Hanna Rosin has a snark-infused rebuttal to Suzanne Venker’s piece “The War on Men“. Venker drew fire for pointing out that men are less interested in marriage than women. She explicitly blames women for this. As expected, Rosin disagrees. In response, Rosin summed up her thesis:
When I was writing the End of Men I mulled over many reasons why men in certain segments of society were dropping out of work and family life: the end of the manufacturing era, the housing crisis, their unwillingness to get a college degree. I talked to hundreds of men and pondered their stuckness, their general sense that they were ill equipped for the modern economy and didn’t quite know how to fix that. I arrived at an imperfect explanation that men were suffering from some kind of “masculine mystique,” trapped in an all too narrow set of social roles which were no longer serving them well. What I did not consider was that the true and complete answer was right under my nose, or more precisely, all over my face, staring back at me from the mirror. The reason men could not move forward was ME.
Leave aside the burgeoning flame war and the fact that Venker’s essay was a bit imprecise in placing blame on women for men’s fortunes. Women, by and large, are reacting to their reality – a reality that was largely created by someone else, including feminists and culture writers like Rosin.
It’s funny that Rosin’s entire premise is that men aren’t adapting to a quickly changing work and social environment because of some “masculine mystique”. Men hold fast to masculine ideals and don’t seem as willing to adapt as women do. Women have adapted well because they were never at the top of the social hierarchy. They’re like immigrants, according to Rosin, and have a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic.
But who helps perpetuate this mystique if not women?
Women aren’t embracing a new masculine ideal as quickly as men need to adapt in order to keep their heads above water. Plenty has been written about women who struggle with this shift – struggle with being attracted to men of lowered status. Just a personal example: my girlfriend makes twice as much money as I do, and I’m struggling finding a better-paying job than my current one. I suggested that maybe it’s at the point where she could just be the breadwinner. “Fuck it, here’s the bread sweetheart, you won it.” If we have kids, I could be a domestic dad. She’s not cool with that idea though. She prefers that I get a better job which would allow her to pare back at her current job. There’s not much adaptation in any of this. It’s the same old model.
Look at engagement rings. They’re a good enough model for this slow-moving two-step. I tried to find data on this, but it is harder to come by than I assumed. So I have to revert back to my senses. Even as women are increasing in status and in the workplace, in order to get married many men still have to go through the engagement “ringamarole”. Spending on engagement rings has decreased some during the recession, but it has not kept pace with men’s loss of status and relative income. You’ll still see men who earn less money than women forking over thousands of dollars in order to get married. He also sacrifices some of his masculine spirit whereas women seem more comfortable in the domicile. All of these cost disparities are figments of a bygone era, but they’ve for some reason been amplified even as that era has become more and more bygone. Over the really long term – say, post-War up until now – men’s relative status has declined immensely even as the average spent on The Ring has increased several fold. And anyone wonders why men are less enthusiastic than women about marriage?
This undermines Rosin’s argument that men just aren’t adapting quickly enough. Men respond to cues and signals from women, and what they’re receiving is mixed. Maybe she mentions women’s role in maintaining the status quo in her book, but she doesn’t focus on this point to highlight the thrust of her book, and I’m certainly not going to spend money on the thing to find out.