-X chromosome.
Many of my female friends have found greater success in the business world than did their partners. I kept encountering boys struggling with learning disabilities, and studies show they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Women now place greater importance on a higher-paying career than men and surpass men in postsecondary enrolment and graduation, according to a U.S. Pew Research Center study. A recent article in Slate magazine illustrated the lengths to which some couples will go to conceive a daughter.
Yet personal observation and a smattering of data belie the current reality and in the time since Ms. Rosin's essay and the release this month of her book The End of Men: And The Rise of Women, I can't help but wonder if about this claim of victory by authors such as Ms. Rosin and others is premature.
Women hold only 10 per cent of seats on boards of directors in Canada, and 16 per cent in the United States, according to a recent report by Catalyst. The number of female lead directors of Fortune 500 companies fell in 2011, even as Ms. Rosin was busy writing her book. How can women claim victory when the European Union is struggling with legislation to ensure 40 per cent of non-executive board seats are filled with women by 2020?
Social upheaval doesn't occur overnight. of course, but I caution against believing that a matriarchy is definitively in the cards and that it's just a matter of time before the power flip.
The advancement of women is not an inevitable consequence of social trends, and deeply entrenched beliefs about men and women at work remain difficult to overcome.
Rather, I believe we are currently experiencing a unique opportunity for women's gains in business and education to contribute to a softening of social mores. It's fertile ground to advance equality in the work force, but we must resist the urge to believe this advancement comes at a cost to men.
"It is not inevitable that women will rise through the ranks. It's still the case that men are the majority of managers [and] CEOs and occupy the highest positions of power, status, authority, and wealth in the majority of workplaces," said Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor of sociology at State University of New York at Brockport, in an e-mail interview.
"Where women have succeeded, they are not often at the 'top,' and when they are I think they're more often thought of as the exception that proves the rule than they are as the next generation of superpower women who will stop at nothing to take over the economy," Dr. Bridges said.
To capitalize on the change, a broader dialogue on the evolving definition of masculinity in the work force needs to take place. While women seem to have reconciled power and femininity, I worry that the definition of masculinity remains in limbo.
"Men today are struggling with deciding what it means to be a man," Dr. Bridges said. "They're not happy with their father's and grandfather's masculinities, but they have yet to stake a claim to something new."
Defining masculinity against the backdrop of a challenging economy is no easy feat.
"If women can earn as much as men can, then earning loses some of its masculine cachet – and for some men, that's reason enough to give up trying as hard," Hugo Schwyzer, a columnist for an online women's website, Jezebel.com, who also teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College in California, wrote in an e-mail interview.
"Many men are choosing to opt out, not because women have pushed them out of universities or careers, but because they're refusing to develop the flexible skills that women are willing to acquire," he said.
U.K.-based futurist Ian Pearson hones in on the evaporating need for traditional male skills more specifically, arguing that manufacturing jobs will be increasingly replaced by robotics and analytical jobs will be displaced by artificial intelligence.
"Just as power tools have reduced the economic advantage of being physically strong, so future AI will reduce the economic advantage of being smart," he said in e-mail interview. What's left, Dr. Pearson argues, is a phenomenon he dubs the "care economy."
While women may have an advantage in the "care economy," that doesn't necessarily translate into more spots in the executive suite, and men aren't disappearing from the top ranks of companies in droves.
A cultural shift may be under way, but gender equality cannot be taken for granted. "We'll know we got there [reached gender equality] if we don't write books about the 'end of men' when women find themselves gaining some ground," quipped Dr. Bridges.
Special to The Globe and Mail