Monday, June 14, 2010

The End of Men?

The Atlantic recently had a fascinating article, "The End of Men." Author Hanna Rosin chronicles and analyzes the shifting workplace and education dynamics and asks, "What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?"

The gender imbalance at colleges has been growing: women make up something like 60% of the student body in 4-year bachelor programs. One reason, of course, is that men with a high school degree still make much more money than women with that same diploma. She needs to further her education simply to compete. But also, women seem better prepared for the demands of college. Rosin spoke to some students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City:

Burress, a cute, short, African American 24-year-old grad student who is getting a doctor-of-pharmacy degree, had many of the same complaints I heard from other young women. Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus. Guys play video games in each other’s rooms, while girls crowd the study hall. Girls get their degrees with no drama, while guys seem always in danger of drifting away.

This seems an apt metaphor: "drifting away." The comments following the article--many of them critical--suggested that our education system the past twenty or thirty years favors girls. Stereotypical masculine traits are devalued in favor of more feminine ones. Commenter Doug111 wrote,

This now begins in kindergarden[sic], with all male roughousing [sic] of any sort suppressed and belittled. Classes in first grade and on are taught so as to favor girls. Everywhere there are cheers when girls beat out boys and all is done to see that this happens time and again. The emasculation of boys really gets going by junior high when again girls are favored. Final exams are deemphasized. Massive grade inflation encourages diligent consistent plodding performance, which obedient little girls are good at, and gets them As and A+s now with no extra grade given for the ocassionally [sic]brilliant insight, mixed with less than total diligence in mundane assignments and pop quizzes that are typical of how brilliant boys tend to operate, and what the education system used to prize most of all.
He goes on to describe this trend as "positive discrimination." I think he raises interesting points. But I think this is part of a larger paradigm shift, one in which women--more than men--are adapting and taking the initiative. I see young women in school--they have one or two children and, sometimes, an unemployed husband. They are getting this degree to support their family, to gain stability, and more often than not they are working another job at the same time. I see young men--unattached, unburdened by children--drifting, unmotivated.

Toward the end of "The Poisonwood Bible," Orleanna Price, the mother, reflects on men, women, and history. Men, she says, are around for the beginning and the end; the birth and the death. They fire the shot that launches wars, they plant the flags. But women are there, too, between the lines. They're doing the laundry, teaching the kids, and comforting the ill. I think about those articles on marriage from a few months ago that I read and posted about. One of the writers suggested that, usurped of their traditional roles as providers and breadwinners, instead of adapting, many men will turn to hypermasculine behaviors. Violent, misogynistic. Orleanna described the danger of standing still, refusing to change--she was condemning the United States and men in general, and her husband in particular.

I do recommend reading "The End of Men" article in whole - it's long, but worth it.

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