Whenever some writer starts talking about "the end" of something, you can figure it's probably the beginning.
Remember "The End of History," Francis Fukuyama post-Cold-War thesis which said that now that everything was settled between the Soviets and the West, nothing of historical importance would ever happen again? That was like saying "The End of Yugoslavia" would mean nothing interesting would ever happen again in the Balkans.
David Brooks nailed all this in Bobos in Paradise, when he charted the rise of a typical public intellectual:
The title of her first book [his choice of pronoun] will begin with the phrase, "The End of…" The benefit of endism is its dramatic finality; few people will remember a book called Ideology is Aging. But decades after its publication, the title The End of Ideology will still be referred to (even if its contents are utterly forgotten). The difficulty in writing an endist book is in finding things that haven't already ended. History, equality, racism, tragedy, and politics have all been taken, and The Death of…takes in just about everything else. The End of Gardening just doesn't have the ring of a bestseller.
So it isn't too surprising to find emblazoned on the cover of this month's Atlantic Monthly "The End of Men -- How Women are Taking Control of Everything." The author, Hanna Rosin, is another striving public intellectual who has taken a few random statistics and projected them out to infinity, coming up with one of those "end-of-the-world" scenarios reminiscent of environmentalism in the 1970s.
Rosin starts with some very interesting observations. Apparently reversing a trend as old as humanity, Americans who practice sex selection now seem to prefer girl babies to boys. At the fertility clinics, 75 percent of couples now want females. The same is true in the adoption agencies (although Rosin doesn't mention this), where girls are very much in demand while boys go begging. This reverses the age-old custom of preferring male heirs. The most recent example of this has been in China, where the "one-child" policy has produced the largest oversupply of adult males in the world. Perhaps one day this army of wifeless "little emperors" -- the "bare branches," as they are called in China -- will invade the U.S. to reclaim those thousands of Chinese girls who have been raised by American families and single mothers.
The main reason Americans seem to prefer girls, however, is that people don't want to deal with boys anymore. Girls are serious, compliant, well behaved and not afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder or any of the names we have attached to boys' rough-and-tumble ways. Boys have just about been written out of schools, where the curriculum has been totally revised to fit girls' tastes. When my sons started in grade school, I was amazed at how the teachers (mostly female) continually used the word "feel" for "think." ("What do you FEEL about the story Lisa has just read?") Math no longer involves manipulating numbers but interpreting long word problems that are supposed to be "more representative of real life." The main scientific discipline is "environmental science," which mostly means lamenting human activity (most of it dreamed up by men, of course) while trying to feel closer to nature. In progressive Berkeley they are talking about eliminating advanced science labs altogether because women and minorities don't find them interesting.
When boys arrive at elite colleges they are likely to be subjected to "orientation programs" in which they learn they have spent all their lives oppressing women and that all their natural impulses are now illegal. They will soon find the swim team, the wrestling squad or some other favorite sport no longer exists because, under Title IX, not enough girls would go out for equivalent sports.
The latest development has been the elimination of walk-ons -- non-scholarship athletes who have not been recruited in high school but try out anyway hoping to make the team. The evil prototype here is Rudy, the 1993 movie about Rudy Ruettiger, a Notre Dame football walk-on who sat on the bench for four years before being allowed in for one play -- and sacked the quarterback. Almost all walk-ons are men. This upsets the one-to-one gender balance required by Title IX. In response, team rosters have been trimmed, junior varsity eliminated altogether and thousands and thousands of young men told they can't try out for sports because an equal number of girls won't do the same.
"What they are doing with walk-ons is deplorable," said John McDonnell, holder of 36 national titles as a track and field coach at the University of Arkansas, in a 2002 The New York Times article. "A student should never be told, 'You can't try.' We are supposed to build leaders and instead we're saying, 'Don't reach for something.' We have an obesity problem and we're telling college kids to go back to the dorm, sit on the couch and watch sports on television."
But Marilyn McNeil, chairwoman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's committee on women's athletics, holds the prevailing opinion "I hate the movie Rudy," she told the Times. "It's time to tell these students: 'You've got other talents. Go write about sports at the school newspaper, join the debate team, or maybe you've got a nice voice and belong on the stage."
Is it any wonder young men don't find college a very friendly environment anymore?
Rosin is not unaware of all this, of course. "In their desperation to reach out to boys," she writes, "some colleges have formed football teams and started engineering programs. Most of these special accommodations sound very much like the kind of affirmative action proposed for women over the years -- which in itself is an alarming flip." (Just who is alarmed by this she doesn't specify.)
Imagine, though -- engineering! What a useless male preoccupation. Just because we haven't built anything worthwhile in this country for thirty years, or because our manufacturing plants have become obsolete, or because we are falling far behind the rest of the world in all kinds of key technologies, is of little concern. The important thing is to keep any vestiges of male chauvinism out of the curriculum.
