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Posts Tagged ‘The Atlantic’

That gagging sound you heard last week, when Ann Romney bellowed in her best Oprah voice, “I love you, womennnnnn!”? That was me.

And not because I don’t love women; I do. And not because I don’t believe that Ann Romney loves women; I’m sure she does. It’s because, at best, this sentiment is utterly beside the point. And at worst, it’s a cynical, calculated, transparent attempt to chip away at the current and sizable gender gap among voters.

My thoughts crystallized this weekend, while reading an adaptation from Hanna Rosin‘s forthcoming book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” which ran in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. The piece–and Rosin’s book, which grew out of a much dissected article that ran in The Atlantic two years ago–focuses on several real-life families in Alexander City, Alabama, families who now rely on mom to bring home the bacon, a circumstance which leaves everyone puzzling over the reversal of roles. This change of fortune comes thanks to a confluence of factors including the disappearance of good-paying work in the manufacturing sector (jobs traditionally held by men), and the fact that the economy has changed, as have the types of jobs that are available, and the skills that are needed in order to land them:

These days that usually requires going to college or getting some job retraining, which women are generally more willing to do. Two-thirds of the students at the local community college are women, which is fairly typical of the gender breakdown in community colleges throughout the country.

These shifts represent a reality that bumps with the worldview there, informed by both Southern tradition and the Evangelical church. Rosin writes of a conversation with Reuben Prater, currently out of work:

Reuben has a college degree and doesn’t seem especially preoccupied with machismo, so I asked him why, given how many different kinds of jobs he has held, he couldn’t train for one of the jobs that he knew was available: something related to schools, nursing or retail, for example. One reason was obvious–those jobs don’t pay as much as he was accustomed to making–but he said there was another. ‘We’re in the South,’ he told me. ‘A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.’ I asked several businesswomen in Alexander City if they would hire a man to be a secretary or a receptionist or a nurse, and many of them just laughed.

All of which makes me chuckle a bit, when one considers this:

‘An important long-term issue is that men are not doing as well as women in keeping up with the demands of the local economy,’ says Michael Greenstone, an economist at M.I.T. and director of the Hamilton Project, which has done some of the most significant research on men and unemployment. ‘It’s a first-order mystery for social scientists, why women have more clearly heard the message that the economy has changed and men have such a hard time hearing it or responding.’

Why shouldn’t they have a hard time? We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what it is to be a man. Or a woman. We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what’s valued–and when, for centuries, to be a man was to hold power and make money, finding a woman to fill the role of “helpmate” along his ascent, I’d say it’s not mysterious at all that men are having a hard time hearing the message that things are changing.

Who wants to hear that their status is in jeopardy, their power no longer assured? Who wouldn’t find themselves at a loss?

And, as for the women, we’re taking on the challenges because we can. To earn a paycheck was not something expected of us as women; it’s something we’ve had to fight for the right to do.

And it’s not just the middle-aged men who have careers and lives to look back upon as they wonder what changed who are idling. Even young men seem resistant to what’s really going on. One family profiled in Rosin’s piece exemplifies it all: Rob Pridgen, whose job had recently been phased out; his wife Connie, a high school teacher; and her grown daughter Abby, who found Rob’s explanation of “man-as-provider” laughable:

At this point… Abby, who was then 19, piped up with her own perspective on the Southern code of chivalry, which she said sounded like nonsense to her, given how the boys she knew actually behaved–hanging out in the parking lot, doing God knows what, or going home and playing video games instead of bothering to apply for college…

[Another] afternoon, while Rob sat nearby, Connie and Abby were mulling over a passage from Proverbs that is sometimes read at church for Mother’s Day and that had come up in a Bible-study group.

The passage describes the ‘wife of noble character,’ who works with the wool and the flax, brings the food from afar, who ‘gets up while it is still dark,’ buys a field, plants a vineyard, turns a profit, and ‘her lamp does not go out at night’ because she’s still sewing clothes for the poor and generally being industrious while everyone else sleeps. Her husband, meanwhile, ‘is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.’

Traditionally the passage has been viewed as an elaboration of the proper roles of husband and wife. The husband sits in the dominant, protective role, watching his wife’s efforts on behalf of the family and taking pride. But in a town in which many men aren’t working steadily anymore, the words have taken on new meaning. There are people who have noticed that the passage never mentions what the husband is doing or what role he’s playing in providing food for his family, tilling the fields or turning a profit. And what’s dawning on Connie these last few months became obvious to Abby and Rob as she read the passage out loud. That noble wife is working from dawn to dusk. And the husband?

