Hanna Rosin. The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. New York: Riverhead, 2012. 320 pp. $27.95.
At the Republican National Convention in August, Ann Romney said,
If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s the moms who have always had to work a little harder to make everything right. It’s the moms of this nation, single, married, widowed, who really hold the country together. We’re the mothers. We’re the wives. We’re the grandmothers. We’re the big sisters. We’re the little sisters and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you?
As the audience burst into cheers, she paused and then celebrated, “I love you, women!”
I cringed. And then flipped off my TV.
What bothered me so much? As a Republican woman, shouldn’t I have loved her speech? After all, it was under the mentorship of two powerful women in politics—a Congresswoman in Republican leadership and an undersecretary of State and former ambassador—that I excelled professionally during my time in Washington. So why did I cringe?
Romney’s speech revealed—perhaps too obviously and panderingly (hence my cringing)—that it is a good time to be a woman. This election cycle, both parties knew the women vote would be essential to their electoral success. In fact, the 18-point gender gap was key to President Obama’s reelection. Yet I wondered, “If it’s a good time to be a woman, is it a bad time to be a man?”
In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin argues that, in our modern economy, women are the winners and men are the losers. The prolific journalist and senior editor of The Atlantic writes,
In the past, men derived their advantage largely from size and strength, but the postindustrial economy is indifferent to brawn. A service and information economy rewards precisely the opposite qualities—the ones that can’t be easily replaced by a machine. These attributes—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men. In fact, they seem to come more easily to women.
What Others Have—and Have Not—Said
Many thoughtful reviews have been written about The End of Men (see, for instance, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist). The critics applaud its many strengths. It is quite well researched. In The Wall Street Journal, Carol Tavris wrote, “[Rosin’s] argument is based on substance and scholarship; she starts from data, then turns to interviews to illuminate the human effects of these worldwide changes.” Further, in presenting her findings, she doesn’t ignore data unfavorable to her thesis. For example, she looks at the rise of women in nearly every professional context but admits that men continue to dominate in areas where money and power are concentrated (for example, Wall Street, Fortune 500, Congress). Moreover, Rosin is refreshingly honest at points. For example, when she writes about the “hook-up culture” that celebrates freedom and independence, she admits, “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women.”
Critics have also observed, however, that the book has weaknesses. In focusing on stereotypes, Rosin often ignores nuance. For example, her stereotypical modern woman is “Plastic Woman,” known for her flexibility and ability to change with the economy, and her stereotypical modern man is “Cardboard Man,” known for his rigidity and being stuck in his cultural moment. Unfortunately, nearly all the women she interviews are organized Type A achievers, while the men are mostly coach potatoes.
Yet there are a few things that other critics haven’t said. I will focus on what I believe are two of the book’s biggest weaknesses. First, although Rosin’s content is comprehensive in scope, it is not complete. Second, although her content is descriptive, it is not diagnostic.
Wide-Ranging, But Not Complete
In many ways, Rosin’s argument is wide-ranging in scope. She looks at the end of men and the rise of women in a variety of areas: the singles scene, married life, pharmaceutical industry, education, the criminal landscape, and the professional ladder. Though wide-ranging, The End of Men is not complete. There is at least one gaping hole—parenting. Yes, she talks about children, but they appear to be mere pieces of the puzzle on which women are working. As Rosin writes about the success women enjoy in balancing their professional and personal lives, she never interviews or quotes children. They seem to reside in the peripheral presence of these men and women.
In one account, for example, she writes of a certain woman: “A single mother, she gets her three kids to school by seven, goes to the community college until three, and then works her night job at the IRS from six in the evening until three in the morning.” Later, Rosin runs into her in the elevator at the community college and recalls, “Between floors one and four she had fallen asleep, so hard had she been working to get her degree, hold down a night job, and raise three kids.” How were her three kids handling their mom’s workload? What was their experience? Rosin offers nothing here.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not issuing a subtle or veiled opinion about working moms. I have many friends working outside of the home. To me, however, The End of Men fails in not even asking these questions. What do kids say about their working moms? Do their opinions differ from those of the husbands? Do they think their moms aren’t missing a beat? Do girls seek greater achievement because they have successful role models? What about boys? Unfortunately, none of these questions is raised; and therefore, none of them is addressed.
