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Posts Tagged ‘DoubleX’

Oh, how I tire of the End of Men headlines.

Two recent books have reignited the conversation, though, as their titles indicate, they come at it from decidedly different perspectives. In “Manning Up,” Kay Hymowitz argues that men taking longer to grow up and get married (which are, you know, boogeyman-bad phenomena) is a problem for which feminism is to blame. Then there’s “Man Down,” by Dan Abrams, which argues that women are better than men at basically everything. (On a recent appearance on The View, Joy Behar made him blush when she asked: “Did you just write the book to get laid?”) In his book, Abrams cites a lot of science that’ll have women feeling proud, but some of it is cause for pause. Check, for example, this, from a Q&A at MyDaily:

You cite a study that shows that people often find news more credible when it’s read by a female newscaster, but that the same people often find male newscasters more credible in general. This dynamic shows up in your analysis of women in politics as well. Can you tell us what you think is going on here?
Look, I think that there are still a lot of people who have what I might view as antiquated stereotypes about how they view everything from world leaders to doctors to newscasters. It’s really striking, the idea that they viewed the messages coming from a woman as more credible but when they were asked who was more credible, they said men.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that gets my blood boiling whenever I come across something like Hymowitz’ “Manning Up”–woe be the man, no longer the king of the castle, the apex of the food chain! I’m not the only one; here’s a nice little taste from Kate Tuttle’s take down in the Boston Globe:

[Hymowitz's] zeal to somehow tie women’s educational and economic advances to this perceived downward spiral in men’s maturity levels leads her to make wild claims and to confuse cause and effect, as when she points out that women only make less money than men if you take into account their disproportional numbers in low-paying careers–there’s a more logical way to spin that fact, as I’m sure she realizes. But when your point is that somehow women are doing better than men, and that this improvement in women’s lives somehow comes at the expense of men’s identity, well, it’s better to throw around lines like ‘feminism’s siren call to the workplace’ than to question why jobs traditionally held by women pay less than jobs traditionally held by men.

An important question, doncha think? Perhaps it has to do with fears of being perceived as too ambitious, or of women’s work being undervalued? (An equally important question might be this: who are these women–writing books, running for the second-highest public office–so quick to denigrate feminism?)

More annoying, though, is this: on the very same day I found myself reading one women’s argument as to why feminism is to blame for all that ails the modern man and one man’s assertion that, to quote the Grateful Dead, The Women Are Smarter, I came across an NYT piece titled “At M.I.T., Success Comes With Unexpected Consequences.” The story leads off with a nod to M.I.T.’s recent push to hire more women, but quickly takes a nosedive into the unexpected consequences. And as we all know, unexpected consequences are never good.

But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

(I have some idea of how I’d answer such a statement. And I didn’t even go to M.I.T.)

But wait; there’s more! For every positive development, an unintended consequence. Pro: every committee must include a woman! Con: because there are so many fewer women than men on the faculty, nearly every woman is on a committee–and, thus, losing time for research,

as well as the outside consultancies that earn their male colleagues a lot of money.

Pro: There are better family leave policies in place. Con:

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, ‘Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.’

Better grab a Pop-Tart for this next one:

Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

Sure doesn’t sound like we’re on equal ground [she typed with a smile]. And yet, it seems all but impossible to escape the hand-wringing over the End of Men.

Speaking of the end of men, Hanna Rosin, who wrote the article of the same name for The Atlantic, on last week’s Double X Gabfest spoke with her colleagues Jessica Grose and Kate Julian about manning up, manning down, and the end of men. In it, Rosin puts forth an interesting theory: They’re old themes in America: that of the self-made man, the constant opportunity for self-reinvention. It’s an ideology, she says, that created a constant state of “anxiety in men, that you were constantly having to prove yourself.”

At that point, another voice, I think Grose, pipes in to say that the women she knows, in their 20s and 30s, are incredibly anxious about making something of themselves, too, weighed down by the idea of having it all.

