AFTER CENTURIES OF OPPRESSION, women have won the day at last, and "pulled decisively ahead [of men] by almost every measure." This is the key argument made by Hanna Rosin in a new book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women. Mainly, it turns out, she means that there are more women enrolling in and graduating from college now than there are men, and that their ranks in the business world, in the professions, and in politics are swelling: natural enough developments in an increasingly egalitarian society that has seen its male-dominated manufacturing sector decimated in recent decades. The big question for this reader is why — at the very moment when we almost have people respecting one another as equals — we would be talking about "The End" of anybody. I don't want anybody to End; I don't buy for an instant that Men are Ending, and I can't bring myself to believe that much of anyone else will, either.
Rosin makes her case in a series of chapters loosely organized around the idea that economic power has irrevocably altered the various roles of women in U.S. culture. In "Hearts of Steel: Single Girls Master the Hook-Up," she praises the freedom that young women have gained as a benefit of what she calls the "hook-up culture" of modern university life, making a contrast with her own college days in the late 1980s. Her claim is that this new sexual freedom makes it possible for women to pursue their careers more effectively, with less distraction. "The most patient and thorough research about the hook-up culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don't derail their careers."
This description has fit U.S. sexual mores for women for over 50 years. From the moment contraception became widely available to American women, they have been able to enjoy sexual freedom "without commitment or all that much shame" and to avoid marriage if they choose. The salient point, then and now, is not so much "without commitment" as "without fear of conception." Women still face the same basic questions: career vs. family; commitment vs. fancy-freedom; finding a mate who will support our ambitions, and whose ambitions we, in turn, can support. Many of us who came of age during the time of great sexual permissiveness before the advent of AIDS find the current generation much like our own, or if anything a little bit more careful: a mixed bag, with some very "adventurous" people and some far less so. There's nothing new, in other words, about "hook-up culture."
Serious omissions have been made in presenting some of the research in The End of Men. For example, Rosin cites an article in the New York Times ('For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage') as evidence that women don't need men as much as they used to. They're having babies "outside marriage." But the article in question says that "[a]lmost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together." This would suggest that it's the institution of marriage, not the presence of men, that has declined.
Rosin goes on to quote UVA sociologist Brad Wilcox: "The family changes over the past four decades have been bad for men and bad for kids, but it is not clear they are bad for women." So,...read more