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Posts Tagged ‘“End of Men”’

Report Card_6Something has been nagging at me ever since I read Christina Hoff Sommers’ Opinionator piece in Sunday’s New York Times. Did you catch it? It’s yet another essay lamenting the disconnect between today’s school system and, well, the nature of boys.

Her piece, which links declining male achievement with grade school culture, is pegged to a new study that found that, despite the fact that boys do just as well as girls on standardized tests, they are less likely to “get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college.”

 No previous study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated that the well-known gender gap in school grades begins so early and is almost entirely attributable to differences in behavior. The researchers found that teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys’ grades, like the girls’, would have matched their test scores.

Can we just stop with the “woe be the boys” bullshit?  Arrgh.

Before I go on, let me assert my bias straight up.  I myself am a girl.  My two children are girls.  All our pets, save one, have been female.  One of my daughters and I wrote a whole book about, and for, women.  And if you check the first paragraph of this post, you might surmise — correctly, in fact — that while most of you, my husband included, were watching the Super Bowl, I was snuggled up on the couch reading the newspaper.  How girl can you get?

And so, yes, I may well be looking at this issue through pink-colored glasses, but what rankles me is the timing of all this tedious “end of men” business. I have no problem with Sommers’ point that boys struggle with school, more so than girls, because classrooms are set up to favor kids who can sit still, do as they’re told, and work independently, skills that girls tend to develop before boys do.  In fact, I agree completely.

But hasn’t that always been the case? What creeps me out is my suspicion that the real reason we are so worried about boys of late is the fact that when it comes to college or grad school or scoring the job with the corner office, girls have started to catch up.  Did we ever worry about grade school culture when, not that long ago, the majority of college grads were male?  No need to answer.

I think back to my grade school days at a Catholic school in San Francisco taught by no-nonsense nuns who would put the fear of God into God himself.  I still remember the names of the class trouble-makers who were sent regularly to the principal’s office for mouthing off, who were stuck on the bench at recess, who routinely flunked their spelling tests and, by seventh or eighth grade, were the first to smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Boys, every one. The girls, for the most part, got the gold stars and rarely got in trouble for anything more serious than rolling up their plaid skirts.

And yet, a few years down the line, most of those naughty little boys graduated from college, grad school even, and grew up to be highly successful men, pulling down the big bucks.  As for the good little girls?  Either married to them or working for them.

My point being, we had no problem with the ways in which schools privileged girls back in the days when we knew that, sooner or later, the boys would grow up to assume their rightful place.  But now that girls have begun to hold their own, we wring our hands and kvetch about leveling the playing field.

As if anticipating my riff, Sommers ends her piece this way:

I can sympathize with those who roll their eyes at the relatively recent alarm over boys’ achievement. Where was the indignation when men dominated higher education, decade after decade? Isn’t it time for women and girls to enjoy the advantages? The impulse is understandable but misguided. I became a feminist in the 1970s because I did not appreciate male chauvinism. I still don’t. But the proper corrective to chauvinism is not to reverse it and practice it against males, but rather basic fairness. And fairness today requires us to address the serious educational deficits of boys and young men. The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men.

I couldn’t agree more: The rise of women does not at all require the fall of men.  Where I part company with Sommers, and the rest of the end-of-men contingent, is with the  implication that the two are even related.

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Is it the end, or just beginning?

Ye olde End of Men is in the news again; this time, author Stephanie Coontz is weighing in on how the headlines proclaiming The End of Men might be a tad premature. It’s territory we’ve covered before, to be sure, but there’s a new turf worth tilling. Namely, when she writes:

One thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: overinvestment in their gender identity instead of their individual personhood.

Sorry to interrupt, but: DING DING DING!

Men are now experiencing a set of limits–externally enforced as well as self-imposed–strikingly similar to the ones Betty Friedan set out to combat in 1963, when she identified a ‘feminine mystique’ that constrained women’s self-image and options.

Clearly, it’s no longer 1963, but Coontz hits on something there that I think is still profoundly in evidence, particularly among the women we call “Undecided.” Yes, we have options the women who clandestinely passed The Feminine Mystique around may have only dreamed about, but that’s but half the story. We write often about how, somewhere along the timeline of women’s liberation, the message that we can have it all morphed into an oppressive belief that we should be able to do it all, and, when I read those above words of Coontz’s, I thought: Yes, yes, and yes.

Because I think, to borrow her words, a certain investment in our gender identity is what keeps us so dearly invested in doing it all. When you read articles about how to take the pressure off, among the tips will invariably be something along the lines of Ditch the stuff you don’t care that much about. Which is fine advice. (Um, we’ve probably offered it ourselves.) But it’s hard advice to follow. Perhaps you don’t give two craps about baking, yet you feel a bad mother if you send your little one to the bake sale with storebought (and Crisco-frosted) cupcakes. Maybe you don’t even want kids, but feel pressure tied to the belief that “real” women are maternal (and bake their own cupcakes). Perhaps you don’t care about clothing or makeup, but you feel you must look a certain way to be accepted as a woman. Maybe you’d rather take a stick to the eye than spend a perfectly good Saturday dusting, but you have friends coming over and you just know they’ll think a little bit less of you if they see how you really live.

