The issues raised by some of Hanna Rosin’s critics, including the much respected and admired Echdine, forced me to study The End of Men with questions somewhat different than I first did. The result was worth it, and far too interesting (to me anyway) to simply be a comment on a thread. Therefore I am making another thread to carry parts of the discussion farther.
I was surprised
at the vehemence with which some very bright women responded to the Atlantic
piece “The End of Men.” I read
it for the empirical evidence of profound change occurring and placed them
within my own understanding of what is happening. I ignored Hanna Rosin’s social and political analysis, which
largely views the gendered world as bipolar and zero sum. The absurd title is a case in
point. Echdine’s theoretically and politically perceptive take down of Rosen’s
analysis is mostly on target in my mind.
deep is going on, and it’s deeper than simply widening career choices for
women. Echdine points out that the
fertility clinic developments Rosin describes may not be accurate across a
larger population. Nevertheless, the shift the fertility clinic accounts point to is repeated, if
less dramatically, in larger statistics about child preference. And this is
very significant in my mind.
Here I might disagree a little bit with Echdine.
Maybe. Or maybe we are just
emphasizing different things. I
think agricultural civilization did ultimately denigrate women and the sacred
feminine, and I think that post agricultural civilization, if it is to survive,
must recognize the central role played by feminine values socially and
spiritually. In addition, I think that post-agricultural civilization is making
this more possible than it has ever been since the rise of agriculture and
cities. We got a first dose of the
needed shift after the war of 1812, as Sarah Pike showed, and the 60s amped it up.
But I want here
to explore Rosen’s theoretical confusions from a different and I think
complementary perspective, and suggest how when we clear them up a bit we get a
deeper appreciation of what is going on.
together and blurs three important concepts that I think are different enough
to require being distinguished: men and women, masculinity and femininity, and
patriarchy and matriarchy. In
doing so she simply apes the broad habits of our culture. But in doing so misses the bigger
patterns of what is happening.
Before I go farther I want to briefly describe what I mean by them.
Men and Women
‘women’ refer to the division of the sexes. It is a biological term.
Masculinity and Femininity
‘masculine’ refer to qualities, often analogous to yin and yang. In my view the
easiest way to distinguish between them is how they relate to boundaries. Masculine values assert, define,
strengthen, and defend boundaries.
Feminine values blur, dissolve, open, and weaken boundaries. Both men and women have masculine and
feminine traits because both are necessary for life to exist, but for reasons
of a complex interrelationship of biology and culture, on balance and in averages,
men are traditionally more masculine, women traditionally more feminine.
One of the
reasons this distinction is so will not go away and I think shed light on
Rosen’s article. So far as I know,
in every society men have to earn their manhood, through initiations, warfare,
being able to support a family (in the American case) and so on. Men often say
joining the Army “made a man” out of them. I know of no woman who says the same thing about joining the
military. Does any blog
reader? One of the issues Rosin
touches on, the increasing loss of male dominated jobs, and falling male
incomes, strikes at the core of male self-identification, although she seems
largely blind to this.
The reason, I
think, is because women are more defined by a biological trait:the ability to have
having children. This trait is not earned. It comes as a rule to any woman who
lives long enough. This issue is
rooted in both biology and culture.
research indicates that people who combine both sets of qualities often are
more creative and effective. They have more arrows in their quiver. This achievement is possible for both
men and women, but women today seem more open to it – for cultural reasons, I
imagine. I would guess that
deliberately moving towards such a balance seems to many men to undercut a
manhood already made fragile by growing powerlessness and subordination in the
rest of life. People under threat
are rarely open to new insights, as 9-11 demonstrated.
Patriarchy and Matriarchy
Finally there is
patriarchy and matriarchy. I do
not like these words, which I think confuse us more than they illuminate. Patriarchy is really domination and
emphasizes hierarchy. In my view, the most
perceptive feminists are clear on this. Women can be patriarchal in this sense. Coming from the other direction, most
men today have little power, and their subjection is traditionally made more
palatable by getting to boss underlings around: women, and lower status men.
Now their opportunities to compensate for their powerlessness within the realm
of a society rooted in domination is shrinking.
Matriarchy is a
vision found largely in science fiction and fantasy. Rosin writes of women increasingly making the decisions over
their lives, their children’s lives, and their men’s lives as “matriarchal.” But the domestic realm is traditionally
a locus of women’s power in many cultures. Where what is happening today differs is that women are
getting entrance into better positions within a dominating culture, just as
many men are losing their traditional anchors of self-esteem. Two
incompatible things are happening at the same time: women are getting more
equality and men are becoming more powerless, their self identity challenged by
this powerlessness. Women remain
subordinated by the same exploitive power relations that subordinate most men –
but their relative situation is improving even as the relative situation of
many men is declining.
There is a
rapidly growing need for men and women alike to balance the feminine and
masculine better than has traditionally been the case. This requires domination and hierarchy
to be reduced as much as possible.
In a comparative sense this is an increase in the importance of the
feminine, but as any man knows who has been a gardener or farmer, or simply a
good father or uncle, nurturing is neither male nor female. It requires knowing when to open
boundaries, and when to assert them
Confusing? Perhaps. But relations between men and women have always been
Men in Crisis
Men are in
crisis, as Rosin suggests. But not
primarily because women’s situations are often improving. Certainly not because
“patriarchy” is being replaced by “matriarchy.”
My own belief is
that we men are being caught in a double bind. We are being rendered increasingly powerless by modern
corporate society (except for the mostly male sociopaths at the top) while
women are increasingly taking advantage of a shift in economic skills from
brawn to brains. Women have no
more brains than men, but can increasingly compete with them as equals because
brains are what matters. When men
open themselves up to a more balanced integration of feminine and masculine
qualities, they will outgrow their crisis and easily take a position as women’s
I wonder whether
the appeal today of a particularly irrational and aggressive political
Fundamentalism, is evidence of this crisis in the male psyche? Here we have a male supreme God
distinguished primarily by his power, and his power distinguished primarily by
his power to punish. Who could
I suspect much of his devotion is a response from powerless men trapped
in seeing all relationships as hierarchical, and so needing to be safely
settled niche within a divine chicken yard or baboon troop. If this is so, men need to realize this
culture’s easy going acceptance of hierarchy and domination, and of power as
the ultimate arbiter up to a nasty deity in the sky, is a major cause of their
(I have modified a sentence to clarify a possible misunderstanding)