October 3, 2011 by Quiet Riot Girl
Are we about to witness The End Of Men? Hannah Rosin thinks so. She thought so last year, when she wrote an article of that title for Slate magazine, and later when she gave a TED talk on the subject. Now she is writing a book, called, of course, The End Of Men.
Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars.
Whilst I do not doubt Rosin’s data, about women’s continued march forwards to socio-economic equality with men – and beyond, as Mark Simpson pointed out last year:
‘the process she’s describing so forcefully doesn’t have to be gleefully cast in Sex War terms. Especially if women have ‘won’. Perhaps it should just be characterised as ‘change’.’
There is something a bit sinister about the concept put forward by Rosin, of men’s actual and ultimate demise. It brings to mind children playfighting, and the victor smashing up the loser’s favourite toy, or stamping on a beautifully crafted sandcastle, just because she could.
The regularity with which the dramatic concept of ‘the end of men’ is invoked, in relation to women’s gains in society, reminds me too of that bearded ‘authentic’ male figure that is wheeled on every so often: the Retrosexual. Just as I do not believe men are returning to a time when they were more ‘manly’ and less groomed, nor do I believe that men are ‘finished’ altogether. But these two myths are powerful, and important. They are used in discourse to convey and influence perceptions about men, women, and masculinity.
The ‘retrosexual’ as Mark Simpson and, influenced by his work, I have explained, is an expression of people’s anxiety about the ‘effeminacy’ of metrosexual men. And a way of reassuring men that they can still care about how they look, and buy lots of product, but still retain their masculinity (so long as they also rock a fagly beard).
So what is the function of ‘The End Of Men’ as a trope? I think it covers a few bases.
1) The End of Men reinforces the essentialist gender binary, and makes out ‘women are good, men are bad’.
As the paragraph at the top suggests, the reasoning behind women’s success in the economy from Rosin, seems to be that women have ‘innate’ qualities suited for contemporary conditions. She goes on to say:
‘It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.’
This reminds me of that old Nursery Rhyme: what are little girls made of? sugar and spice and all things nice. what are little boys made of? snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. A sentiment that, as Mark Simpson has identified, underpins much of the now debunked neuroscience supporting the idea of ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Even if the science has shown to be faulty, the myth remains.
Rosin uses a classic feminist slight of hand. If men are doing well at work or in politics, it is due to sex discrimination or social conditioning. If women gain the upper hand it is because women are just naturally ‘better’ than men. I identify this as a ‘double bind’ within feminist discourse, whereby essentialist and constructionist models are implemented simultaneously, to ultimately present women as superior to men, but also socially disadvantaged. And therefore seen as entitled to their newfound power. As Rosin puts it:
‘There’s some way in which women are wired to kind of concentrate and focus and do better in school. On the other hand, it may be because they’re the underdogs, that they’re getting this extra juice somehow.’
2) The End of Men blames men for their problems.
Whilst The End Of Men allows women to congratulate themselves for their hard work at turning the tables on men, and also for just being naturally superior, it lays the blame for men’s problems at their feet.
‘The overall message of the last 25 to 30 years of the economy is the manufacturing era is coming to an end, and men need to retool themselves, get a different education than the one they’ve been getting, and they’re not doing it’.
Again this is a double-bind that is common in feminist discourse. If women have problems it can always be traced to an external cause – men’s predatory natures cause sexual violence, misogyny causes lack of women comedians, sex discrimination causes the gender pay gap etc. But when men are faced with similar socio-economic difficulties to those which women have traditionally encountered, it is somehow their fault. They are not ‘re-educating’ themselves or adapting to the new economy. Why? Because they are men and men are lame.
3) The End of Men is a License for Misandry
We hear a lot in our culture about misogyny, but very little about misandry. My spellcheck does not even recognise the word! And as Mark Simpson has suggested, this is in part because misandry is ‘the acceptable prejudice.’ Feminists continuously complain about films, TV shows, adverts, jokes, which are anti-women. Whilst laughing at men mercilessly and cruelly. Double standard? Just a bit.
Even The Good Men Project, which is supposed to care about men, includes articles, referencing Rosin’s work, which support her views and go one step further, openly presenting misandry as a joke:
‘But that’s just it, isn’t it? We can’t be cool. And it’s not enough to be in the game. We have to be dominant. We’re furious about this “end of men” business. Someone’s even made up a word: “misandry.” Haw haw! Misandry! Whew, quit it! Yer killin’ me already.’
In another article, in The Atlantic, Rosin points out how popular culture is also reflecting back at us this ‘End of Men’ theme. But she does not mention misandry as surely a feminist would when talking about negative portrayals of women on TV for example. No, she presents it as a realistic portrayal of how men actually are. She even seems to gloat about her own part in the process:
‘With this fall network season, I will reach the pinnacle of my cultural influence… A CBS executive is quoted as saying that 20 different producers came to meetings with my recent Atlantic story, “The End of Men,” in hand, claiming it described a new gender dynamic that must be set to a laugh track. I was not invited to such meetings and no doubt my name was not invoked, but in my own quiet way, I bragged.
A half-dozen pilots were made by the three major networks, and they will all be released in September. Some of their names are interchangeable – “Man Up!,” “Last Man Standing,” “How to Be a Gentleman.” They all feature men who are unemployed or underemployed, love to play video games, and are desperately in need of a makeover. “Life is a big jerk and punches you in the face over and over again,” complains Bert Lansing, a lughead personal trainer in ABC’s “How to Be a Gentleman,” played by Kevin Dillon from “Entourage.”
The misandry is apparent here, when Rosin says the ‘loser’ men in the TV shows are realistic:
‘Elsewhere in the network line-up are other notes of nostalgic escape, mostly spin-offs of Mad Men: ABC’s Pan Am, for example, and NBC’s The Playboy Club, both set in the early ’60s, when apparently it was uncomplicated for women to show a lot of cleavage, or at least for men to admire it. The loser-men sitcoms, by contrast, are fairly heavy on the realism.’
Imagine if the tables were turned and women were suffering economic problems, and were simultaneously being portrayed on TV as ‘losers’? Would there not be an outcry? Do you hear a sound about the portrayal of men now? I don’t.
But Rosin’s misandry is not limited to fictional characters on TV. When talking about her family background she says, with no sense of irony or even apparent sadness:
‘My mother definitely wears the pants in my family, and I come from generations where the men disappeared, got sick, died, or for whatever reason, the women wore the pants.’
Of course, men are not nearing their end, or if they are, women will go down with them. The two sexes are still, despite the battle cries of people like Rosin, interdependent. But what The End of Men seems to convey, actually in a not dissimilar way to the concept of the ‘real man’ retrosexual, is that currently men are pussies, and they need to Man Up. As Simpson said of Rosin it is a ‘femme macho’ stance.
We live in a culture, then, where it is perfectly normal for a successful and influential woman to make off-hand remarks about men from her own family who ‘disappeared, got sick, died’, and to revel in her influence on popular culture’s portrayals of ‘loser’ men. And then for her to be congratulated for coming up with a phrase that justifies everyone’s lack of care for men’s well-being. I don’t think this marks The End of Men. But it is business as usual in society, where the feminist is Miss Whiplash with its misandry, its double standards, and its aim of Female Supremacy.