By Hanna Rosin
320 pp; $27.95
On Aug. 29, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, a protest broke out during vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speech. Two women, one in her twenties, one a couple of decades older, stood up in the stands and started shouting, “My body, my choice!” It was a brief but intense moment straight out of a 1970s Take Back the Night rally. The women were quickly drowned out by a baffling response from the crowd of Republican delegates—chants of “USA! USA!”—and dragged out of the stadium. One man snatched the protesters’ pink banner away as they left and tossed it triumphantly to his friend.
It’s a scene worth remembering as you read articles about the “mancession” that is supposedly upon us. A female-dominated paradise—or even one in which every woman in the U.S. could have access to paid maternity leave or a harassment-free workplace—still seems remote. One of the two major political parties put forth a platform that would retract rights women fought for decades ago. Representative Ryan is on record opposing legislation in Congress to address the pay gap between women and men, which still has women making 77¢ to every man’s $1. Yet, according to Hanna Rosin, the end of men is nigh.
The title of Rosin’s book provoked hysterical laughter among several men who caught sight of it at a dinner party I attended several weeks ago. Laugh all you want, Rosin might counter, evidence abounds of masculine decline in all corners of life. An accomplished journalist and author, Rosin first explored the idea in a deliberately provocative Atlantic cover story; the argument seems designed to send pundits and Internet commenters into a frenzy. From the many couples Rosin observed around the country in which the husband is a deadbeat and the wife holds down a stable job, to the flood of women into highly paid professions previously dominated by men, to the growing number of companies in Silicon Valley that offer flexible work arrangements for executives with children, Rosin believes the changing economy favors women and the talents and skills they tend to offer.
It’s been well documented that the most recent recession hit traditionally male fields the hardest. The construction, manufacturing, and, for a time, financial industries all shrank, leading ultimately to the loss of 7.5 million jobs, three out of four of them held by men. Intractable long-term unemployment has left many households with upside-down gender roles: the out-of-work husband sliding into despondency while the woman of the house puts on her pantyhose and marches out the door every day to pay the bills. Women now earn 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, and most professions that are predicted to grow during the next 10 years are female-dominated, including nursing, accounting, teaching, and child care. “What’s valued in the new service and information economy are social intelligence, open communication, an ability to sit still and focus long enough to get the necessary credentials—all areas where women are at least the equals of men, and in many ways excel,” Rosin writes.
These are all worthy and often fascinating observations, which Rosin delves into deeply, if sometimes a tad earnestly. Yet in most of the areas where it counts—where money and power are concentrated—men continue to utterly dominate. Women occupy just under 17 percent of the seats in Congress. Only 3.8 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female chief executive officers, a figure that’s barely moved in years. Walking onto a Wall Street trading floor, where the truly big paydays are made, one continues to wade into a sea of men.
When Marissa Mayer, formerly of Google, was named CEO of Yahoo! in July, for example, it was pointed out in Fortune and elsewhere that the number of lady CEOs at the 500 largest companies had finally reached 20, a record. Since then, Mayer has had every e-mail and hiring decision picked over, including her announcement that she’ll work during her impending maternity leave. Some of her moves have also had unintended consequences—her plans to bring in Apax Partners’ Jacqueline Reses to be Yahoo’s new executive vice president of human resources and talent acquisition leaves Reses’s old field, private equity, practically devoid of high-ranking women. It’s a quandary worth pondering at the dozen or so “diversity summits” Wall Street firms are sure to sponsor during the next year.
“There’s nothing like being trounced year after year to make you reconsider your options,” Rosin writes of Calvin, one of the unemployed boyfriends she meets, who’s considering a degree in nursing. Fortunately for the richly compensated men who fill boardrooms across America, they face no such dilemma.