‘Sounds like he’s sitting around with his buddies shooting the breeze, talking about the ballgame and eating potato chips,’ Rob said.

Abby wasn’t surprised. Around Alex City, she said it seemed that it was the girls who were full of energy and eager to see the world. Her own brother, Alex, who was 17, seemed to want to stay in town forever and raise his family here. But Abby was enrolled in Southern Union State Community College, attending on a show-choir scholarship. Her plan was to go there for a year, as many girls in Alex City do, to save money, and then head to Auburn University.

Things are changing in major ways. And change is tough to deal with. But while we’re all puzzling over these seismic shifts is precisely the wrong time to accept blatant pandering with nothing of substance beneath it. And it makes such pandering even more offensive. Women are important to Republicans only in as much as a vote is a vote. But women are increasingly important to this economy, not to mention to the financial support of the typical family and household–we are, in so many ways, patently integral to the success of our society. And the outdated structures and policies we’re left with–and some are fighting fervently to preserve–are relics of a bygone era, useless as typewriters or VCRs. To refuse to recognize the changing times is the worst kind of denial–one that breeds backward-looking policies and irrelevant debate. Our society and our economy need us. To truly value women would be to prioritize policies that help working mothers, health care for everyone, reproductive rights. To patronize women by saying “we love you,” or “your job has always been harder,” is useless when it’s paired with a refusal to acknowledge who today’s women actually are, what they actually do. Because it’s not just women who depend on it.

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It’s grey skies for women inspired by the docs on Grey’s Anatomy: Keith Chen and Judith Chevalier, both PhDs at the Yale School of Management, write in The Atlantic about their new study under the gulp-inducing headline “Is Medical School a Worthwhile Investment for Women?” and make the case  that, financially speaking, women are better off becoming physician assistants than doctors. If there was ever a finding that more clearly demonstrated the myriad ways in which our system isn’t working, I’d love to see it. (And by “love,” I mean hate.)

Now, the authors (thankfully) come right out and say that their intention is not to dissuade young women from becoming doctors, just that this is information they should consider when plotting their future career paths. Which is certainly true. After all, med school is expensive, as are most advanced degrees. (In fact, they cite studies that show that more women MBAs and JDs drop out than do doctors.) And, you know, ROI is important. BUT.

First, the obvious: the inequities. According to the study, women doctors start off making less money than their male counterparts, and, as anyone who’s ever filled out the salary history portion of a job application knows, that kind of disadvantage right out of the gate is only going to be compounded. But the study’s authors quickly move on from this issue and focus instead on another: a difference in hours. From the piece:

This captures the insight that in order for an investment in the high up-front cost medical degree to overcome the lower up-front cost of a PA degree, not only do a doctor’s wages have to significantly exceed those of the PA, but the doctor needs to be willing to work enough hours to make those wages pay off.

“Willing.” Interesting choice of words, no?

More than likely, what that means is this: male doctors are far more likely to have the benefit of a spouse who can and will take on the bulk of the Life Administration tasks than are women. (Score another one in the “The Biggest Career Decision You’ll Ever Make Is Who You Marry” column.) Of course, that’s pretty reductionist: undoubtedly there are many women–even the high achieving sort who become MDs–who wind up ramping down their careers, at least for a little while, because they want to. They want time with their children while they’re young. And that makes perfect sense. But again, what it amounts to, for women, is a choice. To make a high-powered career pay off, do we have to sacrifice motherhood? To have a family, must our career take a hit? It’s a choice that most men don’t have to entertain.

From our book:

But absent structural and societal changes, the conflict between work and family often involves retooling the dream. In 2010, Harvard Magazine ran a feature on a study showing that women who’d gotten their MBAs from Harvard were far less likely to both have kids and a full-time job at the time of their fifteenth reunion than were MDs. And in both cases, working mothers chose less-demanding areas: The story pointed out that women make up 41% of new doctors nationwide, but only 30 percent of ER doctors or general surgeons.

The story was somewhat unremarkable (sorry, Harvard), except for the dialogue it provoked. One comment from a twenty-nine-year old med student named Erin was right on point. About to choose her specialty, she confessed that she thinks she was made to be a surgeon but knows that she’ll never go into that field. She writes that she can’t figure out how to be a good mother someday and factor in the hours–and the lack of flexibility–required to be a good surgeon. ‘I hate that this conflict exists,’ Erin writes. ‘I hate that I keep running into a roadblock. And I also hate that my male counterparts don’t have this same internal dialogue.’

