As I See It: My Name is Bond–Jane Bond
October 25, 2010 Victor Rozek
As far as women are concerned, “Guys. . . are the new ball and chain.” That’s one of the doleful conclusions reached by Hanna Rosin in her recent article in The Atlantic called “The End of Men.” To the typical insecure male, that title would be dismissed as excessively provocative. But as Ms. Rosin soberly documents–albeit with just a little dash of feminist glee–men appear to have lost their economic, educational, and biological edge and are teetering somewhere between pathetic and irrelevant. Ouch!
Well, Ms. Rosin, that’s certainly not true in my castle where I am still the. . . “What’s that, Honey? You want me to take out the garbage? Be right there, sweetie.” Excuse me for a moment.
Now, where was I? Yeah, yeah. . . where I’m still the king. On behalf of hairy-cheeked washouts everywhere, I can only hope that Ms. Rosin’s dispiriting assessment is premature. Still, she builds a vexing case that the evolutionary tide is turning. And like the unsuspecting tourists who follow the receding tide to pick up sea shells just before the tsunami engulfs them, men are about to get rolled up the beach by a tidal wave called woman.
For the first time in our history, women comprise the majority of the workforce, and will likely continue to do so not just because of their numbers but because of their preparation. According to Rosin, women dominate the college and professional school ranks. “For every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same.” And 60 percent of all master’s degrees will be awarded to women. Community colleges, which specialize in retraining and adult education, are so packed with women that some schools have started covert affirmative action programs to attract more males.
But they’re finding that school is a hard sell. Unemployed males are simply failing to upgrade their skills. Men appear to be intimidated by schoolwork. They are “unable to commit,” says Rosin (well of course, they’re men), and when they do return to school, they can’t compete academically with women. Women celebrate excellence; men have a six-pack when they get a passing grade. And also when they don’t.
Meanwhile, young men are dropping out after high school at alarming rates, discouraged and with few prospects. Boys tend to mature more slowly than girls, but what will happen to these young men when the fog of youth burns off? At one time a high school goof-off could still get a union job and do quite well. But that ship not only sailed, it sank. Dumb and dumber, once celebrated as cool, is now a condition, not a virtue.
Which may explain why “of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women.” The two exceptions are “janitor and computer engineer.”
“See that, Honey, says here I’m not one of the pathetic ones. What? The cat box needs cleaning? All right, all right, don’t yell, I’m on my way.”
Speaking of cleaning, if you think about it, maintenance programmers and janitors are closely related–they both clean up someone else’s mess.
Not surprisingly, educated, upwardly mobile women aren’t all that impressed with downwardly mobile men. The disappearance of family wage jobs has made men unattractive as partners. “The whole country’s future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans,” writes Rosin, “the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don’t follow.”
And not only are women pulling themselves up by their pantyhose, they’re storming the management and professional ranks. Back in the 1980s–you know, back when men were still considered viable–women held 26.1 percent of professional and middle management jobs. That number has nearly doubled to 51.4 percent. What Tennyson called “the lesser man” now makes up more than half of all accountants, and holds half of all banking and insurance jobs. If you need to see a doctor, there’s a one-in-three chance it will be a woman; and if you want to sue a doctor, slightly less than half of the attorneys will be packing Gucci bags. And, says Rosin, “those percentages are rising fast.” The Light Brigade is charging, Alfred, women hold the reigns and we’re about to get trampled.
Just for the record, Honey, I hate Tennyson.
There may not be a lot female CEOs yet, but to borrow a phrase from Spencer Tracy (commenting on Katherine Hepburn’s diminutive frame), “what’s there is cherce.” Although top management ranks are still male dominated, women “are highly prized.” says Rosin. “Last year, they outearned their male counterparts by 43 percent, on average, and received bigger raises.”
Note to self: It’s time to ask the wife for a raise in my allowance.
Unlike mine, a growing number of households are now dominated by women, who earn more than their partners and make the majority of family decisions. In lower income households, men are largely absent from the home and women have been accustomed to fending for themselves for so long that they no longer view marriage as necessary or even desirable. Women everywhere are having kids later and, in recent years, 40 percent more are choosing to raise them alone. And, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, more people report wanting girls than boys. Roles are disintegrating. To paraphrase a male support group leader quoted in the article: When your wife makes $65,000 and you’re pulling in minimum wage, who da man? She da man.
As for the new weaker sex, men have been beaten down by an economy that no longer values traditional male strengths and management styles. Command and control is soooo yesterday. Collaboration, flexibility, and empathy are in, and women are simply better at them. “Thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success,” writes Rosin. “When brawn was off the list of job requirements, women often measured up better than men. They were smart, dutiful. . . and reliable.” And when you take the muscles away, what have you got? A skinny, unemployed guy with issues.
And there days lots of guys have issues. “Three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men,” reports Rosin. One in five are unemployed. They’ve been laid off, downsized, and offshored; deprived of their pension, unable to pay their mortgage, and pummeled for not being sensitive enough. And they are now broken and unemployable. If depictions of men in the entertainment industry are any indication, men have two choices: They can either be machine-gun wielding steroidal freaks, or 40-year old virgins.
Rightly or wrongly, jobs are inextricably tied to self image. They are the foundation of identity. The very first question we ask strangers is, “What do you do?” The assumption is that knowing a person’s occupation will provide us with insight into their identity and character. And, when asked, we answer the question at an identity–as opposed to an occupational–level. “I am a doctor” rather than “I practice medicine.” Identity defines our role and contribution. And for men, having a good job ensures they will not abrogate the responsibilities of the oldest, most elemental identity of all: that of protector and provider.
Rosin argues that shifting realities contravene the old, familiar roles, and therefore threaten the very identities of men. Perhaps. But maybe we men have been kidding ourselves. Like alcoholics coming off a very long binge, we’re being told we may have to trust a higher power. No shame in it. We don’t call the women in our lives “our better half” for nothing. In almost every meaningful category I can think of, my wife is far superior to me. Should my fortunes decline, I plan to hitch my wagon and go along–wherever my wife leads; content to be the boy toy I’ve always aspired to be.
On the first morning after we got married, I recall sitting at the breakfast table with my wife when she reached for a new jar of jam, intent on opening it. “Wait a minute,” I said, taking the jar from her, “you’re married now and that’s my job.” I explained that, of course, she is perfectly capable of opening her own jars, but relationships work best if everyone has a job, and this is one of mine.
At least that’s my story. The way my wife tells it, she loosened the lid before passing it to me. At one time I might have felt threatened. But why rail against the tide. Today I’d look across the table and say. “Thanks for the assist, Honey.”