Posts Tagged ‘gender’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The End of Men, And The Rise of Women” by Hanna Rosin.

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Back in the deep, dark eighties, I read The Great Cosmic Mother, which was basically an early attempt to redress the exclusion of women’s contributions to human history.  I had just recently lost my (monotheistic) religion, and what I was after was a good accounting of our pre-Christian history.  “The Great Cosmic Mother” held the promise of giving me some useful data on the ways my ancestors lived and believed before Jesus came along.

It was a huge book, filled with page after page of Goddess propaganda and sweeping assertions, wrapped around some tantalizing data (roughly one-third “good stuff”, and two thirds “fluff”).  By the time I was done with it, I came to a conclusion:  “Some day”, I thought, “this field of research will mature, and someone will write a really good book on this subject”.  “The End of Men” is that book.

Hanna Rosin begins her book in a way that sounds like a rousing cheer for the state of affairs her title hints at: Women are finding themselves rising to the challenge of a shifting economy and workplace, freed to do so by birth control and gains in women’s rights, even as many men appear to be falling by the wayside, cast adrift in a world they are either unable or unwilling to adapt to.  The “macho man” is dying out, and the “super woman” is ascending.

But then the true nature of this book begins to appear.  This is not political broadside delighting in the demise of men (and tradition male culture), neither is it a “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” book that is actually criticizing women for becoming “bitches” in the workplace.  “The End of Men” is the serious, thoughtful, mature examination of women and culture that I hoped “The Great Cosmic Mother” would have been.

The two books deal in very different realms, true, but they are motivated by the same love of (and concern for) women and their issues.  But “The End of Men” is serious reportage.  The further I read the more I noticed how many of the author’s statements were arising out of reputable research papers, or from her own original interviews with women around the world.  This is not a feminist firebrand at work, but a serious reporter.

The title is dramatic and attention-grabbing, but it is not inaccurate.  For a lot of men (in industrialized economies, at least), a mode of being has passed into history.  Manufacturing jobs that once allowed men with low education to nevertheless work and support families (and thereby support their notion of themselves as the “head” of their families) are nearly gone.  And women have (one could argue) “had to” step up to feed their families and see to their own needs.

And so this is in many ways an economic story, and, as such, it has relevance not just to women, but very much to the men who are being “left behind” by history.

As a man who has grown up with the feminist movement as a constant companion, I welcome this kind of quality writing on a subject that impacts so many people’s most basic ideas of happiness and fulfillment.  I can’t think of anyone who would not benefit from reading it.  The author is nonjudgmental in her view point, but insightful and critical enough to dig beneath the surfaces of the lives her reporting brings her into contact with.

It remains to be seen how the hard-charging, eighty-hour-a-week professional working woman will fare when she finally breaks out into the very top tiers of corporate and political America (something that is becoming inevitable at this point).  In some ways she has become the template and signal for when the struggle for women’s equality is over.

Of course, this is not the whole story for women (any more than that small percentage of men at the top is the whole story for my own gender).  And women are also facing adaptive challenges as they lose their grip on their own familiar (if restrictive) social identities while rising up to outnumber men (as they now do) in many professional and academic fields.

For women, like any army claiming new territory, the ultimate challenge may be knowing when to declare “victory”.  Letting up too soon could allow gains to slip backwards.  Fighting too long prolongs needless suffering.  It’s something we’re all going to have to figure out eventually.

I highly recommend this book to men and women alike.  It tells us a great deal about the social and economic history that is happening to us right now.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!

 

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory” By J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer and Jake Page.

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

From the publisher’s website:

“J. M. Adovasio, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is the author of The First Americans (with Jake Page).

Olga Soffer, formerly a fashion industry insider, is a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Jake Page was the founding editor of Doubleday’s Natural History Press and subsequently its publisher, as well as editorial director of Natural History magazine and science editor of Smithsonian magazine. He has written or coauthored 43 books on the natural sciences, zoological topics, and Native American affairs, most recently Do Dogs Laugh? and Do Cats Hear with Their Feet? He and his wife live in northern Colorado.”

In the late 80’s, I read a book called “The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth” by (Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor).  It was very, very, very thick book.  But I was deeply interested in what these women had to say (I had just entered my post-Christian years, and was becoming aware of voices like Joseph Campbell as I attempted to connect with my own pre-Christian tribal mythology).  After I finished the book, I had the distinct feeling that it could have been about one-quarter the length it was.  I also had this thought: “Man, in another twenty years, the research in this field is going to be really good, and a much better book on this subject will be written”.  Turns out, I was right.

“The Invisible Sex” is basically the story of the evolution of modern humans based on the best evidence we now have.  But it is also a re-examination of not only the role of “women” in prehistoric human society, but also of the assumptions scholars have made about those roles over the last couple hundred years.  At long last, the thin scholarship of a book such as “The Great Cosmic Mother” has matured into the thoughtful prose of “The Invisible Sex”.

This book surveys all of the evidence we have about the varied roles of men and women, including both archeological material and ethnographic studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies.  But the authors take this a step further, offering a critique of the prevalent attitudes of different researchers and cultures through time, and follow the genesis of popular and pervasive myths such as that of “man the hunter”.

The picture that emerges is a nuanced and, ultimately, believable one.  For the fact of the matter is that we don’t know a lot about our early prehistoric ancestors (they were, after all, living their lives before any written evidence).  There are some things we can infer from the artefactual evidence and the behaviors of modern tribal people, but there are also a lot of other things that we cannot.  This book lays them all out.

Written by a trio of scholars, the writing breezes along with a sense of bold clarity that I really enjoyed.  There is even one enjoyable passage where one of the trio expresses his dissenting opinion on a subtle (but clearly important to him) distinction.  Plus (in stark contrast to several books I have read over the last year), I noted a complete lack of typographic errors in this book (being a Smithsonian publication perhaps has something to do with this).  One wrong word (maybe two) snuck in there, but that’s it.

You may be struck as you read (as I was) that this book is, in a way, mistitled.  For it is much more about prehistoric human development in general than the gender roles of women per se.  But, then, that may be part of the point of this book: the roles of men and women are not easy to discern in prehistory, but then neither are they so easy to define on a global scale even in our modern world.  Men and women have been negotiating their roles from the beginning of time, clearly, even after the point in history in which we developed a conscious concept of gender.

So although this book will do equal damage to the myth of “man the hunter” as it does to the Goddess notions of a book such as “The Great Cosmic Mother”, in doing so it offers us all a much more realistic and believable picture of the no-longer “invisible” women of human prehistory.

This is a quality book that I wholeheartedly recommend.

t.n.s.r. bob