The End of Men: True or False?
Author Rosin gives keynote at LAW conference on controversial subject
Since it hit the shelves in September, journalist Hanna Rosin’s provocative new book has set off explosive national and international debate about her premise that women are becoming the dominant sex. Today and tomorrow, October 12 and 13, the BU School of Law will host a forum examining Rosin’s claims in The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (Riverhead, 2012) and weighing the law and policy implications her assertions might have for both women and men in education, the workplace, and the family. Titled Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men”: Legal and Other Perspectives, the conference will draw on a growing body of cultural data and feature legal scholars from BU and other universities.
While Rosin has been praised for sparking an important dialogue, her critics have taken aim at her overall claim that women are not just measurably gaining ground on men at home, school, and in the workplace, but that power dynamics have shifted so dramatically that women are now ahead. Writing in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Jennifer Homans takes aim at Rosin, asserting that the author’s “evidence for women the globe over consists of thin, small facts cherry-picked to support outsize claims.” And a review in Businessweek, while noting Rosin’s “worthy and often fascinating observations,” concludes that she is dead wrong in the realm of money and power, where “men continue to utterly dominate.”
The BU event, conceived in the seismic wake of Rosin’s 2010 Atlantic cover story “The End of Men” which was the genesis for her book, will delve between the lines of the author’s often-adamant arguments. A succession of panels will culminate in the discussion, Could Both Be True? Reconciling “the End of Men” with Women’s Continuing Inequality. The forum is free and open to all. Conference proceedings will be published in the Boston University Law Review.
Rosin will give the keynote address, and participating BU faculty are LAW Professors Linda C. McClain, Katharine Silbaugh, Michael Harper, Pnina Lahav, and Kristin Collins, Khiara Bridges, a LAW associate professor and a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of anthropology, Shahla Haeri, a CAS associate professor of anthropology, and Caryl Rivers, a College of Communication professor of journalism. Family historian and author Stephanie Coontz, who teaches at Evergreen State College and has been outspoken in refuting many of Rosin’s claims, will also take part in the discussion.
Recently, in the midst of a media blitz in which The End of Men dominated newspaper headlines, airwaves, and television talk shows, Rosin spoke with BU Today about fielding criticism, learning from her readers, and her hopes for men as well as women in a changing world.
BU Today: The School of Law conference is titled Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men.” Do you feel you’re being asked to defend your thesis?
Rosin: The BU thing is unusual. It’s more like an academic conference and I’m a journalist, not an academic. There will be a lot of people there whose work was my source material, so in a sense I’m looking forward to it. I expect different takes; I actually welcome them. Throughout my book tour people have pointed out counterexamples. By the way, that conference was set up based on my Atlantic story; they didn’t know I was publishing the book.
The article’s, and the book’s, title is boldly provocative and doesn’t reflect the nuance of your arguments. Is this a problem?
Here’s the deal with the Atlantic title. It was written not by me—we as writers have nothing to do with titles. I didn’t see it until it was on the newsstands. So I had a decision to make in the two years I was working on the book, and mainly because of blog culture, I decided to keep the title. A more accurate title could be the end of macho or the end of testosterone.
The book has triggered a lot of debate and criticism in a short time, especially in the New York Times. How are you feeling about the controversy?
I feel the discussion has been pretty good. There was one piece by Barnard College president Debora Spar, which was very moving; it was like a plea for sanity. I feel like it’s a discussion women are dying to have, and a useful discussion for men too. What parts of traditional manhood do we want to preserve? What do men and women need from each other? I think ultimately it comes down to human connection; even in my hookup chapter, the most swaggeringly kind of trash-talking girl around winds up getting engaged.
Let’s talk about the hookup chapter. It’s being cited as refuting the assumption that college girls are diminished or hurt by hookup culture.
All young women initially get burned by hookup culture. But they also don’t have casual sex as much as we think they do. It’s a phase they go through—you swim in it but you don’t drown. When I conclude that women need the hookup culture, it’s not that they like one-night stands. The best letters I’ve gotten from young women, and I’ll read some of those at the BU conference, are about coming up with a third way that is neither casual sex nor a path to settled marriage, but another kind of relationship that is emotionally intimate, but not settled and comfortable. It’s not just one-night stands or marriage. It’s complicated.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from men?
I have heard from two different categories of men: progressive men, who are saying, “We welcome this world but you don’t have enough examples of the new kind of men; we think it’s wonderful; we’re not resisting.” And then there are really rageful men who say, “You make us seem so rigid with your concept of ‘cardboard man.’” They’ll say, “I’ve been out of work for X amount of time, so how do you accuse me of being inflexible?” A lot of the book is heartbreaking. It’s not that everything is great, and if you’re a man out of work, I don’t think you’re less of a man.
Is there any good news for men?
The good news for my son is, when he grows up, if he’s with a woman who makes more money than he does, no one should blink an eye at that. That should be perfectly fine, if it turns out that is what makes people happy. It will be a world that values individual satisfaction.
I’ve visited developing countries where women do most of the hard work, and it seems these places would fall apart without them. Yet men, even if they are largely unemployed, still make the rules. Do you see women rising in these societies?
Outside the Western world, the situation is much harder. The patriarchal societies die a lot harder, and the only unqualified good news is that development organizations are systematically targeting women as an engine of success and advancement. How progressive, how educated the women are, how much civic participation there is, that’s the way progress is measured. That’s the best one can do. In Rwanda or Liberia, where the men are killed off, all of a sudden the women become the political infrastructure, so you get these surprising shifts. People say surely the Middle East isn’t part of the phenomenon and I’d say, but in the Middle East women are taking over education and you see so many women marching in the street.
You write about gender characteristics that are helping females advance, but is there still a sense that to get to the top, women need to exhibit traditionally male traits?
I think we’re past that phase of feminism. I think that we have begun to value traditionally feminine models of leadership. Now, I think the argument I’m making has limits, and I’m working them out as I talk about the book. I don’t think there’s going to be a totally feminine overhaul. Empathy only takes you so far, and there’s the male way of being less attuned to social signals, and good entrepreneurial risk-taking. I don’t know what the sweet spot is, but I know there is a sweet spot.
Is this something you struggle with in your own life and work?
It’s something I’m trying to figure out raising my children—two sons and a daughter. Books are imperfect, so when you publish a book, after you have those conversations, you realize you still need to work more things out for round two, and one of the main things is, what masculine qualities do you want to preserve? How far do you push the idea that men need to feminize? Do women need men to be manly? Maybe it’s just a sliding scale. I’m looking forward to the BU conference, to being with these thinkers.
Do you feel as if the book is being misunderstood by its critics?
Almost every iteration of this has caused me to present my argument in a different way. The book has so much reporting in it, and it’s my nature to be inconclusive. Despite the title, I’m not generally a person who falls into one ideological path or another. My mind doesn’t really work that way; most of my stories are reported as narratives. Some people see the book as triumphalist, and it is not. It’s taking account of this historical moment, but there’s clearly a lot of heartbreak. Given that, this BU event is an exciting opportunity to have an open dialogue about the book, and one that has much more depth. These are fluid boundaries here. This is the moment to have the most open-ended, far-ranging discussion. It feels like a once-in-a-tour opportunity, the one that’s going to be the most interesting.
The School of Law conference Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men”: Legal and Other Perspectives, at the LAW Auditorium, 765 Comm. Ave., is free and open to the public. Registration begins today at 8:30 a.m., and the proceedings run from 9:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Saturday panels run from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For conference updates and to join the conversation, follow BU Law on Twitter and enter hashtag #endofmenconf.4 Comments