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.

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36 Comments

  1. konkonsn
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I watched the interview with Rosin on Colbert last night, and it made me cringe. I wanted Colbert to bring up the deeper issues that this article was obviously missing, but either because of the character he was playing or because he and his writers were of the same he-cession mindset as Rosin, it never happened. It really irked me when she kept talking about Affirmative Action for men, completely misunderstanding what AA is and does as well as the idea that, hey, men still aren’t doing so shitty in a world where they still outearn women.

  2. GalFawkes
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Colbert was just in character. I wouldn’t assume that he actually agreed with Rosin. And I think when he brought up the idea of men being nannies, he was actually sincere. Rosin on the other hand, laughed.

  3. Dev
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    konkonsn, I watched it too and agree. Men don’t have it too shabby. Their numbers are slipping…and as the article points out, there are areas of concern that should be examined. But I’m trying hard to understand how this is directly related to rising success of women in areas of education and employability. It implies that this could not been happening if there wasn’t some sort of man-crisis going on that is making room for these otherwise unexceptional women to come into the foreground. I don’t buy it. Also, I’m waiting for someone to point out that this is the same Hannah Rosin who wrote The Case Against Breastfeeding. I admit I haven’t read this article, but if the title and the way it’s being presented on the cover are any indication, I don’t expect it to have much nuanced analysis. All this is going to do is drive up the sales of Axe body spray and not inspire discussion of the true root causes of anything.

  4. Mama Mia
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone else look at that cover image and think it represents a failed erection? It is interesting to me that everything has to tie back to a man’s successful sexuality and virility. As if the idea that women might do well in some way automatically means men are now failures in what matters most- sex.

  5. Diana Landen
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Women getting ahead because men can’t get jobs is not progress. It’s not even helpful for the women. The wives of the unemployed men lose income they need to support their families. In some cases, they lose health insurance.
    At the same time, I think Rosin overstates her case. Nearly 80% of wives are married to men who earn more than they do. Even with the majority of college degrees going to women, men are still the ones going into the lucrative science and math careers. The decline in jobs for bankers is temporary and doesn’t affect that many men.
    It’s true that good jobs for working class men are vanishing, but I don’t see how that helps working class women. Who wants to support a family by yourself with a job in the service sector – especially in a world of two-income families?
    The oddest thing about her argument on working class women is that she lists growth fields as things like home health care aide and day care. Those are rotten jobs, not a wonderful opportunity.

  6. TD
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Also, I’m waiting for someone to point out that this is the same Hannah Rosin who wrote The Case Against Breastfeeding. I admit I haven’t read this article, but if the title and the way it’s being presented on the cover are any indication, I don’t expect it to have much nuanced analysis.
    I’m truly impressed, such a well research and nuanced position.
    I’d be fascinated to hear your approach to current economic indicators. Don’t worry, research is not necessary just read the title of each graph and draw your conclusions on how phrases like Consumer Price Index make you feel.

  7. makomk
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm, those seem like some marginally controversial suggestions. Especially the one that “Arguing that women are inherently better than men is just as problematic as arguing the reverse.”
    Of course, the argument would be even more controversial if it wasn’t based on a gender-reversed version of the old gender-blindness. Think about the gender of those “breaking down notions of gender difference” and making the decisions on how to do so. Consider how someone’s gender affects your acceptance of their views on gender. There’s a fairly obvious pattern within feminism – and within broader society – where only women and people labeled as female at birth have anything worthwhile to say on gender roles.
    Also, it’s probably a good thing the mass incarceration of low-income men of colour has been skipped. I’ve mentioned it before, but have you seen the comments people have left on this Feministe piece? Apparently, there are a lot of feminists – especially women of colour – who believe that many black men are fundamentally violent and need to be locked up en masse. There’s no analysis of why such a disproportionate number are imprisoned: these commenters just treat it as the result of an evil in them that has no cause or explanation.

  8. kisekileia
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I really like this post, Miriam.
    I think one of the next tasks for feminism is to broaden what society considers to be gender-appropriate behaviour for men. We’ve made great progress in broadening the range of acceptable behaviour for women. We’ve gone from not letting women wear pants to having equal male:female ratios among recent graduates in traditionally male-dominated fields like law and medicine. (I do realize that this has not occurred in all traditionally male-dominated fields.) However, it is still seen as strange for a man to be a nurse, daycare worker, or other member of the caring professions. Boys playing with dolls are considered far more aberrant than girls playing with trucks. There has been progress in reducing the strictness of socially prescribed roles for men–hence the increase in stay-at-home dads. However, there’s still a long way to go–a longer way than for women.
    Making sure that people’s paths in life are not dictated by their gender identities or assignments is absolutely a type of feminism I can get behind.

