Why Christina Hoff Sommers will argue men aren't finished at the Sept. 20 Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate.

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Sept. 15 2011 2:17 PM

Oh, Come On, Men Aren't Finished

Women are joining men as partners in running the world, not replacing them.

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.

Man sitting at a construction site. Click image to expand.
Women might be pulling ahead in some industries, but men still do the bulk of dangerous work

For most of human history, men have been the dominant sex because of their capacity to compete, take risks, conceal emotion, and fight for resources. But some claim these masculine traits have become obsolete in the post-industrial, knowledge-based 21st century,. Now, it's the empathetic, socially intuitive fairer sex who reign supreme because those inbred traits have become integral to the modern economy. Men, we've been told, are passé.

Don't believe this fantasy. Women are joining men as partners in running the world, but they are not replacing men and never will. Yes, women are flourishing in unprecedented and gratifying ways. But men have hardly vanished from the center. After almost 40 years of gender neutral pronouns, it is still men who are more likely than women to run for political office, start businesses, file for patents, tell jokes, write editorials, conduct orchestras, and blow things up.  Males succeed and fail more spectacularly than females: More males are Nobel laureates and CEOs. But more males are also in maximum security prisons. Males commit most acts of wanton violence, but it takes other men to stop them.

The male declinists seem to imagine a world of busy, consensus-building women, happily and competently interacting and managing the new economy. They point to the explosion of jobs in the caring, nurturing, and communicating professions: nurses, social workers, veterinarians, website designers, personal coaches, dance therapists, executive producers. Sorry to disturb this idyll, but you cannot sustain a network of nurturers and communicators without someone paying for it. You will still need hard-driven innovators, manufactures, builders, and transporters—not to mention the military.  

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We are told that toughness and assertiveness are obsolete. That is ridiculous—and brings to mind an observation usually attributed to George Orwell: "We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf."  The world is as dangerous as ever. Think of China with all its millions of unattached young men, or those volatile patriarchal societies where radical Sharia law prevails. Our civilization still depends on the protection of brave men (and some women) who are willing to fight and die to protect us.

Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article, "The End of Men," concedes that men are still at the top of the pyramid—but says that "men's hold on power in elite circles is loosening." Loosening, yes, but there is no evidence of a female takeover. Not because women lack the talent—women can be as dazzling as men when they set their mind to it. But fewer women than men do set their mind to it. The sexes are equal but exercise that equality in different ways.

Consider science and technology. Women now hold the majority of college degrees and jobs in psychology, biology, and veterinary medicine. Here, they're not just competitive with men, they show signs of overtaking them. But those numbers don't hold in math, physics, computer science and engineering, where men still prevail. In those fields, there's no sign of significant change. According to a recent study from the Commerce Department, men held 70 percent of computer science and math jobs in 2000 and 73 percent in 2009. There are brilliant women who are mathematicians and computer scientists, but all the evidence suggests women prefer to do other things with their talents.

Meanwhile, men continue to file more than 90 percent of patent applications. They drive innovation in technology—and not just with basic hardware. Bill Gates achieved global dominance by designing computers with a friendly, approachable interface. Steve Jobs displaced him by creating elegant, intuitive super-machines that were small enough to fit into an evening bag. A guy named Doug came up with the touchy-feely idea of the mouse. The social network is dominated by women but it was invented by Mark Zuckerberg.

Is the technology industry finished? Is engineering finished? Is the military finished? I haven't even mentioned that men hold the lion's share of dangerous, dirty, and necessary jobs that few women seem to want. Men tend to be the truck drivers, builders, oil-rig workers, roofers, loggers, coal miners, taxi drivers, and window washers. Are those jobs passé?

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