Um, yeah. We’d tend to agree. So, let’s just take a moment to review: in addition to the sorts of unexpected consequences outlined in the NYT piece about M.I.T., women are also facing the kind of anxiety that men have been dealing with for centuries–only, because it’s new to our gender as a whole, we have to navigate that without benefit of role models… And yet, we wonder, is this the end of men?

I suppose it depends on what is meant by the word “men.” Could it be that what’s really going on is that the traditional definitions are growing less and less relevant; that women are becoming more like traditional ‘men,’ and men, more like us?

Interestingly, later still I found myself flipping through the mountainous stack of unread magazines on my dining room table (/desk). A headline on this month’s Marie Claire caught my eye: “New Trend: Male Baby Fever.” Inside, the piece claims that men are hankering to become daddies, dumping women not yet ready to settle down. (Wonder what Hymowitz would make of that?)

(While this, I’m sure, is generally viewed as a warm-fuzzy variety story, a trend to be applauded, the logical counterpart–the one about those women who aren’t feeling the settling down thing–would likely be met with tsk-tsks and hyperbolic cries that this time, feminism has really done it; the end of the world as we know it is near!)

But. I wonder.

Even if it is only a (insert air quotes here) Trend Piece, and even if it only hints at an inkling of a trend, might it hold the potential for a pleasant-yet-unintended consequence: If men are increasingly the ones with baby-fever, maybe, soon enough, they’ll be the ones fighting for a more family friendly workplace. Maybe they’ll want their wives to make the same kind of money they do. While I don’t envision a day when they’ll be the ones stuck talking sleep, judged on their temperament, rather than their accomplishments, I like to imagine a time when it occurs to them that a more equal world is worth fighting for–and an unintended consequence of fighting for it might be better conditions for everyone.

Pipe dream or Pop Tart? Time will tell.


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I’m going to begin with a caveat here: I like Judd Apatow’s movies. They make me laugh. And part of me feels a little sorry for him, as it seems he’s maxed out his cool outsider cred as of late and is now veering into the territory of the overexposed love-t0-be-hated. But.

I also confess that I agree with one of main criticisms sent his way: while the men in his movies tend to be funny and lovable, the women tend to be unfunny–and frankly, a little shrewish. But I’m willing to grant him a little latitude there; he is, after all, a guy, so I guess it stands to reason that he approaches his work from a (guy’s) guy’s perspective. And there’s something else, too. I think, in their way, the differences between the men and women of his movies reflect one of the defining differences of today’s real-life young men and women: the ways in which women struggle so desperately with the choices they face, that men just don’t.

DoubleX’s Lael Loewenstein touches on this, in her piece “Apatow’s Women Have to Face Up to Reality,” when she mentions a scene from this summer’s Funny People, in which Laura (played by Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann), debating leaving her husband for her old flame, puts him to the test: she plays video of their daughter’s recital, gauging his reaction all the while. As Loewenstein put it:

What Laura wants in a prospective partner–and what George fails to provide–is validation for the choices she’s made. To a woman who’s opted to sacrifice her career so she can have a family, George’s disinterest in Mabel’s performance is especially painful: it’s tantamount to personal rejection. …What the women of Knocked Up and Funny People share is a certain ambivalence and anxiety about their life choices, as well as an acute awareness of their responsibilities. [They] are constantly reminded of their sacrifices. …the message is plain: If you think you can have it all, sister, you’d better think again.

And think again we do. Again and again and again. While the men are busy riding out the remains of an on-the-fly Vegas/mushroom trip gone wrong, the women are left home, to deal with their responsibilities, and to agonize. And that is a sentiment that’s easy to relate to.

And I think that’s where Apatow gets it really, painfully right. And that’s why I’m willing to tolerate the unfunny portrayals–because I recognize the angst behind them. For women, our choices are more wrenching because to get them at all was the prize of a long, hard-fought fight–in a word, valuable–and now that we have them, and have had them long enough to realize that ‘having it all’ is basically a myth, there’s a certain heartbreak that comes with picking. And heartbreak is never very funny.