Career or family? One hates even to ask the question — especially in the face of a study like this, rife with cold, hard numbers — lest it might lead some smart, ambitious, valuable, talented, potential-filled women to, as Sheryl Sandberg might say, “lean out.” To take themselves out of the game before they need to, anticipating the work-life conflicts a certain career path might present, and ramping down their ambitions accordingly.

And yet. To pretend they don’t exist is to bury our collective head in the sand. But women represent over half of the labor force in this country, and to leave so much untapped potential on the table is a momentous waste, for our society as a whole, and for each one of us individually. To do nothing is not an option–we’ve outgrown the status quo. So it seems to me that the question is not career or family, but: isn’t there some way to structure the world of work so that it works for everyone?

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Flying solo is in–in a serious way. A New York Times Q&A with Eric Kilnenberg, NYU sociology professor and author of the new book “Going Solo,” leads with the facts:

In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single. Now that number is almost 50 percent. One in seven adults lives alone. Half of all Manhattan residences are one-person dwellings.

Kilnenberg has done his research. He spent a decade studying the phenomenon while working on his book, and he has all kinds of good explanations for those numbers. There’s less stigma than there once was around being single. People crave privacy and personal space–tough to preserve when you’re sharing a bathroom. From another piece he wrote several weeks ago,

Living alone comports with modern values. It promotes freedom, personal control and self-realization–all prized aspects of contemporary life.

And Kilnenberg’s not the only one digging in. Melanie Kurtin enumerated what keeps her from committing here and Dominique Browning did the same thing here, while Kate Bolick’s much-discussed piece in The Atlantic, “All the Single Ladies,” leads with a simple confession:

In 2001, WHEN I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.

And this, I think, really gets at the truth behind our reluctance to commit: to borrow–and tweak–a phrase from a long-ago presidential campaign, It’s too many choices, stupid!

When we’re told that we can have it all, that everything is on the table, why would we ever commit to anything? Even if we know we love the thing to which we’re committing, we can’t help but wonder about all the things we didn’t choose.

And I’m not just talking about relationships.

Too many options applies to commitment of the romantic sort, sure, but also to jobs and where we should live and what kind of life we should have. Passion or paycheck? Security or freedom? Long hair or short? High heels or hiking boots?

Deciding, by definition, means “to kill.” Choosing one thing means you’re killing the possibility of having the other. And when we’re raised on the idea that anything’s possible–and every option is available–we see choosing anything as settling. And, of course, it is–it’s settling for something less than everything.

When you decide to take one path, there’s a risk of missing out on something–something we often imagine to be glorious, the proverbial greener grass–waiting for us at the end of another. As Hannah, a woman we profile in Undecided, put it:

The grass is always greener. Like, do I want to move to San Francisco? Colorado? South America? Will life be any better in any of those places? Probably not. But it might be, so there’s that risk that I’m taking by not moving.

This mindset is so prevalent, some worry we have an entire generation of commitmentphobes on our hands. Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is trying to get the in-between stage–the years when we try different jobs/relationships/cities/hairstyles on for size–designated as a distinct life stage, one he calls Emerging Adulthood. People don’t spent their entire career with one company anymore–the very idea sounds Flinstonian. Nor do they generally marry their high school sweethearts. To paraphrase Hannah, There’s that risk we’re taking by not checking out what else is out there. We have the whole world to explore first!

For women in particular, it’s excruciating. Because, in addition to that message–that we can do anything!–we were fed another, often from the women just a generation or two older than us, who weren’t afforded the same opportunity: that we’re so lucky that we can do anything. And combined, they leave many of us shouldering a load of responsibility. 

From a post I wrote some time ago,

This bounty of opportunity is so new that we were sent off to conquer it with no tools–just an admonishment that we’d best make the most of it.

We know we’re blessed to have all of these options. We get it. And so is it any wonder we want a shot at each and every one of them?

But therein lies the rub.

We want to travel, but can’t take off whenever we feel like it if we’re also going to get our business off the ground–and featured in Oprah. We want a family, but that’d mean that packing up and moving to Cairo or New Orleans on a whim is pretty much off the table. We want to be there for our daughter’s every milestone, yet we also want to model what a successful career woman looks like. We want torrid affairs and hot sex, but where would that leave our husbands? We want financial security and a latte on our way to the office every morning, but sit in our ergonomically correct chairs daydreaming about trekking through Cambodia with nothing but our camera and mosquito net. We want to be an artist, but have gotten rather used to that roof over our heads. We want to be ourselves, fully and completely, but would like to fit in at cocktail parties, too. (And when on earth are we going to find the time to write our novel??)

