(This is the Tantrum, in which Dadwagon’s writers debate one question over the course of a week. For previous Tantrums, click here.)
The cover story of the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly featured the provocative headline “The End of Men.” Hanna Rosin, the author of the piece, laid out the dire circumstances facing the fellows these days:
Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed. Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide. Over several centuries, South Korea, for instance, constructed one of the most rigid patriarchal societies in the world. Many wives who failed to produce male heirs were abused and treated as domestic servants; some families prayed to spirits to kill off girl children. Then, in the 1970s and ’80s, the government embraced an industrial revolution and encouraged women to enter the labor force. Women moved to the city and went to college. They advanced rapidly, from industrial jobs to clerical jobs to professional work. The traditional order began to crumble soon after. In 1990, the country’s laws were revised so that women could keep custody of their children after a divorce and inherit property. In 2005, the court ruled that women could register children under their own names. As recently as 1985, about half of all women in a national survey said they “must have a son.” That percentage fell slowly until 1991 and then plummeted to just over 15 percent by 2003. Male preference in South Korea “is over,” says Monica Das Gupta, a demographer and Asia expert at the World Bank. “It happened so fast. It’s hard to believe it, but it is.” The same shift is now beginning in other rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China.
Hard to argue with all of that, particularly since it’s such a wide-ranging conglomeration of facts and assertions drawn from every corner of the globe. Seems unassailable, right? Rosin continues:
In feminist circles, these social, political, and economic changes are always cast as a slow, arduous form of catch-up in a continuing struggle for female equality. But in the U.S., the world’s most advanced economy, something much more remarkable seems to be happening. American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind’s eye.
I’m not even going to attempt to shoot down the endless varieties of hullabaloo in this piece. It is a morass of confused logic, misleading references, and conflated assumptions that I simply don’t have the strength to take on. I will say that any argument about “Men” writ large is doomed to failure from the start. There is, really, no such thing as Men. There are specific men in specific places doing specific things, yes—but no one group of men about which we can generalize. The way in which she overlaps race, geography, history, money, class, religion, and social structure removes the possibility of a greater point. It’s just a big mess, but I do encourage people to read it and disagree with me in more specific ways.
On to the point of the Tantrum. Let’s look at one factor in Rosin’s argument: that men are no longer essential in contemporary, educated, middle-class American society. Technology has rendered our muscles useless; feminism has eliminated us as breadwinners; workplace reform has showed that female leadership is preferable. In short, other than for sperm, we simply aren’t worth the effort.
At the risk of understatement—I disagree. Putting aside the moneymaking role conventionally given to men (both my ex and my current girlfriend earn more than I do), isn’t there something to be said for fathers and men as individuals? Certainly some women can raise children without men. But the reverse also holds true for men as well. We too are capable of bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the proverbial pan, no?
As for the various statistical vantage points on child-rearing, there is no point in pretending that the typical American man does as much work as his female counterpart. However, from my experience that increasingly can be attributed not to historical gender roles or the desire of men to avoid responsibility but to an unwillingness by women to give up authority in the domestic realm. When JP’s mother and I lived together, she assumed and demanded that all childcare would be done by her when we were together. Only when she went away to work was I expected or allowed to care for my child. This was her issue, not mine. I know many capable fathers who have little say in the decision-making regarding their children because their partners or spouses or whatever run roughshod over them. And frankly, there is little sympathy out in the world for a man who feels edged out of what are considered typically maternal roles. He is expected to keep his mouth shut.
So, in short, I think I’m kinda necessary, and I do know how to change the oil on a car, and a diaper too. I can cook and tinker, even if I’m not particularly good at either. I can support my son without giving up something as fundamental as being a man, and I expect the women in my life to make room for me when it comes to being a parent.