Read more about the Sept. 20 Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on whether "men are finished," buy tickets, and see who else is debating. Find out why debater and journalist Hanna Rosin says men arefinished.
Why, then, are we even having a debate about man's demise? Because we're living in a society that's enamored with the "WAW", or "Women are Wonderful" phenomenon. WAW, a kind of reverse female chauvinism, is everywhere. Magazines, TV shows, newspapers, and even scholarly journals run endless stories and articles claiming women are the better sex. Women, we are told, are superior leaders and communicators. They're also more charitable, empathetic, and noble than men. The rules of the WAW game make it impossible for men to win: If women do something better than men, that is evidence of their superiority. If men outperform women, that's proof of invidious discrimination against the fairer sex.
To violate the spirit of WAW is to invite havoc. Suggest, as Larry Summers did, that men may have some innate advantages in science and math, and prepare to change your job. Write a book or article titled Are Men Necessary?, "The End of Men," Man Down, or Women are From Venus, Men are from Hell," and the gods smile.
The idea that men are finished is absurd. But it is true that minimally educated men are in serious trouble. Girls do better than boys in school. They get better grades, score higher on reading and writing tests, and are far more likely to go to college. The reasons for girls' educational success are complicated and likely reflect innate differences to some degree: Teenage girls, for example, tend to sit still and pay attention better than teenage boys. But whenever anyone comes up with a plan to help boys in the United States—boy-friendly classrooms, all-male academies, or vocational education tailored to their interests—women's groups such as the American Association of University Women and the National Women's Law Center cry foul and go on the attack.
Several years ago, Hasbro Toys tested a furnished playhouse it was considering marketing to both boys and girls. But it soon became clear that that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house; the boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro general manager came up with a brilliant explanation: Boys and girls are different. I would add that when they grow up, they complement one another. When parents take a child to a jungle gym at a park, the mother typically says, "Be careful." The father, "Can you get to the top?" Today it's fashionable to claim that we no longer need the catapulters or the "can you get to the top" crowd. But we do.
The cartoonist Nicole Hollander once asked, "Can you imagine a world without men?" Her answer, "No crime and lots of happy fat women." Well, crime would certainly decline, and we'd probably put on a few pounds. But would we be happy? Not most of us. Women, alas, love men, and need them. They are our fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, and friends. Their fate is our fate—this is no zero-sum competition.
Men are not finished because neither men nor women will permit that to happen. After all these years, it turns out women need men much more than a fish needs a bicycle.