There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent Atlantic cover story about the End of Men. Even Stephen Colbert brought the author, Hanna Rosin, on his show. Most of the commentary on the Atlantic site seems to indicate that readers never got past the title and assumed the article was hostile toward men, rather than concerned about them.
(Look. I have a son who just applied to colleges that are all 60% female. Don’t think for one second that I’m not concerned, even pissed, about this. More on that another time.)
But actually, the article, which argues that men are falling behind at work, on the homefront, and in school isn’t anti-men. If anything, at least how I read it, it’s a little melancholic. Rosin argues that certain male behaviors and perhaps attitudes have made them less adaptive to the post-industrial (and, I would suggest, post-agricultural, post-hunting, post-military) economy.
When it comes to Rosin’s assertions about women’s greater “adaptability,” here’s my hypothesis: women are currently rocking because of always having been Plan B. When you’re the fallback, you cannot fail. Men went off to war, and the women stayed behind. Women had to do women’s work and men’s work. Women had to rig up systems for the heavy lifting. Work arounds, whatever it took.
If the village got attacked, women had to fight off the invaders. If women got raped, women had to survive. If the invaders moved in, women made accommodations. If there was plague, women nursed the survivors.
If women lost children, women coped. If husbands lost jobs, women went to work. Women dealt, and dealt, and dealt. Of course that makes you more adaptable.
Whereas men had the option of dying/being killed, going insane, becoming drunks, losing their jobs. Failure was always an option.
That’s the simple version, and it wasn’t always that simple. Of course there men who coped.
But for most of history, women have been Plan B.
In the fallback role, you learn to adapt because you have to. You learn to be less specialized. More versatile.
(For more on the above photo, check out this cool blog: http://thefbomb.org/2009/07/wwii-women-pilots-honored/)
This hallowed multitasking ability of women? I don’t for one minute believe that men can’t multitask, or that women are naturally better. I sucked at it till I had a kid. Then I had to learn. I noticed that my ex-husband later married someone who was even worse at multitasking than I was. Nowadays he drives down the road talking on a cell phone, steering with his knees, jotting notes. AND handing toys and bottles to his two toddlers in the backseat. (Get off the road when you see him coming.)
But when he was married to me? He would sit in the kitchen drinking a beer, after his “hard” day, watching me as I prepared dinner, changed a diaper, carried on a phone conversation (with his mother, probably), and mapped out a strategy for stopping an environmental catastrophe involving a local gold mine, all while shaking his head and claiming he could never do all that at once.
So, according to me, one reason why men may not have been able to adapt to the “new reality” is that women have been backing them up. I’m not sure this is going to get better, unfortunately, with the current trend in helicopter parenting. I’ve read articles about mothers—professional women—who drive hours to do laundry for their sons at college, as if these women didn’t have enough to do. And I’m judging them for that.
Judging us all.