  9. gwye
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Colbert, will on occasion, break character to roast his guests. See his interview of Julian Assange.

  10. pokemontaco.wordpress.com
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    “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.”
    Exactly. Women have been kept out of blue collar and physical work a great deal, and so have had to get a college degree to have a job. Get a high-paying job right out of high school or invest 4-8 years and take on an ungodly debt in the hopes that you might be able to score a decent position some day? … Yep, men went to college less because they’re so discriminated against.
    It’s the fault of misogyny and discrimination against women that the jobs that are now being cut or eliminated are made up mostly of men. If less people had been sexist the job loss would be hitting the sexes more equally.

  11. Comrade Kevin
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I try through the example of my life to seek to find an attitude that cuts through strict gender distinctions and reaches the humanity inside of us all. My faith factors into this quite considerably because I believe that if I am truly doing the will of God and truly allowing the Spirit to speak through me, I am working for everyone, and arbitrary human distinctions, regardless of what they might be, are totally irrelevant.

  12. gwye
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    -I do think it’s time to modify some of our strategies in the wake of women’s success. For example, now that women are over represented at universities, no scholarships should be female-only unless they are in areas where men are still overrepresented. (Women in engineering, fine. Women in psychology, no.)
    -Opportunity is not a like a pie. If a woman wants a bigger slice of pie, she has to take some pie from someone else. But if a woman has greater opportunities, that in itself will provide opportunities for other people. More women with careers = more men who don’t have to provide for them.
    -Ann’s quote at the end really sums it up.
    It’s long past time we also acknowledge that the best woman for the job might just be a man.
    Women will never be able to do men’s work until men are free to do women’s work. That’s why you Feministing keeps running articles promoting men’s participation in areas that are traditionally seen as feminine.

  13. Athenia
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I worry that women dominated jobs and fields won’t be taken seriously because they are female dominated.
    While I hope there’s change, I don’t see that as a victory yet.

  14. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree. Hearing some of the audience comments from the men seemed a little uncalled for.

  15. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, this reminds me of another fear mongering article by a magazine that uses hyperbole to get readers.I also dont understand how womens successes should be played out as ‘the end of men,’ or something bad for men. I mean, we earned it against alot of opposition.

  16. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow, totally uncalled for.

  17. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone else think that TDs response is sexist? Why are you focusing on saying she just ‘felt’ that way? Its true. Its a mag not a intense analysis of anything. Its meant to sell papers and hyperbole sells better. Clearly as you seem to have fallen prey to it. You might be smart to take your own advice and not focus on how youre ‘feeling,’ but think beyond the insecure hyperreactionarianism.

  18. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    And what kept men from wanting to be nurses in the first place? Was it because they thought it was less masculine and somewhat embarassing, ie less manly?

  19. IAmGopherrr
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    They have male only scholarships in professions dominated by men and vice versa. Its not wrong to have a gender specific scholarship.

