Friday, September 14, 2012

A Feminist Dystopia

The review comes as a surprise. This Sunday the New York Times will publish Jennifer Homans’ extended and excellent review of Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Man.

I critiqued the book in a post yesterday and have commented on it here and here.

The review surprises because it takes serious issue with Rosin. While Homans, as I understand, considers herself something of a feminist, she has no patience with Rosin’s sloppy thinking.

Homans summarizes the book’s argument:

The revolution feminists have been waiting for, she says, is happening now, before our very eyes. Men are losing their grip, patriarchy is crumbling and we are reaching “the end of 200,000 years of human history and the beginning of a new era” in which women — and womanly skills and traits — are on the rise. Women around the world, she reports, are increasingly dominant in work, education, households; even in love and marriage. 

But, Homans responds, Rosin is not describing a brave new feminist utopia; she is describing a dystopia, a world in the process of “social collapse:”

But this “rise,” which Rosin so cheerfully reports, is in fact a devastating social collapse. It starts with inequality and class division. As Rosin herself shows, men at “the top” of society are not “ending.” It is all happening to the lower and middle classes, because “the end of men” is the end of a manufacturing-based economy and the men who worked there, many of whom are now unemployed, depressed, increasingly dependent on the state and women to support them. We know the numbers, and they are bad: since 2000 the manufacturing economy has lost six million jobs, a third of its total work force — much of it male. In 1950, 1 in 20 men in their prime were not working; today the number is a terrifying 1 in 5.

She notes also that this new social organization corresponds to the dysfunctional culture in the African-American community, an indigenous American matriarchy.

Homans writes:

And so, a new matriarchy is emerging, run by young, ambitious, capable women who — faced with men who can’t or won’t be full partners — are taking matters into their own hands…. But as Rosin herself points out, the new matriarchy is no feminist paradise. To the contrary: we have been here before with African-American women, and it is not a happy story.

Apparently, Rosin believes that women are more suited for the new modern economy because they are more “plastic” than men. She considers men to be “cardboard.”

Homans points out that the term “plastic” is ill chosen. Not only does it suggest plastic surgery, but it leads us to believe that these women are unreal and inauthentic.

According to Homas, Rosin has created a pair of caricatures and has driven them aground:

In the end, there is something smug — and wrong — about Rosin’s depiction of “Plastic Woman.” Is it really a good idea to say that we are, by gender if not by sex, open, empathic, flexible, patient, prone to communal problem-solving and the like? We’ve known for a long time that men do not hold a monopoly on being rigid, hierarchical, close-minded or authoritarian. Yet the women in this book are almost all organized go-getters, whereas the men come across as lazy, unambitious couch potatoes.


David Foster said...

"the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus”

Actually, many service-economy jobs require very little in the way of social intelligence because they are so highly proceduealized and center workers, cashiers, etc. And at the management levels, I see no evidence that a supervisor in an insurance claims-processing department needs more social intelligence than an equivalent supervisor in a manufacturing plant.

Re the ability to focus, how is this required in today's talked-about jobs more than in a traditional machining or even assembly job, or in a mechanical engineering role?

Dennis said...
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