This is a guest post by Jessica Mack. You can find Jessica on Twitter here.
One of the concepts that I hope fades out as we enter 2012 – along with flash mobs and marshmallow vodka – is the “reverse gender gap.”
The New York Times this week has a piece titled, “They Call it the Reverse Gender Gap.” First of all, who is “they,” and can they please stop? For a year-end round-up piece on women, this is kind of depressing.
The article’s opener states what is precisely the problem: “much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.”
It is important to recognize that women in the US have made strides toward gender equality in some ways. Women are bringing home more bacon (though still not as much as men for equal work) and banging out the Master’s Degrees and PhDs. This progress has been hard-won and a long time coming. So let’s put on a party hat and celebrate for a minute.
But we need only glance at the news, or Google the words “sexual assault,” “Plan B,” or “heartbeat” to remind ourselves of the more abysmal big picture. Somehow, in the American obsession with doom and gloom, small but important gains for women have become a reason to worry. They’ve become a reason to claim that the gender gap is not just closing, but – worse – it’s reversing.
Men are becoming disempowered by the second, and the worst part? There aren’t any left to marry. This is where the discussion veers left and loses me, a card carrying member of the group the Times is calling “high-earning young women transforming gender relationships, upending patterns of matchmaking, marriage and motherhood, creating a new conflict between the sexes, redefining the word “breadwinner.” (Sounds like the best mob ever, right?)
Women are marrying and having babies later, or not at all – data backs this up. This seems like a rather normal or natural progression to me, as demographic patterns shift along with economic growth and changing loci of power in society. Maybe (hopefully) it’s by choice, but some have also suggested that it’s sometimes by default. That women are getting awesome-r to the detriment of men, and in a society stuck on the notion that women marrying often means women “marrying up,” a chasm has opened up.
Or, as Kate Bolick wrote in her prolific piece for October’ Atlantic, “we’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of the party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up — and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.” Like we’ve won the battle but lost the war.
I responded to her piece here, arguing that the entire premise is based on this sort of old-school thinking. Bolick creates an unhelpful dichotomy between being single (read lonely, spinster-esque) or married (read co-dependent and chained for life). To me, it doesn’t reflect the far more complex and enlightened reality of young women today – even those who are single. There are many shades of “grey” to modern relationships, today’s young women (and men) are living them and creating them daily.
That’s why what was probably meant as a sobering reality check in the Times piece is actually a breath of fresh air: “I think women are going to have to abandon the traditional 50-50 everything-must-be-equal feminist mind-set and learn to value husbands and partners who are becoming more domesticated and supportive,” said Liza Mundy, author of the upcoming book “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.”
Yep, that sounds great. I think perfect equality all the time is a pipe dream. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue pushing toward that concept, all the time. It’s in the process of pushing toward that that we begin achieve new levels of enlightenment about how we relate to, respect, and interact with each other. And not just between men and women, but among women and men, respectively.
This is why we should drop-kick the term “reverse gender gap.” It’s alarmist, annoying, and sexist in its very syntax. It conjures up some kind of endless gender pendulum that will swing endlessly to extremes. Also, it’s disempowering to men. I know quite a few men and women partnered up with members of this new gender-norm-upending, breadwinning gaggle of femme fatales. I don’t think they see themselves as losers on the short end of the stick.
What we have here is the dawning of a new world of relationship dynamics. Instead of wringing our hands, let’s embrace it. As the article quotes Siobhan (Sam) Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, “I see great opportunity that these high-value women will ask and gain the flexibility they need to have marriages and families — their lives will probably look different than what we’ve seen — but they will work for them.”
Exactly – flexibility. Innovation. New models of partnership. We aren’t giving young women or young men enough credit – many already are living creatively among varying dynamics of money, power, and shared responsibility. They’ve thrown out this notion of “the gender gap” with last year’s Snuggie.