We want to do it all, to try it all before we buy! And that, I believe, is what’s at the root of the cold feet. Choices are hard. Damn hard. And every one of them entails a trade-off. The work is in accepting that–and in finding out who you are right down at your core, and figuring which of those trade-offs you can live with.

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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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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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So this past Christmas, Santa left me a little day-planner, filled with retro images of 1950s housewives and their gray-flannel mates, captioned with suitably snarky one-liners.  Today by chance I happened to flip to a page showing two smiling businessmen, wearing suits, ties and hats, and looking quite pleased with themselves.  The caption?

“Housework is a snap since I realized… “hey, I’m a guy!”

All of which brought to mind, first, Hanna Rosin’s piece in The Atlantic, entitled “The End of Men“, which we ourselves referenced here a couple weeks ago, and the media blowback, which I tend to think is right on the money.   Rosin suggests 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.

Those of us who get the humor I mentioned above or who have ever wanted to, say, go on the professional golf tour (trust me, I’ll tie this all together in a bit) might beg to differ.   Let’s look at what The Nation’s Katha Pollitt has to say:

Don’t worry, gentlemen. “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin’s much discussed Atlantic cover story, isn’t really about the end of men. It’s about men’s declining economic ability to dominate women and various sociocultural consequences of that fact—but who’d read a piece with an unsensational message like that? Women are surging forward educationally, entering the professions and the burgeoning service fields in great numbers, having children on their own, putting up with less crap from boyfriends and husbands—we all know that. Men are taking less than half the BAs, have suffered from the decline of manufacturing and other traditionally male jobs, and have lost some of their domestic privileges and some of their cultural prestige—we all know that too. It may even be, as Rosin claims, that women are particularly well suited to the postindustrial economy, where brains, self-discipline, the ability to work well with others and verbal skills matter more than brawn and testosterone-fueled thrill-seeking. It takes a clever picker of statistical and anecdotal cherries, though, to make plausible Rosin’s claim that we are on the verge of becoming a matriarchy.

Pollitt then goes on to blow up Rosin’s rosy picture by, among other things, poking holes in the stats (Lies, damn lies, and statistics, remember?).  She notes, among other things, that, yeah, women may be getting more than half the college degrees, but men still dominate the high-paying fields.  There’s also, as we’ve mentioned in this space, time and again, the pay gap and the fact that women with kids are still hammered by discrimination at work and the second shift once they get home.

Pollit also takes issue with the zero-sum aspect of Rosin’s argument, and wonders: “why should it be that women can change but men cannot?”  And here’s where it all gets interesting:

Perhaps boys just haven’t had enough incentive. The old ways worked so well for so long, so much of life was rigged in men’s favor: all they had to do was show up. It can take a few generations for the new reality to sink in. Unfortunately, society at large isn’t doing much to help. American males are bathed from birth in pop culture that reveres the most childish, most retrograde, most narcissistic male fantasies, from misogynistic rap to moronic action movies. Where would they get the idea that they should put away the video game and do their homework? That social work or schoolteaching is a good life for a man? Girls get a ton of sexist messages, too. But even if they grow up hating their bodies and dressing like prostitutes, they know that if they don’t want to end up waitressing, they’ve got to hit the books and make a plan.

And yet.  Even if girls get it together and the boys do not, there’s still no reason to believe that a matriarchy is on its way, and one reason is the roots of the word itself.  Which is what brings us to golf.  The New York Times tells the tale of Cristie Kerr, currently ranked No. 1 on the LPGA tour, who is living proof that, as reporter Karen Crouse writes, “a woman’s athletic prime and her peak child-bearing years overlap like a total eclipse of the moon:”

For Kerr, the toughest course to plot a strategy for is motherhood.

“Some people get pregnant right away,” she said. “For some, it takes years. How do you know what’s going to happen? What if I couldn’t have kids and I need a surrogate? What if you wait until your late 30s and you can’t conceive?

“Are you going to be the natural mother? Are you going to adopt a baby? Are you going to have a surrogate?”

She and [her husband Erik] Stevens, a marketing consultant who is Kerr’s agent, routinely discuss those questions.

