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Christina Patterson

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The End of Men? No, But it's Time for Women to Fight

Posted: 10/04/2012 10:49 am

It almost makes you laugh. The idea that Western society is facing "the end of men" almost makes you titter a bit hysterically. It almost makes you want to sit down with a cup of coffee, and perhaps a cake, but definitely not a cupcake, and ask the American journalist who thinks it is if she's mad.

Hanna Rosin created quite a stir when she wrote an article called The End of Men, and she has now written a book called The End of Men. She has looked at a lot of statistics and decided that, for men, the game is up.

"In 2009," she says, "for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women." Women, she says, "dominate colleges and professional schools on every continent except Africa." The U.S. economy, she says, is "becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood." Personality tests, she says, "show men tiptoeing into new territory, while women race into theirs." We have, she thinks, reached a "tipping point" and when the pendulum swings, men will be left behind.

In certain areas, she's right. In big parts of America, Britain and Europe, where men used to work in mines, shipyards and factories, and now sit around waiting for their next benefit check, she's right. In areas like this, where the work that men used to do has gone, and the new work, if there is any, isn't the kind of work they're good at, she's right. In areas like this, it's often the women who get the jobs, while the men they live with, or often don't live with, stay at home.

But the end of men? The end of men in charge in politics, media, law, medicine, business and banks? The end of men running newspapers, broadcasting corporations, political parties and countries? Yes, it's nice that, as Rosin says, Iceland has a woman prime minister who wants to end the "age of testosterone." It's always nice when Nordic countries with tiny populations and very good childcare give big jobs to women. But it's also nice when women journalists who are trying to sell a lot of books can tell the difference between an argument and a trend.

If Hanna Rosin were to come to Britain, which, she says, is facing the same shift in gender power as her country, she might want to switch on the telly. If she did, she would probably notice that most of the politicians who were interviewed were men, and most of the bankers who were interviewed were men, and most of the lawyers who were interviewed were men. She might notice that most of the people who were interviewing them were also men, and so were most of the people who were interviewing them on the radio. And if, for example, she were to flick through the newspapers, she might notice that about 80 percent of the articles in them were written by men, and so were most of the books that are reviewed.

If Hanna Rosin noticed these things, she might think that we all knew why they happened, and that you didn't really have to spell it out. She might talk about culture. She might talk about ambition. She might, in fact, say what we all know: many women don't write books or run countries or banks, because it takes quite a lot of effort to write a book or run a country or a bank, and it's hard to make that effort if you're looking after children as well.

Hanna Rosin might say that nobody is actually discriminating against these women, and that if they don't put in the work, they can't expect the rewards. And if she did, she might be right. If you don't put in the work, you can't expect the rewards. If you leave work hours before your colleagues and don't get a promotion, it may be upsetting, but it isn't unfair. But Hanna Rosin might also notice that a fifth of British women, and a fifth of American women, don't have children, and when it comes to women graduates, it's nearly a third. She might wonder why these women, who aren't leaving the office early, aren't rising to the top.

And she might notice that women who have had children, but are now at an age when they don't have to rush home from work to put them to bed, also aren't rising to the top. She might, for example, laugh when she saw the sneer on Jeremy Paxman's face when he said on Newsnight on Monday, that it was "absurd" to define the old as "over 60." She might think that it was all very well for people like Jeremy Paxman, who is 62, and people like John Humphrys, who is 69, to laugh at the idea that 60 was "old," but that it didn't seem quite so funny to the women newsreaders who had been sacked because their (no longer quite such smooth) faces "didn't fit".

She might think of all the women who had dedicated themselves to their career and who had thought, perhaps naively, that they were doing quite well at climbing a ladder and who suddenly found that they were being pushed aside. She might think that it seemed to have to do, in certain industries, with a cult of youth, but that that cult didn't seem to apply to men.

And Hanna Rosin might think, as Harriet Harman, who has just set up a commission to address discrimination against women over the age of 50, clearly thinks, that this cult was so stupid that it almost made you laugh. She might want to remind the people who run the media that about a third of the British population is over 50, and that for many of these people 50 actually seems quite young.

If Hanna Rosin really thinks men are on their way out, she might wonder why it's nearly always men who think that their opinion is something that someone else wants to hear. She might want to say that although the media is only one industry, among many industries, it's the one that influences other industries by setting the tone. And if she really wants a society that edges towards a "tipping point," a tipping point where women don't have all the power, but have a little bit more than they do now, she should do this: She should tell women over 50 and under 50 that they need to learn to play the games that will get them seen and heard. She should tell them, in other words, that the time has come to stop being nice, stop being modest, stop being victims and fight.

 

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