When Hanna Rosin’s article “The End Of Men” was published in 2010, it seemed like another one of those Atlantic cover stories—or maybe just Atlantic covers—designed to inspire a lot of sputtering and flailing until it’s completely forgotten, usually within 30 days, at which point the magazine dependably sends out another one. This impression was especially strong among people who didn’t read it. (Rosin freely admits that she could have spared herself a lot of grief if she’d just gone with a less apocalyptic title, but then, she would probably have drawn a lot less attention, too.) The book isn’t about the end of man, or even manliness, but about the end of male dominance, in the workplace and elsewhere.
It’s an argument designed to piss off not just macho types whose favorite debating tactic is to break out the yardsticks and start measuring, but feminists who will be dismayed at any apparent suggestion that sexual harassment, gender-based income inequality, the glass ceiling, and other injustices are no longer a big deal. Rosin doesn’t pretend that things have just flip-flopped since Don Draper’s day, but she marshals an impressive load of research to make her case that things are changing in ways that help women at work move ahead faster than men, and also help women outside the workplace think more easily about living their lives without yoking themselves to a man. She actually marshals so much research that the book sags a little under the weight of all the statistics she quotes and the authors she cites. But it’s understandable that an author making bold, broad assertions while camped out on the gender divide would want to have her all ducks in a row, and she does.
The book’s most eye-opening passages may be those on how the changes Rosin has picked up on are altering marriage and romance. Surveying the hook-up culture at college, Rosin meets young women who can’t get over the fun of receiving multiple text invitations to hang out from guys they’ve just met. Although plenty of casual sex is being enjoyed on campus, a big part of the fun is in having so many options that girls can freely say no, which makes them feel that they’re in charge of their lives at least as much as saying yes does. Meanwhile, among adults, women’s increasing ability to support themselves without depending on male partners has resulted in a major drop in reports of domestic abuse. Rosin cites evidence that woman are not just better wired, as a group, for the kinds of jobs that are available in the post-industrial economy, but that they’re faster and more nimble when it comes to education and adaptation to the changing world. Not that the world is trying to meet the men halfway. Visiting “one of the court-sponsored men’s support groups that have sprung up throughout the Rust Belt,” Rosin meets an unemployed man who’s just signed up for food stamps, noting that they’re “just about the only social welfare program a man can easily access.”
In Alexander, an Alabama city hard-hit by the closing of a Russell Corporation plant that employed 8,000 people, Rosin meets a young couple, Shannon and Troy, who have a baby and live together, but aren’t married. Shannon works as an exotic dancer while studying nursing; Troy doesn’t seem to do much of anything, partly because, to Shannon’s disgust, he’s patiently waiting for things to return to “normal,” at which point Russell will start hiring at full strength again and he’ll go to work there. They fit with Rosin’s thesis, borrowed from the sociologist Kathryn Edin, that, especially in the lower working class, single women, even single mothers, are staying single rather than marry men who have nothing to tangible to contribute to the household. Rosin sympathizes with the worst-off of these men, and she celebrates the ways that women’s lives have changed for the better, but she’s a reporter, not a polemicist. She isn’t arguing that these changes are bad or good overall, but simply that they’re real. People who would rather argue about it than adjust to them might as well be waiting for Russell to start hiring again.