Saturday, August 7, 2010

The End of Men

A recent issue of the ATLANTIC featured a long section on fourteen ideas about our changing world, the last of which was titled "The End of Men." This provocative essay is in three parts. The first sets forth the statistics that show the rising presence of women in what were, two generations ago, almost exclusively masculine arenas. Medical and law schools now graduate more females than males. More college degrees overall are awarded to women. For the first time, the number of female mid-level business managers exceeds that of male managers (although the same is not true of top-level management). Et Cetera.

The second part of the essay examines the recent depiction of male-female relationships in movies, citing film after film featuring a responsible, hard-working wife/girlfriend and a "slacker" male who basically does not want to grow up.

The third section theorizes why all this might be. The theory: Earlier societies, lacking our technology and far more dangerous, favored "masculine" traits of physical strength, competition, and control, which were survival traits. Today's society (in the United States, which is all the essay is concerned with) favors a different, more "feminine" style of management and professional conduct, based on empathy and consensus building. Thus women forge ahead faster -- and are more interested in doing so.

Do I believe all this? The graduation and employment statistics, yes. And I have noticed the slacker-male trend in movies for young people. But when I look around at the young people I actually know, I see just as many ambitious men as women, and also just as many young women who would rather take the path of least resistance. So I don't know. Thoughts, anyone?

11 comments:

MikeP said...

I've griped (playfully) for at least a decade about the trend of commercials depicting men as bumbling, incompetent stooges who would starve if it weren't for their wise and resourceful female companions. Of course, I actually know a few couples like that, but I also know some that are the exact opposite. We have a tendency to overcompensate when trying to correct a wrong resulting in a swing in the other direction. Then we report that as evidence of some new phenomenon ignoring the obvious reasons for it. Maybe that’s what is happening here. Like you, I don't see any less young men working toward their own futures. Just more young women doing so toward what were considered nontraditional goals.

S.M.D. said...

I'm somewhat with Mike. I think the problem has to do with an adoption of the implied stereotype, something that hasn't just affected men, but women too (women more so than men, historically speaking). I think it's a double-edged sword. You hit women with the stereotypes (house moms, cleaners, or, the more annoying, fashion-obsessed Hilton-eer...because you see both in commercials and other representations of women, all tied in with the still persistent "perfect woman" image garbage). Stereotypes affect people. We can pretend that they don't, but they do, and when stereotypes become the normative expression of individuals in media, then we have a huge problem. You get the same thing with representations of race groups in film/commercials; when you are reduced to a stereotype based on your skin color (i.e. "Blacks are criminals"), you're more likely to exhibit those behaviors, even if you began as nothing remotely like those stereotypes suggest you must be.

That said, I do agree with you, Nancy, that the change in the business styles plays a significant role in this. It's multi-factorial. Visual representations, social conditions, and so on all play a role in what is perceived as the "decline of men." Whether men are declining as much as the article implies, I don't know. Does the article address, for example, the number of men who go into trades as opposed to college-preparatory fields? I suspect if you bring in those numbers, you'll find that men dominate the trades over women, largely because many of the trades are still "masculine."

Eh, I'm rambling, so I'll shut up now.

TheOFloinn said...

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_single_young_men.html

Vejune said...

i took an adolescent psychology 6 years ago where i first learned about these trends that you speak of and as happy as i am that it's becoming more acceptable to have women in management positions, etc, i also learned that it's coming at a price. there's a strong trend, it seems, w/i society to focus on just one thing. i remember "girl power" emerging as i grew up and psychologists are noticing that this heavy focus on girls/women is making people turn their backs on boys/men in terms of building *their* self-esteem. as a result, more men are either not going to college at all or dropping out and even fewer are attending graduate schools. i definitely noticed this while in grad school myself. i think there needs to be a balance and i'm not sure that's happening.

Criada said...

I tend to dismiss the slacker-man-gets-hot-girl genre as wish fulfillment of a certain kind of modern man (like the the link someone provided above.) Overthinking It has a nice article about why weak male characters are bad for women, and here they have one on movies featuring the wish-fulfillment that if a guy just follows the right rules and rituals, he'll get a girl.

沈貞李添睿儀 said...

Man is not made for defeat. A mean can be destroyed but not defeated...................................................................

A.R.Yngve said...

Office politics won't be the end of men -- but science might be, when it becomes possible for human females to procreate without males.

And it will become possible.

I accept this future -- you can't stop change -- but I have mixed feelings about it.

For one thing, I have fewer illusions now than when I was younger, that matriarchy is going to mean the end of war. From what I have learned, all-female workplaces tend not to be cosy peaceful communes.

So I believe men will be around in the far future, but mainly as a kind of psychological mood stabilizers -- like the dogs that are used in offices today for workers to cuddle and feel better.

Paul Morningstar said...

I've recently thought about it and I'm thinking that this may be true. This is not only the sociological observation (and I'm from Poland, which pretty much is in a bit different state than US). More girls are born and I think that this is worldwide, also women live longer (at least were - current trend shows that with more women trying to act like men, they are exposed to life threatening souces)and pay much more attention to their health.
I've read an article about the youth and the difference between men and women, which kind a makes sense. Boys are hyperactive, they are seen as less concentrated on learning, while girls are patient and tought to listen and learn. Parents promote this behavior - and this results in quicker and easier eduction of girls (they learn to read more quickly, memorize and study before boys are catching up). This sets patterns for later on. This may be one of the reasons why women are as numerous as men in buisness.
Also I think that men had through many ages phisical advantage. Now with the all present technology, this advantage dissapears. In one of the Michio Kaku books he wrote that life span of humanity extended when we had more horse power to our disposal. Right now we have all the technology, and dominace of the men is vanishing. They can travel as fast as men, they can perform jobs that are tiring just like men - they don't need to perform most of them themselves.
So, better educated, better empathic skills and technology to back them up - they are in advantage.

Slacker-men in the media, and on the opposite side strong and individual women are the result of the becoming reality - I don't think that this promotes the situation, rather it reflects it.

(And also I think that computers have something to do with that - mathematics, programming and electronics stopped being "man-thing". On our technical university ten yers earlier only few women studied - in Poland internet was only a myth then. Right now I see almost the same number of them among men and I think that internet, computers and everything else conneted gave opportunity for woment to dive into this areas with ease).

Also, I would point out that men ambition is usually concerned with competition, not self-realisation. When we don't compete, we got lazy :) )

Paul Morningstar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
孫邦柔 said...

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Devi said...

I have noticed this trend as well, although less so in my current industry, film and TV. Men still command the top level and mid level positions. However, it is true that media content is shifting towards stories of empowered or empowering women. Take the recent film, "Eat, Pray, Love" starring Julia Roberts. A decade ago you would only see such a film made by foreign production houses and not Hollywood. But now we are seeing stronger female roles and stories in our domestic markets.

On another note, recently I saw a documentary about the evolution of the chimpanzee in which they blow many of our assumptions of the uniqueness of humanity out of the water. Seems like our major defining characteristic is the ability to walk upright! The scienstists in this doc stated although previously the use of 'technology' and 'tools' by our ape-like ancestors were credited to the male sex evidence in modern-day chimps shows it is a female characteristic. In no small part due to the fact that the female sex is physicaly weaker and must resort to more 'creative' means for foraging, etc.

I think this is an interesting addition to the theory of evolution and definitely supports the idea that the female mind is more suited to a technology-dependent civilization. This should definitely pave the way for some changes in gender focus when it comes to sci fi stories!