Posted Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at 1:38 PM
In her confused and scatter shot New York Times review of my colleague Hanna Rosin's The End of Men, Jennifer Homans complains that Hanna "cheerfully reports" the rise of women, and accuses her of making a "carelessly apolitical" argument. Look, I am not neutral here: Hanna, Meghan O'Rourke and I started DoubleX together, and I've appreciated the bracing and smart singularity of Hanna's argument since she started making it in the Atlantic. David Brooks captures it perfectly:
Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. . . . Rosin is not saying that women are winners in a global gender war or that they are doing super simply because men are doing worse. She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men. There’s a lot of evidence to support her case.
Hanna isn't overly cheerful about this. She's observing a phenomenon and describing it, forcing us to recognize, for example, the affirmative action for boys behind the admissions policies of many elite colleges. Homans faults her for pointing out that girls' avid study habits tend to serve them better than the relative sloppiness of too many boys. But what's the point of telling boys to go ahead and be their slapdash selves if it means they underperform and risk becoming failures? Shouldn't we figure out how to help rather than willfully ignore the fact of their disadvantage simply because it's gender-based?
I understand that this is uncomfortable terrain for traditional feminists. Recognizing the leg up that women are beginning to have in today's economy—even if you stipulate over and over again that the advantage isn't innate—means giving up the familiar underdog mantle. If we let go of that, then we risk also losing the laws and policies that protect us from discrimination, I suppose the thinking goes. You can feel that fear in Homans' frustration with Hanna for being apolitical. But that can't be right. We can argue over the timing and the dimension of the rise of women. Yes, it matters a lot that men still run most countries, most Fortune 500 companies, most universities, most everything. Literally speaking, the title "The End of Men" jumps the gun. But that doesn't mean we should hide, ostrich-like, from the changes that favor women as they unfold before us. In fact, we can't afford to. That's the strength of Hanna's book: She's forcing us to address our own blind spots. However uncomfortable, it's utterly necessary.