Is female dominance a success for feminism?

cover of atlantic magazine, featuring a pink men's symbol with a limp arrow
Hanna Rosin, Co-Editor at Double X, has the cover story of this month’s Atlantic Magazine with a piece entitled “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control–of Everything.”
This topic is a familiar one by now, not too far off from the discussions about the “he-cession“–our current recession which has seen 3/4ths of the job loss falling to men.
Rosin does a good job of really parsing the statistics about women’s increasing dominance of employment, particularly among the working class. There is one topic that is blatantly absent from her narrative: that of the extremely high rates of incarceration among low-income men of color. Men aren’t being made unemployable just by the shifting job market–they are also being kept unemployable by high rates of incarceration and discrimination towards folks with a record.
Rosin’s article brings up an issue that has been of interest to me in these recent discussions about how men are now falling behind in certain arenas, despite a stubborn gender based pay gap. Men are falling behind in higher education, receiving fewer BAs, MAs and professional degrees than women (with the exception of a few fields like business, computer programming and engineering). Women are dominating the growing sectors of our economy–things like healthcare, service and child care, whereas men dominate the dying sectors of our economy–manufacturing, construction and other blue collar industries.
For me, this brings up the question of whether such a boom in success for women (measured by the percentage of employment, wages and influence in society) is a victory for feminism?

The media attention to this issue, Rosin’s included, takes a decidedly negative view of the situation: look at the poor American man! He has no job, no life, no masculinity. Cue the reasons behind our so aggressively monitored fad of “anxious masculinity” advertising (remember the super bowl?) The cover image for this story, of the bright pink men’s symbol with a limp arrow that looks like a fallen erection, is the perfect illustration of this narrative.
In addition to bemoaning the male loss of identity, the achievements for women are not appreciated for what they are: advancements. It’s incredible that women are getting educated at such high rates, or being employed at such high percentages. Instead, the plight of women is further bemoaned because with men’s lives in the shitter, who will they date?? We know this narrative well, the thorn in the successful feminists side. Even if you have the best career you could ever imagine, you’re never going to find a man and therefore be a sad and lonely spinster.
So, is this a success for feminism? Not really.
It’s not a failure for feminism because these successful women can’t get a man. It’s a failure for feminism because the success of one sex over another is still sexism–just in reverse.
This is why I cringe every time a feminist proclaims: if women were in control, the world would be so much better! I think that’s bullshit, not just because not all women are feminists, or progressives, or even good people (like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Sarah Palin) but because that kind of shit is just plain sexist.
Arguing that women are inherently better than men is just as problematic as arguing the reverse.
Now I understand why this kind of rhetoric cropped up. When one group is so intensely oppressed and belittled by a dominant group, the tendency to try and overcompensate (not only do we not suck, we’re better than you!) makes perfect sense. But that doesn’t mean it’s good politics, or that it’s still relevant.
Women have made incredible gains in the last fifty years in the US (Rosin’s article does a great job of outlining them) and this is thanks to our feminist foremothers. This doesn’t mean sexism is dead, but it does mean that the feminist project needs to adapt.
Women’s success at the expense of men is not a feminist success. Flipping the scales in the other direction is just as problematic. So what’s the solution?
I don’t think it’s the tactics that Rosin reports on in her article: quiet affirmative action toward men trying to get into higher education, re-segregation of education to cater towards boys learning needs. If we keep up these tactics, we’re going to create a seesaw effect where women outpace men, and then men outpace women.
We need a new strategy. A less gendered one.
Feminism should be about working toward a world where no one’s life is determined by their gender identity. I’m not talking about a gender-blind strategy (because that just allows the dominant paradigm to sneak back in quietly and passively) but one that works toward true gender equity. I’m talking about the breakdown of gender based roles and stereotyping.
I think we should focus on eliminating the ways we are defined by our gender identities and how that affects what we can do, be, how we are seen. I think we need to break down notions of extreme gender difference (particularly the difference that is attributed to biology) and focus on nurturing individuals and their needs, without gender stereotyping.
The real success would be gains in education and employment across demographics of gender, race and class. That’s going to require a much broader organizing strategy than he versus she.
Update: Ann had a great response to Rosin’s article in The American Prospect last week. Check it out.

Join the Conversation