Men have it hard these days. The recession took their jobs, be it construction or finance. They’re not attending or graduating from college very much. They’re having to take business classes that tell them to work on their communication skills. Women, by comparison, are flooding college campuses, holding down most of the country’s jobs, and leading a couple of countries around the globe. This is the picture of gender relations drawn by Hanna Rosin in the latest issue of "The Atlantic." "The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength," she writes. "The attributes that are most valuable today–social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus–are, at a minimum, not predominantly male."
In Rosin’s interpretation of events, men are about to become the wall flowers of a post-industrial economy ruled by women. This might sound like a 1970s radical feminist dream come true, except for one small detail. The end of men won’t be the end of racism.
The origin of Rosin’s story was actually about a decade ago. That’s when men started having a crisis. In truth, it was researchers who began having a crisis as they looked at data and found that women were more likely to graduate from college than men. College administrators were also noting that they had more women on campus, in some cases more than men. The data and anecdotes were picked up by columnists, media pundits and authors at the time and the alarms went off: men–and here we’re implicitly speaking of white men–might be losing their prized place in the educational and economic pecking order.
A funny thing happened, however, when Jacqueline E. King of the American Council on Education sat down in 2000 to look at the problem. She found that the gender gap on college campuses was actually among Blacks, Latinos and poor whites. "There is little evidence to suggest that white, middle-class males are falling behind their female peers," she wrote at the time.
But the white-man-in-crisis story took hold. It spawned books and articles about boys being left behind. It was a gripping tale, after all. It was horrifying, even. Ostensibly, it was about gender, about men being outdone by women. Except it wasn’t. It was a story that tapped the worst, unspoken fears of white men–that they might be left behind like poor Black men, dropping out of school at high rates, desperate to find good-paying jobs, unable to pay child support.
To Rosin’s credit, she addresses this racial fear directly in her Atlantic story, albeit it without suggesting that it might be problematic: "The whole country’s future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans: the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don’t follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare."
The future of the country might be poor, Black and unmarried? You can almost feel the collective shudder among Atlantic readers.
Rosin, unfortunately, does what her supposedly now almost extinct male predecessors have done, laying out information about poor Black families as if they existed in a political vacuum. Perhaps that wasn’t her intention. Presumably she knows about the racial disparities in sentencing laws that put more Black men behind prison, the welfare mandates that make it impossible to receive assistance if a partner is around, the double-digit unemployment rates for Black men. But Rosin skips mentioning any of this.
Instead, she sums up the theories about why boys in general are falling behind in school. They’re not verbally equipped at young ages like girls. They don’t test well in the age of standarized testing. They need boy-friendly environments where they can walk around and get all that aggression out.
You wouldn’t know from Rosin’s story that all of this is happening in a public education system that’s racially segregated and underfunded. Neither would you find out that King’s most recent research shows that the big gender gap on college campuses right now is in the Latino community. Immigrants are still more likely to be male than female, and against a backdrop of immigration raids, men are focused on finding work while a BA seems like a luxury. (King’s research also points out that women earn the majority of master’s degrees today because they’re in education and nursing; (white) men still dominate engineering and business programs.)
If women like Rosin are about to take over the world then, as her article suggests in ominous and sometimes self-congratulatory tones, the rest of us have been forewarned: these women are not going to talk about race.
This is painfully obvious in discussions of the economy, by Rosin and others. When the recession hit two years ago, male-dominated professions from finance to construction work took a beating. As Rosin reminds us, three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost used to be held by men. The recession was declared a "he-cession."
A Black-cession would have been more accurate. Unemployment rates for Black men this past May were at 17.1 percent compared to white men’s 8.8 percent. But lump them altogether and we have a he-cession.
For those who think that the new world order run by white women might only be insulting in an implied, racially coded kind of way, take note. Rosin writes that the economy is becoming a "kind of traveling sisterhood." What kind of sisterhood exactly? One where "upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill."
Marvelous. If Rosin is right, we can look forward to an economy where even more white women get high-end jobs, hire Black and Latino women to clean their babies and their toilets, and call this racialized economic structure a sisterhood.
Rosin does note that men are still at the top of the jobs pyramid and that female CEOs like eBay’s Meg Whitman are "minor celebrities." What can we expect about race relations if that top of the pyramid flips to white women? The same old, same old. After Whitman pushed anti-immigrant talking points to get the Republican party’s nomination to run for governor and won, she starting producing commercials to get the Latino vote.
None of this is to suggest that Rosin’s interpretation is all we can expect if white women take over the world.
Journalism professor Caryl Rivers did a nice job criticizing Rosin’s work at Huffington Post, writing in a fiery, if slightly high-pitched kind of way: "The president is male, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is male, the fifty highest-paid CEOs are male."
At The American Prospect, Anne Friedman broke down Rosin’s piece with a sharp analysis about gender, arguing convincingly that the crisis is the insistence of old school gender roles. "The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others — that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers — is actually to blame for the crisis."
Curiously the online version of Rosin’s story is illustrated with a drawing of business women crowding what appears to be Grand Central Station. At the forefront are two Asian women and behind them a blonde white woman. It’s a peculiar choice. Perhaps it’s a reference to China where Rosin reports that women own more than 40 percent of private businesses and "where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs." Regardless, it plays into familiar media images and stories of Asians taking over the global economy, of Asians excelling and eventually beating white men. Mostly, it stands out as odd because it’s in contrast to Rosin’s focus on white, and to a lesser degree, Black women here.
The best that can be said of Rosin’s article is that if her predictions come true, which they won’t, but if they did, it would prove what feminists of color have told their white sisters for a long time: racism doesn’t go away because some of us know oppression in other areas of our lives.
Photo: istock/Jeffrey Smith