Descriptive, But Not Diagnostic
Although The End of Men is well researched, Rosin doesn’t provide a diagnostic about how the end of men and the rise of women came to be. She even admits,
Whether the shift can be attributed to women now being socialized differently, or whether it’s simply an artifact of our having misunderstood how women are "hardwired" in the first place, is at this point unanswerable, and makes no difference. Difficult as it is to conceive, the very rigid story we believed about ourselves is obviously no longer true. There is no "natural" order, only the way things are.
Since she declines to address the root causes of the end of men and the rise of women, much of her analysis fails to have a potent effect. For example, regarding the singles scene she writes, “The hook-up culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the independence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself.” Yet Rosin fails to discuss why we, as singles, long for freedom and independence. What are those root causes that make such attributes desirable to us?
Similarly, when it comes to modern marriage, Rosin doesn’t question its source. She writes,
This is how the new seesaw marriage operates. Couples are not chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage. . . . It thrives in a culture that privileges self-expression over duty. It’s progressive in its instinctive gender blindness and rejection of obligatory work, and utterly conservative in its comfort with traditional marriage.
Yet Rosin provides no assessment about whether self-fulfillment and self-expression are desirable pursuits for a healthy marriage. One interview, in my estimation, is particularly telling. She quotes a mother who questions her daughter’s spousal choice: “How’s he gonna hold up his half of the mortgage if you’re making, what, three times as much money as him?”
From a Christian Perspective
As a Christian, of course, I find the most fault with Rosin’s lack of diagnostic analysis. The picture The End of Men paints of our society is unattractive, not because women are winners and men are losers, but because the world is selfish. Nearly all of the relationships she describes—whether personal or professional—are transactional, not covenantal.
In one of the more tragic interviews, Rosin recounts,
As one wife tells the interviewer, when asked how she felt about her husband’s unemployment, "Certainly I lost my love for him." The slightly kinder wife says, "I still love him but he doesn’t seem as 'big' a man." The men, in turn, accept this diminishment as their fate, referring to themselves as "fallen idols" and explaining dispassionately that their kids no longer say, "Hi, Dad," when they come in the door. "They used to come and hug me and now I seldom hear a pleasant word from them," one says.
To the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller comment on this verse: “There is the essence of sin, according to the Bible—living for ourselves, rather than for God and the people around us. This is why Jesus can sum up the entire law—the entire will of God for our lives—in two great commands: to love and live for God rather than ourselves and to love and put the needs of others ahead of our own (Matt. 22:37-40).”
Confronting our selfishness is not just relevant for marriage. It is relevant for all of life, including each of the spheres Rosin writes about. Yet how do we confront our selfishness? How can we get to the root causes of it? Regrettably, Rosin doesn’t answer these questions, though the precious Word of God does. In Christ, all of us—men and women—have access to the Holy Spirit. He is at work in us, killing our self-centeredness and increasing our love for God and others. As Paul wrote, love is the opposite of self-seeking: “Love is patient and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
Imagine a world in which self-fulfillment and self-expression are not the root causes of our success—a world in which we’re driven instead by service and love. Would there still be the end of men and the rise of women? Or would it be a good time to be a man and a good time to be a woman?
Let us, the church, pursue the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus our Lord through the Holy Spirit as we live attractively in this modern economy—not defining ourselves primarily by our gender, but by our Lord, who came to serve rather than to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Bethany Jenkins is the founder of The Park Forum, a New York City-based nonprofit that seeks to engage urban professionals in the Word daily. Prior to founding The Park Forum, she worked at the New York Stock Exchange, at the State Department, and in Congress. She received her BA from Baylor University, her MA from the George Washington University, and her JD from Columbia Law School, where she served on the editorial board for the Journal of Law & Social Problems, worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office, and summered at Simpson Thacher & Barlett. She lives on the Upper West Side and loves running in Central Park and eating french fries.