  20. Tabs
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    My friend, Nathan, posted this article to my Facebook. The responses went like this:
    [Me]
    “Men, it turned out, had a harder time committing to school, even when they desperately needed to retool. They tended to start out behind academically, and many felt intimidated by the schoolwork. They reported feeling isolated and were much worse at seeking out fellow students, study groups, or counselors to help them adjust. Mothers going back to… See More school described themselves as good role models for their children. Fathers worried that they were abrogating their responsibilities as breadwinner.”
    So here is part of the issue. Going along with ideas of hegemonic masculinity, we have dudes who do not want to go to school for fear of ‘abrogating their responsibilities are breadwinner.’ So maybe, instead of blaming women and treating men as victims (they aren’t), we ought look at our basic ideas of gender roles and traditions.
    “What’s clear is that schools, like the economy, now value the self-control, focus, and verbal aptitude that seem to come more easily to young girls.
    Researchers have suggested any number of solutions. A movement is growing for more all-boys schools and classes, and for respecting the individual learning styles of boys. Some people think that boys should be able to walk around in class, or take more time on tests, or have tests and books that cater to their interests. In their desperation to reach out to boys, some colleges have formed football teams and started engineering programs. Most of these special accommodations sound very much like the kind of affirmative action proposed for women over the years—which in itself is an alarming flip.”
    I don’t think self-control, focus, and verbal aptitude ARE more natural for girls. “Natural.” I think it has a lot to do, again, with gender performance expectations, i.e. the way boys & girls are disciplined in school and how they’re expected to behave.
    “In fact, the more women dominate, the more they behave, fittingly, like the dominant sex.”
    …Everything is wrong with this. And as for the Super Bowl adverts, they were ridiculously sexist, often saying that women somehow stunted men from reaching their Alpha potential by “making” their men treat them like human beings. Ridiculous, I know.
    [het, cis lady, Karen]
    Everything IS wrong with this! Bottom line, apply yourself or don’t. Be a dumbass or a Rhodes Scholar but don’t blame someone else (women!) for your lack of education and/or moving up the food chain of life! Women stunted men??? Check out the work force. See how much John Doe grosses vs. what Jane Doe grosses for DOING THE SAME JOB!!! Often times with Jane Doe having an extended higher education and more work
    experience! Unbelievable and another great post Tabitha!
    [(het, cis (I think!) Nathan]
    I think Rosin says the wage gap is just a dying gasp of male institutional control. Isn’t it closing every year?
    [Karen]
    Which begs the question, in the year 2010 why are we still at the point of “closing in?” – And I apologize Nathan, it was your great post! :)
    [Me]
    Oh, I don’t know about dying gasp. It seems pretty kicking to me.

  21. genericjanedoe
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I figured that was what it was supposed to represent and I agree!

  22. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t think women’s success has to be at the expense of men’s success. Women aren’t stealing anything from men or oppressing men for their own personal gains. They’re not shutting out men and relegating them to lesser work. That would be the reverse of what has been happening since the beginning of time. It just so happens that, in a recession, profit-driven work gets outsourced so that a lot of rich guys (they’re almost always guys) stay as rich or get richer. That leaves more of a need for social welfare programs, which are dominated by women. These jobs typically pay low (because they’re dominated by women), but they’re always needed, so there’s job security in helping fields. They can’t be outsourced. Furthermore, helping professionals are more likely to take a pay or benefit cut to continue their jobs, because they value helping over making money. What you and Rosin are doing is straight up scapegoating.

  23. Vasa
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Re: “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.”
    This *sounds* good but I’m not seeing much substance in this statement. What are you saying we should actually *do* about this?

  24. Shy Mox
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    It is interesting, I was reading earlier today that Freudian psychologists would often blame male sexual inadequacies or even criminal acts like indecent exposure on the fact that they had “masculine”, dominating women in their lives o.O If a woman is in charge, men go flaccid, didn’t you know?

  25. Dev
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    I agree with you on that, TD, that was my point. No, I’m not suggesting I’m making a well researched argument as far as the article goes, but I do think it’s obvious that there is some intent to generate a reaction and fear mongering with how it is presented. All I’m saying is the expectation I have based on how it’s presented which I don’t think is out of line to point out. I did not say I don’t intend to actually read it.

  26. j7sue2
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    One reason women have been doing better than men, if that’s so, in the job market is, I think still sexist. Women are seen to be the second income earner, therefore can be put on zero hours contracts, in nonunionised, flexibilised working situations. Men are still expecting “proper jobs”(TM) with regular hours and the expectation of sufficient continuity to, for example, pay the mortgage. Global capitalism doesn’t like to be committed to those, and is much happier paying less than a living wage ( snark on>because after all women only work for pin money

  27. gwye
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Really? I didn’t know this. Can you point one out to me?

  28. Dev
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Exactly, IAmGopherrr-this is being put out there as something that is going to wipe men off the face of the earth and make them completely unnecessary. Even just typing that makes me feel like a crazy person but it doesn’t seem that far fetched that that is the reaction they are looking for. That’s why I mentioned the other article Rosin wrote because it was put out in a similar way, with a very black and white inflammatory statement in the title and no information in it to actually support that. If their goal is to make the success of women seem like a really scary thing they’re doing a pretty good job.

