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The End of Men? Not So Fast

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Are we seeing "The End of Men?"

That's a hot media story these days. Atlantic has a cover piece titled "The End of Men," and New York magazine has a story asking if men are the second sex. The New York Times, in an article that that traveled all over the blogosphere, reported that very young girls (starting in kindergarten) are outdoing boys in gifted programs, a development the story called "Disturbing."

Men are losing power and failing, so the storyline goes, while women are succeeding and gaining power. The Atlantic goes so far as to suggest that women will replace men in the "broad striving middle class" that defines society and provides leaders."

Of course, a quick reality check raises some questions on that score. The president is male, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is male, the fifty highest-paid CEOs are male. Nearly all American billionaires are male, or widows of males, with the exception of Oprah Winfrey. Only 17 US senators are female, much less than a third.

We should remember that the second wave of feminism crested some forty years ago. And, as barriers fell, women rushed into universities and the workforce. But the gender gap in wages has hardly budged. After all the "Years of the Women," progress has been fairly slow. In fact, despite all the articles and books about how women are scrambling up the ladder in the business world, they are actually slipping backwards.

In my state, Massachusetts, a report co-sponsored by Bentley University and the Boston Club found "overall women are losing ground in business."

Only 8.6 percent of the executives in 100 of Massachusetts's public companies are females. Fifty-six of the companies employ only male executives, the highest since 2003, when tallies were taken for the first time. "The 2009 Census tells a story of stagnation and decline regarding women in corporate leadership in Massachusetts," the researchers said.

This picture prevails nationally.

The research group Catalyst reports that among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world -- "women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs. Reports of progress in advancement, compensation, and career satisfaction are at best overstated, at worst just plain wrong."

The "End of Men" stories not only exaggerate women's progress and success but also present the worst possible scenarios for men. But men have never been one homogeneous mass. White boys from the economic class that has always held power aren't dropping out of college. They are where they always were -- in the Ivies, which are more male than female. Suburban boys do not avoid college -- but lower middle class boys too often do, and they may need college desperately in the emerging information economy. Poor boys are, of course, in real trouble.

Women hold a small edge in college attendance -- they hold some 54 percent of seats. Part of the gap may be explained by the fact that African American women are now going to college at rates higher than African American men. Researcher Jacqueline King, author of a study on the gender gap in college, emphasizes that it is widest among blacks (63% women to 37% men in the latest figures), Hispanics (57% to 43%) and, in her analysis, lower-income whites (54% to 46%). "It's not middle-class white young men who aren't going to college," she says. And an enrollment boom among older women is further skewing the numbers.

But, as a Sloan Foundation-funded report puts it, "Women Lead in College but not in the Workforce."

"Women's earnings, relative to those of men, have not kept up with their gains in educational attainment. Part of this difference reflects the higher concentration of men in higher-paying fields, including the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering. At the college level, fewer women than men take courses in science-related fields."

The "End of Men" scare stories are predicated on the female edge in college classes, but if the past is any guide, women will continue to lead in college but not in the workforce. In the Atlantic piece, author Hanna Rosin interviewed girls about their expectations. One young undergraduate who wants to go to medical school says she will be the "hotshot" surgeon and her future husband will be "At home playing with the kiddies."

There's a realistic scenario. (This is data?)

In writing about female power in the Atlantic, Rosin cites studies of low-income women in Philadelphia and quotes the researcher, "I think something feminists have missed is how much power women have" when they're not bound by marriage. The women, she explained, "make every important decision" -- whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live. "It's definitely 'my way or the highway.""

On what planet is low-income women making domestic decisions defined as "power?" The Masters of the Universe are shaking in their boots.

And as for those gifted kindergartners, we've known since the 1920s and Lewis Terman's studies that girls mature earlier than boys and test better. By middle school, the boys catch up.

So the "End of Men" story is silly. But it sells. It plays on men's very real fears about a depressed economy, the ravages of globalization, the future of work, the decline of manufacturing and the sense that America is losing its way.

The gender lens is pretty much irrelevant to all this, but it's sexy, so it sells.

Expect more of the same.

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