Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ann Friedman - The End of the American Man?

Ann Friedman, of The American Prospect, responds to the recent article in The Atlantic on men ("The End of Men") with her own piece, The End of the American Man?, picked up by AlterNet. She offers one of the most coherent counter arguments to the Atlantic article that I have seen.

This is the link to the original article at The American Prospect- It's Not the End of Men. Here are a couple of brief excerpts.
With each step that American women have taken on the road to equality, detractors have fretted about what their advancement means for men -- particularly the "manly man." The lumber jack. The quarterback. The captain of industry. Clint Eastwood.

Sure, we occasionally see articles lamenting the end of traditional femininity and the difficulty of finding a submissive woman who derives all of life's pleasure from nurturing her family. But a far more common modern lament is the demise of masculinity. In 2000, Susan Faludi explored "the betrayal of the American man" in Stiffed. In 2001, Christina Hoff Sommers decried The War on Boys. In 2005, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that "this is turning into a woman's world," and Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens published a book about "saving our sons from falling behind in school and in life." In 2006, Harvey Mansfield eulogized Manliness, and a Newsweek cover story again warned of an impending "boy crisis." Last summer, in Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam declared the economic crisis a "he-cession."

After a few paragraphs summarizing the argument Rosin presented in The Atlantic - and refuting some of the more obvious flaws that argument, she gets to her point:

When it comes to what determines which Americans succeed in this economy, race and class completely overshadow gender. Yet the conversation keeps returning to the decline of men. "The working class," she writes, "which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions." She describes single mothers who are "struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children. Still, they are in charge." As if it is audacious for hard-working single mothers to want control over their lives and those of their children!
This is the crux of her objection. She proceeds to dismantle the lame pop-culture references in the Rosin's article. None of them hold up under scrutiny.

A little earlier in the article, she points out the problem most articles on the decline of men and the death of masculinity fail to note - it's about gender stereotypes, not biological sex. As long as our culture tries to stuff men into limited and limiting gender roles, while supporting women in the expansion of their own options, men will feel left out, set adrift, and (more obviously if you read some of the men's rights blogs) downright angry.

Men can do more than crunch numbers for corporations, dig ditches and build houses, mine coal or assemble cars, and carry weapons into war - we can nurse the sick, teach our children, and raise their own kids as stay-at-home dads. Why should men be limited to gender roles that have become antiquated in the 21st Century? And why should only women see the expansion of their options?

As I suggested in my response to Rosin's article, she is correct in observing that the workforce is changing, and that it will favor more right-brain, interpersonal skills (traditionally considered women's skills), but there is no reason men cannot also utilize these skills in the workplace - they are human skills, not only women's skills.

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