“Cristie earns $1 million a year on the golf course,”  Stevens said. “If she’s going to shut herself down for six months, what is that going to mean for the business? And the second part of it is, What’s going to happen after the pregnancy? What’s it going to do to her career? If Cristie wants to be involved in every aspect of parenthood, how will that absorb her time?”

Now, golf may be an extreme example, but still: Could you imagine this conversation if the genders were reversed?  I thought not.  Sometimes you have to think that no matter how well we do in school — or on the golf course — the only kind of matriarchy on the horizon for the foreseeable future is still the one where mom does the dishes.

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Weren’t we all?

I came across that line Wednesday in a piece by Maureen Dowd, who quoted Michelle Obama as saying that her husband had spent so much time alone growing up that it was as if he had been raised by wolves.

Love that phrase, don’t you?

Think about it and you realize that, in a twisted kind of way, we’ve all been raised by wolves. As women in this new millennium, most of us are going it alone right now, figuring out how to navigate new and unfamiliar turf, without really knowing the rules once we leave the woods.

Growing pains? You bet. And you see them everywhere you look, in a variety of flavors. Here’s just a taste. In a piece in The Nation on the upcoming confirmation of Elena Kagan, Patricia J. Williams predicts that Kagan’s success as a lawyer will be characterized as “unwomanly” because, of course, success in such fields is equated with testosterone. She reminds us both how far we’ve come — and how far we’ve yet to go, noting that gender stereotyping is sometimes embedded in the language:

Forty years after the birth of modern feminism, we are still not able to think about women who attain certain kinds of professional success as normatively gendered. Officially, the English language does not have gendered nouns. Yet it seems that we do invest certain words with gendered exclusivity—nurse, fireman, CEO, lawyer—if only as a matter of general parlance. There’s a story that used to be ubiquitous about thirty years ago: a father rushes his son to the hospital after a bicycle accident. The boy is whisked into Emergency and ends up on the operating table. The surgeon looks down at the boy and gasps, “Oh, my God! This is my son!” The story would end with the question, “How is that possible?” Much puzzlement would ensue until the “Aha!” moment: the surgeon was the boy’s mother. In that era, the likelihood of a surgeon being female was so negligible that divining the answer became a kind of “test” of radical feminist sensibility.

Then there’s this, Vivia Chen’s piece from Legalweek.com that reminds us how much of our lives are caught up in trying to navigate that odious term called work-life balance. She reports on an interview with Harvard Law School grad Angie Kim whose sprint up the corporate ladder took a five year detour when her second child became sick with an undiagnosed illness. A few months back, Kim did some research and found that the majority of the women in her law school class had left the fast track. But the interesting thing (another sign of shifting terrain?) is what she told Chen:

“The ‘mommy track’ was renounced at birth for sanctioning boring flextime jobs with low plaster ceilings. But some of my not-fast-track classmates are using their clout and influence to create prestigious roles. A senior partner who brought many clients to her law firm, for example, now works 15 to 40 hours per week, mainly out of her home and on her own schedule… The author of a best-selling book on negotiations launched her own conflict resolution firm with about 15 lawyer and consultants. She works from home during school hours and after bedtime and takes July and August off.”

Kim argues that “the line between the fast track and the mommy track is blurring,” and that flexibility “is infiltrating more and more jobs and replacing traditional work values – long hours, face time – as the new workplace ideal.”

Positive signs? Could be, especially when you consider that as our workplace numbers rise — and with it our economic clout — we girls are in a better position to push for changes that work for us. Let’s look at Hanna Rosin’s piece in The Atlantic entitled “The End of Men.

What would a society in which women are on top look like? We already have an inkling. This is the first time that the cohort of Americans ages 30 to 44 has more college-educated women than college-educated men, and the effects are upsetting the traditional Cleaver-family dynamics. In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in 10 mothers—many of them single mothers—are the primary breadwinners in their families. The whole question of whether mothers should work is moot, argues Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, “because they just do. This idealized family—he works, she stays home—hardly exists anymore.”

The terms of marriage have changed radically since 1970. Typically, women’s income has been the main factor in determining whether a family moves up the class ladder or stays stagnant. And increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with a similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84 percent of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are. In 2007, among American women without a high-school diploma, 43 percent were married. And yet, for all the hand-wringing over the lonely spinster, the real loser in society—the only one to have made just slight financial gains since the 1970s—is the single man, whether poor or rich, college-educated or not. Hens rejoice; it’s the bachelor party that’s over.

