The Last Days of the American Male
An interview with journalist Hanna Rosin: Why she'll argue that "men are finished" at the Sept. 20 Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.
Slate: Recently, Pew released some data that revealed how the recovery has been better for men than women.
Rosin: I've seen all of those numbers. It's totally unsurprising. Men were hit so unbelievably hard by this recession, but I think this is historically true in all recessions: You almost always get a bounce-back that favors the manufacturing industry initially. So it's not that surprising. It doesn't mean that overall men are doing better. The overall message of the last 25 to 30 years of the economy is the manufacturing era is coming to an end, and men need to retool themselves, get a different education than the one they've been getting, and they're not doing it.
Slate: That's something you bring up in the piece—this failure of men to adapt. Ideally, of course, we'd have gender equality in all industrial and domestic spheres. But is this even realistic? Will men eventually assimilate to the new economy?
Rosin: I'm not prepared to answer that question. Some people say it's biology and brain makeup that make women do better at this moment. Obviously that's partly true: There's some way in which women are wired to kind of concentrate and focus and do better in school. On the other hand, it may be because they're the underdogs, that they're getting this extra juice somehow. Sometimes I look at this new class of women who are surpassing their husbands and really hustling, like in places like pharmacy school, which is where one of my book chapters is set. And they remind me of new immigrants. They're this class of people who are trying to get somewhere in a real hurry, and the men just seem to be sitting around in no hurry. One of the young guys I interviewed put it to me: "I just feel like my team is losing." They feel like women have clocked them, and it came as a surprise to this young generation of men, so I don't know that they can't catch up. They might.
Slate: You wrote "The End of Men" over a year ago, and now you're working on a book about the subject. If you had to write it again now, are there any sections that you would revise? Any data or information that you've uncovered since that has altered your perspective on the points you've made?
Rosin: I don't think there's anything I would change about the actual piece, the piece is still true. But the issue manifests itself really differently for the college-educated class than for the non-college educated, and I think people mix those up all the time. So I would make that distinction much clearer in the piece, which I do in the book. I would also point out more cultural changes. There are so many ways this phenomenon is showing up in the culture—in TV, movies, in celebrity marriages. If you open your eyes to it, it's absolutely everywhere. I wrote a piece in the Atlantic last week about the new TV season in which six different fall sitcoms are about men being surpassed by women.
Slate:Tell me a little bit about your upbringing. What were your family dynamics like growing up?
Rosin: There were definitely no feminists in my house. My family was super working class. But there was a kind of natural female dominance. My mother definitely wears the pants in my family, and I come from generations where the men disappeared, got sick, died, or for whatever reason, the women wore the pants. My great-grandmother ran away from her husband, my grandmother's husband died very young, and my mother rules the roost in my house. But she would never say she was a feminist, ever. She's fairly conservative. I grew up with the natural sense that female dominance was possible, but not that it's some kind of political message. Female dominance wasn't an ideal, but just a natural occurrence by virtue of my mother's personality and the circumstances of all of the women ahead of her.
Slate: Last thing. Have you ever debated before?
Rosin: Yes, I was a mega-high-school debater.
Slate: Any deadly teenage tactics that you're planning to pull out?
Rosin: Just be really mean [laughs]. I feel like I debate the way I play soccer—there's some nugget of meanness that comes out. I think I'll just be entertaining, and slightly mean.
Photograph of Hann Rosin by Jona Frank.