You get the feeling after reading Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men that the book’s title is less of a fact and more the author’s hope for the future. You get the impression that men have quit higher education and can’t find their place in the new world, and the new economy, leaving women to pick up the pieces. In any event, the death of men has been greatly exaggerated. To call The End of Men a substantial academic work – or just an academic work – would be a mischaracterization. Even Rosin, in response to criticism of her dishonest use of data (more on that later), acknowledges that she’s a journalist and no academic; the implication being that journalists shouldn’t be held to exacting standards. If only that were true.
The End of Men was first published in 2012 and was generally well-received from publications such as Esquire, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. This book has a broad scope. It touches on changing sexual dynamics, marriage and the workforce, the raising of children, and even violence. There may not be much of debate as to whether gender-based roles in marriages and relationships are changing (they are, unfortunately) or whether women participate more in the workforce than they did in the 1950s (they do). However, the scope of the cultural shift, whether the shift has benefited women, and Rosin’s conclusions regarding how much men have fallen and how much women have risen, are where she gets into trouble.
To really understand this book you have to first know its author. Rosin is a feminist writer, a 40+ married mother of two young boys and a young girl. You can read her at Slate, The Atlantic, and various other publications. The End of Men makes clear that Rosin is a moderately savvy, albeit clumsy, writer who has no problem with manipulating data and anecdotes to support her conclusions. (To think that she has the rare gift of being as dense and ham-handed as Thomas Friedman would be to give her the benefit of the doubt she doesn’t deserve.) But before we get there, let me give you two examples of how Rosin thinks men are doing in this new world:
1. “Now the new standards for male waxing and trimming are as stringent as they are for women.”
2. “The 1999 movie Office Space was maybe the first to capture how alien and dispiriting this new feminized office park can be for men, and how resistant they are to adapting.”
The stupidity of these two observations is obvious. As to the first statement, a woman who doesn’t shave or even trim is a pariah, an endangered species (or married… or perhaps Japanese?) which I have never encountered, and a man who goes all-natural isn’t likely uncommon. And regarding Office Space, she ignores what the film has to say about the soul-crushing monotony of life in a cubicle so she can fit the rebellion of the men into her feminist slant. To be fair, if all “feminized” offices will look like Initech, then let’s burn them all to the ground.
Now, these two claims aren’t just a good representation as to how Rosin can get simple trends and concepts absolutely wrong. They are faults in her logic and interpretation, cracks that reveal significant and deeper flaws in the book.
And these flaws are serious. Boston University Law Review has published an essay detailing the damning issues with The End of Men. This essay, written by Philip N. Cohen, concludes that “Rosin’s tendency toward exaggeration and misrepresentation as fundamental to [The End of Men’s] narrative and crippling to its credibility.” Cohen butchers The End of Men, carving out the book’s major claims and leaving little meat on the bones. He discredits Rosin’s conclusion regarding “young women” earning more than “young men,” and he takes apart her assertion that women are “beginning to crowd out” men in the fields of engineering and science. When it’s all finished, it’s clear that Rosin doesn’t have a tendency toward exaggeration – she has a tendency to lie.
In response to this essay, Rosin wrote that she “hesitate[s] to get drawn into data wars.” It’s too late to complain about data wars after she fired the first shots. On a broader level, Rosin has an obligation to her readers to not misrepresent data in such a dishonest manner. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, writers who break that pact are to be despised.
Enter the dubious anecdotes
When Rosin isn’t massaging statistics, she’s giving us supposedly real-life stories on men who just can’t cut it and the women who are making things happen. We see heroic single mothers, sexually liberated coeds, and young female professionals supporting their lazy boyfriends. But now that it’s been established that Rosin is loose with the facts, what’s to be made of these anecdotes?
First, they must be viewed skeptically. If Rosin misrepresents hard data, what’s stopping her from manipulating – or even bullshitting – the numerous anecdotes in The End of Men? The question answers itself. Second, even if these anecdotes are true, so what? As Cohen said, “the story cannot survive on its colorful illustrations alone.”