Rosin doesn’t mention things like the wage gap or pervasive gender stereotyping (see above) that effectively quashes our numbers right now. But she does make an important point: if higher education is the “gateway to economic success” as well as a prereq for life in the middle class, clearly women in the not-too-distant future are going to be calling their own shots.

What those shots might be, however, is what’s so hard to figure out. In “Doing Grown-up Wrong” on siren.com, Allison Hantschel asks “what we do when we don’t have what the Jonese have and worse, don’t even want it?” What she knows she doesn’t want: a big house in the country, a bunch of kids, a climb up the corporate ladder. What she does want? That, she doesn’t quite get.

Which brings us back to the wolves. We’ve been raised in one world and suddenly we find ourselves in another, roadmap not included. What now? Insert howl here.

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Throughout the course of a woman’s life, a question that never ceases to be relevant is the one so many like to say isn’t–or shouldn’t be–relevant at all: What should I wear?

But the fact is, it is. Clothes, of course, do more than keep us warm and safe from indecent exposure citations: they are a form of self-expression–and they say something to the world about who we are. Or who we want to be perceived to be. Chuck Taylors or Jimmy Choos? Superficial, yes–but your choice likely speaks to much more than your preference in footwear. And even if it means nothing to you, well, the world is waiting to foist judgments based on little more. More so for women.

In a piece in yesterday’s Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer takes on the being judged side of the equation:

What do Elena Kagan and Sarah Palin have in common? They each offer complementary cautionary tales about the continuing appeal of an ersatz, “Sex in [sic] the City” feminism that rewards beauty and punishes plainness with all the subtlety and compassion of a Playboy centerfold. Kagan’s appearance and fashion sense are mocked or savaged, especially but not exclusively by pundits on the right, following a familiar script. Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings. Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not.

Kaminer goes on to make the case that the judgments–both ways (that Palin was christened “Caribou Barbie” before she ever proved herself as informed as a plastic toy; that Kagan’s sexuality is a subject of speculation in a way it wouldn’t be if she looked like Sarah Palin or Kim Cattrall)–are yet another way women are thrown under the microscope that men are not. And obviously, she has a point.

Interestingly, before I saw the Atlantic piece, I came across a piece by Courney E. Martin, ahead of the upcoming anthology, “Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists,” she’s putting together with J. Courtney Sullivan, which features a collection of stories from women describing the moment that feminism clicked for them. And in Martin’s Aha moment, fishnet stockings played a starring role.

Barnard College proved to be a place where just about everyone else was in the same state of confusion I was. We were all whip-smart, quirky, and intense, but none of us wanted to call ourselves feminist. It’s comical to think of it now. Here we were, dorms full of spitfire girls who had chosen an all-women’s college, and we were still reluctant to don the label. We were the low-hanging fruit, and feminism just hadn’t managed to pluck us.

That changed for me the day that Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner showed up on the third floor of Barnard Hall to give a talk on their new book Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. Amy was plucky and compact, smart without an ounce of pretension, a no-nonsense beauty. Jennifer was her opposite–long and sinewy, bright blong, and yes, wearing fishnet stockings. They were besties, taking over the world with totally fresh feminist analysis. This wasn’t the swishy-skirt feminism that my mom had manifested at her once-a-month women’s groups. This was contemporary, witty, brash, even a little sexy. This was who I wanted to be.

Consider her plucked.

In fact, both Kaminer and Martin make the point that fashion is a way in which we express our identification with certain groups. It actually reminds me of a story. Last year, I was in New York for a book reading–an anthology to which I’d contributed an essay. And I went, sporting an Outfit-with-a-capital-O. After all, I like clothes. And I spend more than enough time at home, alone save for my trusty laptop, ensconced in clothes that can most kindly be described as scrubs. And if people were going to be looking at me, I wanted to look good, dammit (and, you know, be comfortable–except for my baby toes). I was staying with the (wildly intelligent–and beautiful) woman who’d edited the book, and, while we were walking to the train, she–dressed decidedly down–told me how she feels like she has to dress that way in order to be perceived as a Serious Writer. You know, the kind who’s so busy being a Serious Writer she doesn’t have time for silly fashion. She said she even has a pair of fake glasses. (Even a Serious Writer has to accessorize!) The irony, of course, being that she loves clothes as much as I do. She was laughing about it, but I have to say, it kind of made me take note of what each of the other contributors wore that night, and what my choice of duds communicated about me. Fabulous and fashionable? Or literary lightweight?

