Stephanie Coontz is a national treasure and I wish her work were required reading for everyone in the world. She’s in the Sunday Times writing about how all of this “End of Men” / women are dominating / Girls Rule! stuff is… not quite true. We’ve made some progress, but gender parity is still long off. Oh, and the reason why it seems like men are “doing worse”? Is because for a very long time, men were the beneficiaries of some major gendered affirmative action through a “patriarchal dividend” in which women as a class were largely excluded from public life, propping up men as a class and offering virtually no competition:
Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men.
The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.
The curtailment of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy. Indeed, in many arenas the progress of women has actually stalled over the past 15 years.
Women still make less money than men. There are more women than ever before in middle management, but female managers make significantly less than male managers, and they don’t seem to get much higher up than management — only 4 percent of the C.E.O.’s in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female.
The recession hit everyone hard, but men were hit the hardest. However, men have recovered disproportionately quickly — they’ve regained nearly half the jobs that they lost in the recession, while women have regained only 38% of the jobs they lost.
Oh and that line about how unmarried childless women in their 20s now out-earn their male counterparts? Yeah… that only holds up if you compare everyone of the same age group, regardless of education, in certain urban centers where there are large numbers of highly-educated women and large numbers of men without higher education.
Among never-married, childless 22- to 30-year-old metropolitan-area workers with the same educational credentials, males out-earn females in every category, according to a reanalysis of census data to be presented next month at Boston University by Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland. Similarly, a 2010 Catalyst survey found that female M.B.A.’s were paid an average of $4,600 less than men in starting salaries and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth throughout their careers, even if they remain childless.
Another gender Think Piece theme that drives me up a wall: the Men Are Terrible theme (also known as Judd Apatow syndrome). We’ve all read the pieces about how men today aren’t getting married because women are too uppity; how men hang out playing videogames all day; how men are “going Galt.” Coontz points out that it’s not nearly that dire. Men are doing pretty well — and feminism was good for men, too.
If the ascent of women has been much exaggerated, so has the descent of men. Men’s irresponsibility and bad behavior is now a stock theme in popular culture. But there has always been a subset of men who engage in crude, coercive and exploitative behavior. What’s different today is that it’s harder for men to get away with such behavior in long-term relationships. Women no longer feel compelled to put up with it and the legal system no longer condones it. The result is that many guys who would have been obnoxious husbands, behaving badly behind closed doors, are now obnoxious singles, trumpeting their bad behavior on YouTube.
Their boorishness may be pathetic, but it’s much less destructive than the masculine misbehavior of yore. Most men are in fact behaving better than ever. Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care. And this change is not confined to highly educated men.
Among dual-earner couples, husbands with the least education do as much or more housework than their more educated counterparts. Men who have made these adjustments report happier marriages — and better sex lives.
Finally, Coontz points out that what’s holding men back — that what’s holding back progress for all of us — is a masculine “gender mystique.” Women have pushed back against traditional gender roles, and opportunities for women are wider than ever. But men still cling to traditional masculinity, and they’re still punished if they step outside of it:
ONE thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: overinvestment in their gender identity instead of their individual personhood. Men are now experiencing a set of limits — externally enforced as well as self-imposed — strikingly similar to the ones Betty Friedan set out to combat in 1963, when she identified a “feminine mystique” that constrained women’s self-image and options.
Although men don’t face the same discriminatory laws as women did 50 years ago, they do face an equally restrictive gender mystique.
Just as the feminine mystique discouraged women in the 1950s and 1960s from improving their education or job prospects, on the assumption that a man would always provide for them, the masculine mystique encourages men to neglect their own self-improvement on the assumption that sooner or later their “manliness” will be rewarded.
According to a 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans now believe that a college education is necessary for a woman to get ahead in life today, but only 68 percent think that is true for men. And just as the feminine mystique exposed girls to ridicule and harassment if they excelled at “unladylike” activities like math or sports, the masculine mystique leads to bullying and ostracism of boys who engage in “girlie” activities like studying hard and behaving well in school. One result is that men account for only 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers, 3 percent of dental assistants and 9 percent of registered nurses.
The masculine mystique is institutionalized in work structures, according to three new studies forthcoming in the Journal of Social Issues. Just as women who display “masculine” ambitions or behaviors on the job are often penalized, so are men who engage in traditionally female behaviors, like prioritizing family involvement. Men who take an active role in child care and housework at home are more likely than other men to be harassed at work.
Men who request family leave are often viewed as weak or uncompetitive and face a greater risk of being demoted or downsized. And men who have ever quit work for family reasons end up earning significantly less than other male employees, even when controlling for the effects of age, race, education, occupation, seniority and work hours. Now men need to liberate themselves from the pressure to prove their masculinity. Contrary to the fears of some pundits, the ascent of women does not portend the end of men. It offers a new beginning for both. But women’s progress by itself is not a panacea for America’s inequities. The closer we get to achieving equality of opportunity between the sexes, the more clearly we can see that the next major obstacle to improving the well-being of most men and women is the growing socioeconomic inequality within each sex.
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