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Here’s a newsflash. Women and men are different. This, I realize, is likely not news to you, but an item I came across yesterday might be. The piece in question, “Why Corporate Women Are More Likely to Blow the Whistle” by Maureen Tkacik, appeared on Slate’s DoubleX, and saw me go from zero to completely riled up by the end of the first page. In it, Tkacik talks about “a veritable Davos of Bitches Who Told You So,” including Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins, Brooksley Born–former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who spent three years pushing for derivative regulation only to be shushed by Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, and Robert Rubin; Sheila Bair, the only government regulator who can credibly claim to have seen the crisis coming; and Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, an SEC attorney who smelled a rat in Bernie Madoff-land, way back in 2004.

Such examples are all the more amazing when you consider not just Who and What these women were speaking out against, but when you consider how few women there are in the position To speak out on such issues in the first place. But back to Watkins, who, post-Enrongate, was named one of Time magazine’s 2002 “People of the Year.” At that time, when asked whether she thought women were somehow more ethical than men, Watkins said no. But it seems that, with the passage of seven years, came a change of heart. And perhaps a willingness to claim la difference. Tkacik writes:

She thinks women are more likely to blow the whistle than men, for reasons that have as much to do with nature as with nurture…. Watkins became convinced whistle-blowing was one of the few types of “risk” that come more naturally to women after meeting Judy Rosener, best known for a somewhat controversial 1990 Harvard Business Review article that encouraged working women to stop imitating men and embrace a “women’s way of leading.”

Now, it’s long been believed that, in the battle of the sexes, men are the natural-born risk takers. But, according to Rosener, it depends on what kind of risk we’re talking about: one, which one takes with the encouragement of an audience (think Deal or No Deal… or shortsighted shareholders) is where men tend to excel. The other, which Rosener calls “moral risk” is the kind that one takes in spite of the audience’s disapproval. And that kind is where women excel. Tkacik continues, saying:

In addition, when women see wrongdoing, they try to fix it within their own organizations. Men, by contrast, tend to alert the media–even though women whistleblowers are the ones more often portrayed as opportunistic “media darlings” chasing Erin Brokovichian adulation.

So yes, in that respect, women are often damned if we do, and damed if we don’t. But that’s not my point (today). Today, my point is this: plotted against a timeline of the modern workplace, women are relatively new to the game. And it made sense that, upon our initial entree, our strategy was to blend in, to play like the boys, even to look like them (one word: shoulderpads). We downplayed our differences, fearing that, if the men smelled fear, insecurity, or Chanel #5, we’d be at an immediate disadvantage. Or maybe kicked out of the club for good. But it seems to me that every time we choose not to own our womanness — and all the differences (like the willingness to blow the proverbial whistle and the tendency to be discreet about it, all despite the fact that we’ll likely be vilified for it) inherent to that womanness — we do ourselves and our gender as a whole a disservice. Several months ago, I came across this interview with Elizabeth Lesser, founder of the Omega Institute, which really gets to the core of the issue. Among other things, Lesser considers how Hillary Clinton’s reluctance to have a “Gender” speech on par with Obama’s “Race” speech — a legacy of the early working woman’s Pretend You’re One of the Boys mantra, perhaps — as a significant factor in her undoing. (On the other hand, look at the treatment Sotomayor received for being forthright on the subject, and who can blame Madame Secretary?) When asked about the recent formation of Omega’s Women’s Institute, Lesser says:

We’ve had centuries of power and leadership where men have been at the helm. There’s some real serious gaps in representation in the world. And also the world’s in trouble. What would happen if women became empowered and could lead from their core basic values? Not just let’s put women into a structure that is about up-down power, like I have power over you. But what if women could actually influence the way power was wielded in the world, from a core feminine place. … The conversation we need to have now is no longer about women assuming positions of leadership within the existing power structure, it’s about the power structures themselves, it’s about how to go about assuming power, how to change the structures.

Which leads us right back to Rosener’s words about embracing a “women’s way of leading,” nearly twenty years old, and still, so much easier said than done. And she and Lesser are talking about change on the macro level. But I think it’s relevant on the personal level, as well. Because it’s a choice — and maybe acknowledging who we really are and where we’re really coming from is one way to make every other decision we face just a little bit easier.

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