Here’s a little more from Martin on that front:

I’ve experienced it myself. After speaking on college campuses, I consistently get emails from young women confessing that they had no idea that young feminists even existed, much less “cool” ones like me. I find myself–otherwise low-maintenance and notoriously uninterested in contemporary fashion–thinking very deliberately about what I wear to these events. Sometimes the irony astounds me: I don’t dress up for business meetings, but I do dress up for 18 year-old girls who might be converted to feminism by my knee-high boots or my trendy dress.

Both Kaminer and Martin make good points. And I think that what they’re saying cuts both ways. It shouldn’t matter if we like to show a little cleavage or opt to forgo shaving our legs. If we dress up or dress down. We shouldn’t have to worry about being judged on the basis of our appearance–or use our sartorial wiles to gain acceptance–or to persuade others to our cause. And yet.

Here’s a bit more from Kaminer:

Years ago, I watched an array of law students lingering in a hotel lobby, waiting to be interviewed by visiting firms. The men were completely, conventionally covered by their suits; the women seemed half naked by comparison, in fitted jackets, often showing a little cleavage, and above the knee, or shorter, skirts. Maybe they hoped to benefit from these reveals, but I suspect they were subtly disadvantaged by them. The men were free to focus on their interviews; at least some women were likely to be distracted by concerns about their looks and the need to sit and display themselves appropriately. How much skin is just enough? Stilettos, kitten heels, or flats? Hollywood or D.C.? These are questions men never have to ask. Will they ever cease to matter to women?

I don’t know–and yes, that men never have to ask such questions is unfair. But I think those questions matter a little less when you dress for yourself. Because when you’re dressing for no one but yourself, you’re at your most comfortable–and when you’re at your most comfortable, you’re at your most confident. And an ugly pantsuit or peek of cleavage kind of fades into the background in the face of a truly confident woman. Martin speaks my language, though–and I love that it’s become passe to assume a feminist wouldn’t be caught dead in heels. Not least because I love me my high heels–and I don’t, in any way, consider it a contradiction to call myself a feminist while rocking an artificial five inches. On the other hand, in my closet, both Chuck and Choo are represented–and they’re equally worn.

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As it is in fortune cookies, so it is in women’s lives and the choices they face… which is to say that, while the greatest measurable strides we’ve made have been in the realm of work–even, perhaps, as a result of those strides–we’ve found ourselves stumped when it comes to the choices we face over personal stuff, too.

And I’m talking beyond the question of whether to be a stay at home mom or a working mom: I’m talking about whether to have kids at all, and love, and sex, and marriage, and divorce. And what women who’ve been there have been willing to say about it. And what women who haven’t been there yet think about the women who have been there–and what they say about it.

There was Lori Gottlieb’s widely publicized and ballyhooed essay in The Atlantic, entitled “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in which a life spent holding out for something–or someone–that would meet her great expectations is told from the perspective of the now 40-something, single mother Gottlieb. (The baby daddy? A test tube.) She writes that, as she ages, she finds herself much more willing to settle for something less than fabulous–and advises younger women that the really smart thing to do is to just settle for the balding dude with dragon breath.

Take the date I went on last night. The guy was substantially older. He had a long history of major depression and said, in reference to the movies he was writing, “I’m fascinated by comas” and “I have a strong interest in terrorists.” He’d never been married. He was rude to the waiter. But he very much wanted a family, and he was successful, handsome, and smart. As I looked at him from across the table, I thought, Yeah, I’ll see him again. Maybe I can settle for that. But my very next thought was, Maybe I can settle for better. It’s like musical chairs–when do you take a seat, any seat, just so you’re not left standing alone?

Then, on precisely the other end of the spectrum, there was Sandra Tsing Loh’s shockingly honest account of the end of her marriage, which included an offhand mention of the affair she had that precipitated it. She suggests that love has an expiration date, and that, in the face of having it all, the drudgery of reigniting that old, familiar flame seemed but a futile task on her already too-long list of To-Dos:

Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

She introduces us to her friend Rachel, married to the seemingly perfect man (who hasn’t touched Rachel in over two years). One night over martinis, Rachel announces she, too, has been thinking divorce:

Rachel sees herself as a failed mother, and is depressed and chronically overworked at her $120,000-a-year job (which she must cling to for the benefits because Ian freelances). At night, horny and sleepless, she paces the exquisite kitchen, gobbling mini Dove bars. The main breadwinner, Rachel is really the Traditional Dad, but instead of being handed her pipe and slippers at six, she appears to be marooned in a sexless remodeling project with a passive-aggressive Competitive Wife.