As a result of all this, women now make up 60 percent of college undergraduates. The pattern is extending into the professional schools as well. As Rosin informs us, women now get 60 percent of master's degrees, half of law and medicine degrees, and 42 percent of MBAs.
This whole trend is now finding its way into the economy. Seventy-five percent of jobs lost in the recession belonged to men. As of a few months ago, for the first time in history, women outnumber men in the work force. Writes Rosin:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs -- up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America's physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms….A white-collar economy… increasingly requires formal educational credentials, which women are more prone to acquire…. Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background…. Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer. Women have everything else -- nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation.
So what to make of this? That young women perform better in school is hardly an original observation. Mark Twain made it when he wrote "On Girls" in English as She Is Taught:
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be have your. They think more of dress than anything and like to play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time and go to church on Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-ways funy and making fun of boy's hands and they say how dirty. They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.
The seeds of the current situation can be found in How Schools Shortchange Girls, a study put out by the American Association of University Women in 1992. Christina Hoff Sommers eviscerated the study, pointing out in The War Against Boys that girls actually do better in school, that boys have much higher drop-out rates, and that the standard by which the AAUW study measured girls' shortchanging was self-esteem -- a purely subjective standard. Adolescent girls may have most self-doubts but who has the least? Young black males, as it turns out. Obviously, self-esteem has little to do with academic performance.
What threw in a curve -- and apparently galled the university women to no end -- was a population of "star boys" at the very top. On the whole, girls did better than boys but the best boys outperformed the best girls. Moreover the teachers seemed to favor these star boys, letting them call out answers and praising their achievements. You can just see those university women sitting there years before with their perfect homework assignments written in perfect penmanship grinding their teeth at these obnoxious loudmouths who were always asking a question or calling out the answer.
In the great meritocracy of contemporary American society, this classroom situation has now been duplicated in society at large. Young men who once congregated at the back of the classroom perusing motorcycle magazines and writing their girlfriends' names on their arms in indelible ink are now sinking lower and lower in the work force. Meanwhile, those young women who turned in all their assignments and made the honor roll are rising through the ranks. True, the "star boys" still dominate most professions but that can be explained as well. With perfect heads-I-win, tails-you-lose logic, Rosin attributes this to "discrimination."
So if good grades and graduate degrees are becoming the yardstick for performance in the economy, what kind of economy are we creating? The first thing to notice about those Department of Labor statistics is that nearly all the next decade's expected job growth is in professions dependent on the government. The so-called "white-collar economy" we are entering is really an expanding government bureaucracy. Nursing, home health care, child care, maintaining medical records -- all involve taking care of people or keeping track of other people taking care of people while taxpayers foot the bill. (Obamacare will supersize this effort.) Who's going to create the wealth to pay for all this? Rosin doesn't venture an answer.
More and more we are becoming an economy dominated by educated and credentialed people doing government-dependent jobs. This kind of economy specializes in "can't do." How else would you explain the current fiasco in the Gulf, where the federal government's principal contribution has been to tell skimming boats they can't go out without sufficient life jackets, to require federal permits for people trying to rescue damaged birds, to forbid the use of dispersants without environmental impact statements, to keep 80 percent of the nation's skimming boats bottled up in their home ports in case there's another oil spill somewhere, and to tell the world's abundant supply of skimmers (including one Taiwanese boat that can skim as much as our entire fleet) that they can't help because it would violate federal labor laws?
Women will do well in this can't-do economy. In fact, anyone who excels at writing term papers and accumulating degrees is more likely to end up writing environmental impact statements than inventing new technologies or starting new businesses. Men's skills are different. They are adventurous. They like to build and operate machines. They like to take risks and push the envelope. They prefer doing things in the real world rather than on paper. In the can't-do economy, these skills are becoming more and more marginalized.
Yet economies only advance on the frontiers of science and technology. People who do well at school don't always do well on frontiers. The ratio of men to women on the American frontier was probably 10-to-1. Always there were a few tough women who thrived in the pioneer life but most arrived only later as a "civilizing" influence. It is men who break new ground, brave the odds, and clear a path for women to follow. Feminists will insist that this is all social conditioning and that "women can be taught these skills as well," but that's the point. Men don't have to be taught. They are that way naturally.
If we have an economy based on writing environmental impact statements, responding to lawsuits, and pushing each other around in wheelchairs, it is likely women will continue to dominate the work force. But that doesn't bode well for the country. If we are to start making and doing things again -- like building the 100 new nuclear reactors we need to clean the air and provide ourselves with enough energy -- then men will have to make a comeback. The real question is not about the "end of men" but about the future of America. From the perspective of 2010, it doesn't look very encouraging.
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