Interestingly, I think that the more successful we are in the not-traditionally-female aspects of our lives (read: our careers), the more intensely we feel we must make sure we measure up on the traditional Lady-o-meter. Just last week, there were a couple of headlines about very successful women–Katie Couric and Stacy London–coming out about their struggles with eating disorders; in fact, among women, eating disorders have long been associated with an overachieving personality type. And have you ever noticed how rare it is to see a successful woman who is anything less than impeccably groomed? (Not least because when said grooming–or style; see: Hillary’s pantsuits–falls just a little bit short, the backlash is lethal.) Back in the 80s, when I was in grade school, my mom was in grad school “busting my ass,” she says. And yet, “I cooked dinner every night, drove the car pool AND was your room mother.” It’s as though we’re willing to push the envelope… but not too far. So we overcompensate, wearing heels that are lethal, killing ourselves to keep a house that’ll pass the white-glove test, and whipping up organic and healthy–yet impressively epicurean–delights for dinner. On a Tuesday.

It’s too tricky to offer a simple solution–and it’s made trickier thanks to the judgment women face from other women and society at large, of course–but surely there’s some wisdom in flipping Coontz’s equation and consciously putting more investment in our “individual personhood” as opposed to our “gender identity.” In worrying less about what it means to be a woman, and more about what it means to be our self. Or maybe just thinking a little bit about why you’re killing yourself over that dinner… and, perhaps, instituting a new tradition, called Take-Out Tuesday.

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Remember Hanna Rosin?  She’s the author of last year’s controversial “End of Men” cover story in The Atlantic that suggested that because women do better in school, earn over half the college degrees, and are soaring into the professions, a matriarchy is precious minutes away.

Wednesday, she was interviewed over at Slate where, in anticipation of a Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on Sept. 20 — and possibly to pimp the publication of her upcoming book on men’s demise — she held fast to her premise that women indeed are poised to dominate.

We’ve done a bit of kvetching about her theory, which is to say: we disagree.  Sure, women may be doing better in school, but we’re still up against the pay gap and glass ceiling at work and the second shift at home.  And that’s only half the story.

What left us scratching our heads on Wednesday was the mental juxtaposition of Rosin’s end-of-men business with the national poverty stats, just released by the Census Bureau. In case you missed the memo, the numbers showed that, as of 2010, 15.1 percent of all Americans are living in poverty (defined as an income of $22,314 or less for a family of four), the highest rate since 1993.  That’s a staggering — and embarrassing — 46.2 million people, the largest number of poor Americans since estimates were first published 52 years ago.

In addition, the data showed that the poverty rate for children under 18 was 22 percent – over one-fifth of all kids in America.

Horrifying, right? But what you had to search hard to find – and probably didn’t, at least in the mainstream media — was an even more horrifying breakdown of those stats by gender. According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, for households headed by a single woman, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent.  For those headed by a single male, the rate was about half that: 15.8 percent. And among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.7 percent) lived in poverty (up from 38.5 percent in 2009).

There’s more. The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund drilled down the data a little further and found the raw numbers – not to mention the way the gender gap has been ignored —  even more unsettling:

In 2010, adult woman were 29 percent more likely to be poor than adult men, with a poverty rate of 14.5% compared to a 11.2% rate for adult men. There were 17.2 million poor adult women compared to 12.6 million poor adult men.

In their analysis, they found that Census stats revealed “a deep gender gap in poverty rates, even when factors such as work experience, education, or family structure are taken into account.” For example:

* women who worked outside the home in 2010 were 22 percent more likely to be poor than men who worked outside the home, with a poverty rate of 7.7% compared to 6.3% for men.

* While education reduces the likelihood of being poor for both men and women, women are more likely to be poor than men with the same level of education. In 2010, at every education level women were again more likely to be poor than men.

* The 37.1% poverty rate for single parents in 2010 was 4.2 times the 8.8% poverty rate for married parents. However, comparing married parents with all solo parents gives a misleading impression of the significance of family structure by concealing the sharp difference in poverty rates between solo fathers and solo mothers. The 40.7% poverty rate for solo mother families was 68 percent greater than the 24.2% rate for solo father families.

We’re baffled.  How exactly does one reconcile the fact that women are more likely than men to be poor with this so called “end of men” nonsense? Rosin herself, back on Slate, concedes that the dominance of the alpha-gals she writes about is not quite all it’s cracked up to be:

The dominance of women is a good and a bad thing. If you take the non-college-educated class, for example, the women are really, really struggling. They’re holding down the jobs, they’re going to school, they’re raising the kids. One economist calls that situation “the last one holding the bag” theory. In other words, the reason that women are doing better than men is because the children are with them, and so they have to make ends meet. So they hustle in order to make ends meet, but their lives are really, really hard, and it’s terrible for the children. And the fact that about one-fifth of American men are not working—we’re almost at Great Depression levels—that’s really terrible. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. So, no, this isn’t like, “yay, we won! yay, we triumphed!” It’s actually really bad. 

And so we wonder. Isn’t all this chat about the “End of Men” just more backlash?  A smokescreen that keeps us from tackling deeper and more serious issues that won’t go away?  We vote yes.  Especially given the fact that the only place, outside of the classroom, where women appear to be dominating is in the poverty stats.

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