Sunday, September 30, 2012

Andy Hinds on His Experience in Hanna Rosin's The End of Men

In an interview with in The Guardian (UK), Hanna Rosin says she feels miscast in the gender wars, despite the incendiary title of her book, The End of Men. O'Kelly asks her about the stereotyping she employs in the book (men as lazy, women as achievers), and Rosin confesses that it's a fair criticism, but she also defends it:

How do you respond to critics who accuse you of 21st-century stereotyping in your portrayal of women as organised go-getters and men as lazy, unambitious couch potatoes?

I actually think that is a fair criticism. I was trying to capture a certain little slice of society, so I was intentionally looking for couples who exemplified the changing dynamic and it was only when I put the whole thing together that I realised there was an echo in couple after couple. At the very end of the book, I do talk about men's capacity for flexibility, especially at key moments in history, such as the end of both world wars. But it's true that as a series of portraits it does emit certain stereotypes and I don't know what to say about that. I'll have to fix that in my next book.
Someone who no doubt agrees that he was stereotyped - and even caricatured - is Andy Hines, one of the subjects for her research who feels he was misrepresented in the book. He writes about it in a recent column at The Daily Beast. Hines writes at his personal blog, Beta Dad, as well as DadCentric, Aiming Low.

Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men Turned Me Into a Caricature

I’m a happy and satisfied stay-at-home dad. So why did Hannah Rosin turn my story upside down for her bestselling polemic? Andy Hinds calls the author and asks her.

Last year, I responded to a survey on Slate that asked readers in marriages where the wife earned more money about their relationships with their spouses. The survey was conducted by Hannah Rosin, in connection with an article she was writing about “breadwinning wives.” The survey results were eventually incorporated into her bestselling book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.

If you haven’t read it already, The End of Men essentially argues that men in the United States (and pretty much everywhere else) are falling behind women in all facets of life. In school and in the workplace, women have made huge strides over the past few decades, while men have failed to adapt to the new economic and social realities that have obliterated “a power arrangement that’s prevailed for most of history.” Furthermore, according to Rosin, even as we men quickly ebb into marketplace obsolescence, those of us with families continue to be slacker manchildren in the home, unable to overcome sloppy parenting, haphazard home economics, and fealty to bro culture.

After I took her survey last year, Rosin contacted me directly, which led to an email exchange and then a long telephone interview in which I spilled my guts about my experience as a stay-at-home dad to toddler twins.

We spoke for over an hour about the joys and challenges of parenting, about perceptions of masculinity, about my relationship with my wife, and about my and my wife’s backgrounds. Among other topics, we discussed the fact that, despite growing up in a military family, I have parents who enthusiastically support the decisions my wife and I have made regarding our parenting roles. Likewise, my very traditional Vietnamese immigrant in-laws have no qualms with our domestic arrangements.

Rosin seemed surprised and impressed at this, yet she continued to press me for evidence to support her theory: marital tensions, awkward encounters with moms on the playground, feelings of shame at my own gender betrayal, and so on.

The reality: As I told Rosin, I’ve never been happier or more comfortable in my own skin than I have during my three-year stint staying home with my kids. I said there are moments of frustration and fatigue, of course, but when I consider how I feel about my place in the “new gender landscape,” I feel my life is a tremendous success.

Then I saw the book. Here’s how Rosin characterized our talk (as well as in a more recent Slate piece, “I Ain’t Sayin’ He’s a Gold Digger”): 
... It was clear from my dozens of interviews that there are tensions under the surface. A power arrangement that’s prevailed for most of history does not fade without a ripple. In many cases I heard the same old marriage anxieties, only they showed up in the reverse gender. Andy, a stay-at-home dad in San Jose, Calif., had to cancel several appointments with me because he couldn’t get his twins to sleep. Before he stayed home with his kids, he was a carpenter. His wife is a physician, and because she makes so much more money it made sense for him to take the parenting lead. Andy likes watching the toddlers, but he is wistful about his old life, and somewhat defensive about his new one.

The feelings flood over him when he passes construction crews while taking the twins on a walk: What would it be like to work with a group of guys up on a roof again? What adventures is his wife having while he’s wiping off bibs? When his wife and her doctor friends rib him about staying home, he over-aggressively pulls the manual labor card: “How about I come over and help you put that Ikea furniture together, Mr. Doctor?” It’s the old Betty Friedan identity crisis, only in masculine form. These days when his wife suggests that he should go back to work, Andy feels “terrified.” It’s been a long time, and he’s lost the stomach for the outside world.
I laughed out loud when I read this description of me. Despite our wide-ranging conversation about the richness of my life since I became a father and a fulltime caregiver, Rosin had rendered me as a hapless stock character in her tableau of post-masculine despair.

Let me make a few clarifications.
Read the whole article, including his conversation with Rosin about her portrayal of him in the book.

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