  29. Kurumi & Cheese
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    The thing I can’t stand about the “men can’t learn because of women” thing is that men seemed to learn JUST FINE back in the days when education was rigid, structured, disciplined, and NO GIRLS ALLOWED!
    If you’re going to tell me that sitting for a long time and focus and self control are all female traits, then how come women aren’t traditionally the ones going to military academies and becoming soldiers? Sounds to me like men aren’t cut out for that kind of work. Maybe they should be staying home doing laundry and chasing after kids instead of sitting in an office all day.
    And I say this as a woman who gets very antsy when sitting for long periods of time and has horrible focus. Don’t tell me girls are better at sitting at desks. Anyone who has ever gone to a movie with me knows how restless I get. I got through school because I can follow rules, not because I’m better at sitting.

  30. chocolatepie
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I really think this article misses the boat. Just because women may have greater numbers in the workforce doesn’t mean they have more power. This is more of an economic than a gender-based phenomenon. High-paying jobs are disappearing due to our contracting economy. Higher-paying jobs historically go to men. Cue corresponding rise in low-paying jobs and an aging population needing more medical care, jobs historically done by women, and you have a “boom” of women in the workplace that doesn’t equal any sort of real gain in prestige.
    Not to mention that one of the reasons women get more higher education than men is that they need it to make the same amount as a less educated man. A man with a high school diploma may make as much or even more than a woman with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D because of the pay rates of “male” occupations like manufacturing, construction, or what have you. These are the jobs that are disappearing.
    In the same way that receding skin gives an illusion of hair and nails growing after death, the elimination of male-dominated professions gives an illusion of a female-dominated economy.

  31. Anonymous
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    This:
    Not to mention that one of the reasons women get more higher education than men is that they need it to make the same amount as a less educated man. A man with a high school diploma may make as much or even more than a woman with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D because of the pay rates of “male” occupations like manufacturing, construction, or what have you.
    Your observation says is all.

  32. Cassius
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    These sorts of articles pop up every couple years or so, but guess what, if a man plans to become a stay at home dad to a career woman, well his chances are still pretty slim.

  33. pokemontaco.wordpress.com
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Why wouldn’t *anyone* want to be a nurse? Well I’d imagine the long hours (some nurses have to work *insane* hours, especially with a shortage) you’re on your feet, it’s difficult, wearying work, it can be very emotionally heavy as well, which varies on where you work, but if you work in the emergency room, children’s hospitals, etc it can wear you down fast, not to mention nurses don’t get much respect.
    It takes a bachelor’s degree as well (there are shorter-term deals now I think), so there’s the whole time-and-money investment. Nursing is not easy work, and it doesn’t pay all that much more than a good factory job or many other jobs you can get without a college degree. Mostly jobs that are much easier to get if you’re a man.
    The gendered-scholarship can work toward correcting the ratio in *college degree required professions*. They can help a woman that wants to get into working in the engineering or comp sci field, but they don’t do jack for equalizing menial or blue-collar jobs.
    Though helping someone to get a degree and helping to make that field women-friendly are two different things. No one wants to go into a position where they’ll be treated like shit, heavily discriminated against. Not to mention reasons why women don’t excel in those fields in the first place- we’ve all seen the psychological studies that say if you’re told you’ll underperform in a subject, you actually *will* perform less well in it.
    I can still remember my struggles with math being dismissed as “it’s okay, girls never do well in math.”

  34. TD
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    The decline in jobs for bankers is temporary and doesn’t affect that many men.
    You should really look at where the jobs are being lost before you make your criticisms. The heaviest hit industries are fields like construction, on top of that virtually every recession prone industry industry is predominantly men (by contrast, the highly stable fields of nursing, education, etc. are predominantly women)
    Overall every young job seeker is facing tremendous difficulty. This recession is by no means just a loss of jobs in banking, the hit to the financial sector has resulted in a loss of financing which is an entirely different beast.

  35. TD
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Its not about how she felt about the article, she didn’t read the article, that was the point. Certainly plenty of headlines are designed to play to gut reactions, but the headline should not be the basis on which you judge the author, who more often than not had no role in writing the thing.

  36. Tabs
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we distract them with our (collectively) shiny hair and (collectively) soft skin?
    The argument, again, that focus and sitting are female “traits” or, what?, somehow biologically linked to the two XX chromosomes is stupid, I think. I mean, we expect boys to be rowdy, we teach girls to be demure and listen to rules, etc etc etc. It seems to me that THAT would have maybe a little something to do with it.

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