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The Tantrum: Are men no longer necessary?

June 22nd, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments

(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.

Deep breath.


  1. beta dad says:

    June 22nd, 2010at 3:11 pm(#)

    As South Korea goes, so goes the world.

    Her argument is definitely overstated, especially when she uses phrases like “last gasp of a dying age” to characterize the remaining few bastions of male dominance. And of course the title of the article itself is bombastic.

    But I think you are taking it a little too personally (because tantrums should always be totally objective). I didn’t get the impression she was saying men aren’t necessary, just that our economic and social dominance is coming to an end.

    Her evidence is certainly cherry-picked to support her claims, but it’s compelling to me nonetheless. Maybe that’s because my own experience corroborates her argument. I have taught high school and college kids, and–holy crap–boys are knuckleheads at that age. Maybe it’s because I’m a SAHD and my wife makes twice as much money as I ever did when I worked outside of the home. Maybe it’s due to my lifetime of feminist indoctrination that this does not threaten me.

    So I don’t disagree that there is a trend away from male dominance; and furthermore, I think smaller amounts of testosterone in industry and politics can only be beneficial to everyone.

    Rosen’s piece contains some assumptions and logical fallacies, but that doesn’t corrupt the overall argument. It’s just sloppy.

  2. Clark Kent's Lunchbox says:

    June 23rd, 2010at 11:11 am(#)

    There are a lot of good points here all the way around. The objectivity in Rosin’s presentation of the facts is tainted, but as Beta contends, she’s not entirely off base.

    Without a doubt recent socio-economic factors have influenced the increased involvement of fathers as parents if not the complete transfer of primary child-rearing duties altogether. (Hell, I’m living proof, losing a six-figure job and then being forced into the role of SAHD.) But this trend was already in progress before the financial industry’s nose dive became the catalyst that brought increased attention to the issue. Jeremy Adam Smith’s book, “The Daddy Shift” plots the course of this in great detail.

    Have women gained greater footholds in male-dominated areas of society and business? Yes. And the same is true of women outperforming men in school and college. To that I say, “Bravo.” With a few extreme exceptions (sack tapping comes to mind), I’m 100% for gender equality.

    Here’s my leap of logic. As more and more women earn greater prominence professionally, they are still haunted at least to some extent by the feminist-fueled belief of having it all as career woman, wife and mother. To suddenly have this idea challenged by the thought that maybe men are equally capable parents (as Theodore already mentioned and who I empathize with because my ex-wife is the same way) triggers an insecurity in them. (It’s a similar version of the insecurity men have toward women who prove their capableness in the workplace.)

    Now, rather than recognizing a man’s worth in a changing world, it’s just easier to claim we’re irrelevant. However, take motherhood away from a women–working or not–and (generally speaking) a major portion of their feminine identity is gone. Isn’t this why barren women feel so depressed over their inability to have children or why single actresses adopt orphan kids from Zimbabwe?

    Yet tell a man he will never have children and it’s less likely that the news will threaten his existence. Or for that matter how many more men than women have abandoned their children and felt no remorse for it. So in some respects, and this is just my opinion, women may feel that they have more to lose by relinquishing their parenting duties to men than visa versa. (Who’s irrelevant now?) No way some dunderhead dad can do a woman’s work, not the ones the media portrays to the masses anyway.

    And by the way, included in those masses are boys who are currently being bombarded with messages from the media and marketers that being a slacker, doing poorly in school and eventually becoming a dunderhead themselves is a boy’s normal course in life. (The book, “Packaging Boyhood,” although not without it’s biases, does a good job in presenting this.)

    Sorry to unload such a huge effin’ comment here, but this is probably the 18th post I’ve read on Rosin’s article and I’ve been holding back. Dadwagon just got unlucky today is all.

    So like, whatever dudes.


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