…In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage–or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Whew. Between she and Gottleib, it certainly seems that we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

And then there was Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, who, at the wise old age of 42, recently lamented the loss of her looks, her loneliness, and the years she spent fleeing commitment, sabotaging stability, believing she’d always have options (and a wrinkle-free face). In the piece for Elle, a longer version of which will soon arrive at bookstores near you, Wurtzel writes:

The idea of forever with any single person, even someone great whom I loved so much like Gregg, really did seem like what death actually is: a permanent stop. Love did not open up the world like a generous door, as it should to anyone getting married; instead it was the steel clamp of the iron maiden, shutting me behind its front metal hinge to asphyxiate slowly, and then suddenly. Every day would be the same forever: The body, the conversation, it would never change–isn’t that the rhythm of prison?

Reader, she cheated on him.

(Primetime television’s answer to the mature modern woman’s romantic conundrum? Cougar Town.)

I remember reading each of these women’s stories, and bring them up because they were recently culled together into a piece by 25 year-old Irina Aleksander in the New York Observer, entitled “The Cautionary Matrons.” In it, Aleksander writes:

Our mothers and grandmothers seemed to have sound instructions. But now–now that the generation of women ahead of us has begun to sound regretful, shouting at us, “Don’t end up like me!”–what we have instead are Cautionary Matrons, issuing what feel like incessant warnings.

Single 40-something women warn us about being too career-oriented and forgetting to factor in children; married women warn us that marriage is a union in which sex and fidelity are optional; and divorced women warn us to keep our weight down, our breasts up and our skin looking like Saran Wrap unless we want our husbands to later leave us for 23 year-olds.

While her take is entertaining, the quotes she includes are downright spooky: though our own context might not be the same, the sentiments are quite possibly universal. Too many choices–and opportunity cost, when picking one means you necessarily can’t have the others.

From Gottlieb, to Aleksander:

The article was like I was someone’s big sister and I was saying here’s my experience and all of the misconceptions I had… I think you guys are actually lucky because you’ll get a more mixed set of messages. When I was in my 20s, women were all about having it all and ‘a guy is great but he is not the main course.’ We got a single message and it was all, me, me, me, me, me. ‘You go girl!’ And now those of us that grew up with these messages are finally admitting that those messages of empowerment may actually conflict with what we want.

And leave it to Tsing Loh to be so candid it will make you cringe, cry, and chuckle:

[Tsing Loh] speculated about the reason for this apparent surge in matronly warnings: ‘I think because we’re really surprised!’ she screamed into the receiver. ‘In our 20s, the world was totally our oyster. All those fights had been fought. We weren’t going to be ’50s housewives, we were in college, we could pick and choose from a menu of careers, and there were all these interesting guys out there not like our dads. We were smart women who had a lot of options and made intelligent choices and that’s why we’re writing these pieces. We’re shocked!’

‘It must be very confusing,’ she said sympathetically. ‘We were the proteges of old-guard feminists: ‘Don’t have a baby, or if you must, have one, wait till your 40s.’ We were sold more of a mission plan and now you guys… Well, sadly, it all seems like kind of a mess. There is no mission. Even stay-at-home moms feel unsuccessful unless they’re canning their own marmalade and selling it on the Internet. You just have a bunch of drunk, depressed, 45-year-old ladies going, ‘A-BLAH-BLAH-BLAH.’

Again, whew.

Aleksander goes on, recounting a conversation she had with a friend about the subject:

‘They are the first generation of women who were presented with choices,’ she said. ‘I think they are in the process of reflecting on a half-century of existence and are realizing that ‘having it all’ was really a lie. Sometimes I think the idea of ‘having it all’ can almost be more disempowering than ‘having it all’ because one is never allowed enough time or energy to excel in one area of their life.’

Choices. Uncharted territory. It looks to me like yet another mirror of our whole thesis: with so many options, is it ever possible not to second-guess ourselves? to wonder about the road not traveled? to worry that the grass is greener? to find yourself paralyzed in the face of all that analysis? When do you just take a seat, any seat? And, with all the seats out there, is it ever possible to be content with the seat we’ve chosen?

I don’t know, but I’m hopeful that one day, we’ll find the answer.

In bed.

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