The faults don’t stop there. One chapter in The End of Men is dedicated to young single girls mastering the hook-up. In Rosin’s world, female participation in “hook up culture” isn’t a misuse of valuable resources, a trade-off that favors men. It’s empowering. Unencumbered with “the old-fashioned burden of protecting their reputations,” women are newly “dominant” in the dating market and men are losing the “dating wars.”
Bullshit. Though it can be said that women in the West have historically controlled the dating market by having the option choosing one suitor among many, women lose their control – and thus their dominance – when sex is cheap. Rosin writes that empowerment is there because a woman doesn’t have to use sex to achieve the ends of financial security and social status; she can achieve these things herself. However, she does concede that this cheapens sex to “bargain basement levels,” lessening the value of return sex has for women, and leading to women not getting, or at least putting off, the love and lifelong commitment that they ultimately desire. If that’s a win for women, I’d hate to see what a loss looks like.
Women have less power than Rosin thinks
Supposedly tired of hooking up, one undergraduate is quoted as saying, “[What I really want is] some guy to ask me out on a date to the frozen yogurt place.” These are the words of a girl who’s playing a man’s game according to a man’s rules. And she’s losing.
But Rosin doesn’t just get the wrong read on young women. She also has a poor understanding of what men like and want. Perhaps she doesn’t understand men because there’s a lack of masculinity in her marriage and in her social circles. Rosin writes that she had a strong-willed mother, and perhaps she inherited her mother’s need for control. She claims provider husbands have been resentful about carrying the whole economic load, when in fact men obtain fulfillment when they provide for their families. (To her credit, she recognizes that provider women can be resentful that they’re the ones providing.) Rosin says the modern married man is “relieved to have a wife he can talk to about work or politics or anything else that interests him.” Relief rarely comes in the form of talking to your wife about your day at work.
For all the above-mentioned issues, Rosin is the most out of her depth when she’s writing about economics. You can’t help but roll your eyes when she says that “women are like the Kia cars of the workforce.” She claims female CEOs are more “highly prized” because “they outearned their male counterparts by 43 percent, on average” in 2009. You’d think that if female CEOs were so highly prized there’d be more of them. Yet, in the study she cites, there were only 16 female CEOs in America’s top 500 companies. And according to Forbes, a few outliers skewed the results of this (never a good idea to compare the salaries of 16 women versus 484 men). This time, instead of changing the results of the data, she’s merely using a poor study to support her narrative.
When women do well at work, Rosin thinks it’s because the economy rewards their inherent strengths. When they do poorly, or don’t succeed as much as they supposedly should, it’s because the ambition of women is killed at an early age. This repeats the discredited myth, as noted in Christina Hoff Summers’ The War Against Boys, that girls get shortchanged in schools and leave adolescence defeated. Rosin then goes on about how workplaces are getting feminized and how feminization of business is a necessary and good thing, examples of successful male-run companies be damned. Somehow, having more women in the workforce means “fewer pointless risks.” You begin to wonder how Rosin distinguishes between “risks” and “pointless risks.” She never gets there.
Now, I won’t dispute that the workplace is becoming less masculine. But the reason for this change may not be due to economics. There has been a war on masculinity for years. The U.S. Department of Education has contracted with activists who think little league games encourage aggressive, violent behavior. Boys are encouraged to play with dolls, all for the sake of teaching children that gender norms, i.e. the natural desires of boys, are abnormal. When masculine behaviors are considered pathology, it’s no wonder that there’s a move away from them.
In closing, Rosin rehashes her unconvincing “imaginary comic book duo,” first presented in the introduction, of Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Cardboard Man is a merely an unchanging relic. But Plastic Woman performs “superhuman feats of flexibility,” and, through her “Napoleonic” appetite, “gobbles up new territory as she hangs onto the old.” Well, how does Rosin want it? Plastic pertains to an ability to be molded by an outside force, but it cannot expand itself to gain new territory. Or maybe Plastic Woman is actually made of plastic? Who the fuck knows? Any way you have it, the metaphor – and ultimately The End of Men – falls on its face.
Read More: It’s Easier To Shine When You’re Younger