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.