The Men Seem Paralyzed: America’s Male Identity Crisis

Factories close and the men don’t have jobs anymore – Published on Spiegel Online International, interview with Hanna Rosin, conducted by Samiha Shafy, Jan 4, 2013.

In a SPIEGEL interview, Israeli-American author Hanna Rosin, 42, whose book “The End of Men” is to be published in Germany this month, discusses the identity crisis being experienced by the male sex in America. Men, she argues, are the losers in the economic downturn because they are too rigid and inflexible … //

SPIEGEL: Ms. Rosin, the title of your book sounds like a declaration of war: “The End of Men.” What are you trying to say with that title?

  • Rosin: Ironically, it was a man, my editor at The Atlantic, who chose that as the title for my cover story of the same name for the magazine in 2010. The phrase stuck and became shorthand for the entire debate. It’s three short words, provocative and memorable. I thought about changing it when I wrote the book, but nothing else seemed as fitting. It’s as if I planted a stop sign in the ground and now the whole world is debating over it. Some people respond with anger, some with puzzlement, but the phrase definitely always evokes an emotional response … //

… SPIEGEL: Let’s put the question a different way: How would you explain the title of your book to a girl in Pakistan who is being forcibly kept from going to school?

  • Rosin: My research focused on the US, but some of the processes I describe can also be observed in Arab and Asian countries. Education is playing a growing role in the Middle East. And when women gain access to higher education and then suddenly start doing better at it than the men, that can really throw the prevailing social order out of balance. That’s exactly what’s happened in South Korea, which is a highly patriarchal society. They started educating women, and then they were no longer the women that society wants them to be. That caused a real cultural crisis.

SPIEGEL: Germany, on the other hand, is seen as a progressive country, but here too, women still have to fight for equal wages and career advancement opportunities. In a country that’s still arguing over quotas for women in management positions and government benefits for stay-at-home mothers, positing the “end of men” seems fairly removed from the real world.

  • Rosin: Strangely enough, there’s been enormous interest in my book in Germany. German academics have told me that men in Germany are going through an extreme identity crisis, even though the balance of power there hasn’t changed much yet. So then the question is: Why do Germany men feel put under siege when, objectively speaking, in fact they aren’t at all?

SPIEGEL: In the US, though, it seems they actually are. You appear to have observed a very real societal collapse among the American middle class in some parts of the country, caused by the massive loss of jobs to other countries overseas. Could it be that what you call the end of men is more accurately simply the decline of the US as a manufacturing-based economy?

  • Rosin: No, it’s not. Men are now also in the minority among those entering other traditionally male-dominated areas such as law and medicine. Finance and politics are still firmly in male hands, but in many other areas it seems the proportions are shifting in women’s favor. Boys are doing worse at school and university. It’s only logical that this imbalance, which can be observed in most industrialized countries, will change conditions on the job market.

SPIEGEL: The phenomenon you’re talking about is one that puzzles experts. Has your research shed any new light on why so many young men are having problems in school and college and dropping out?

  • Rosin: I think the common claim that it’s because there are more female than male teachers is nonsense. People have been complaining about the feminization of schools since the turn of the last century, long before boys started having these problems. My impression is that we’re dealing with a cultural phenomenon. It’s seen as uncool and girly for boys to pay attention in school, do their homework, study. Then there’s the deluge of distractions, for example computer games, that tend to appeal to boys more than girls. But the decisive point is that in the past, men without a higher education had disproportionately more opportunities than they do today.

SPIEGEL: For your research, you traveled to former manufacturing towns in regions of the US that are still very traditional, and found that many of the men have disappeared from the job market entirely.

  • Rosin: Yes, the changes are dramatic, especially because the patriarchal system is still very pronounced in these places. The boss of a big factory is at the very top of the hierarchy, followed by his managers, and then women are all the way at the bottom. No one questions this arrangement, because it’s justified by the Bible: The man is the head of the family, meant to lead and to preach. Then suddenly, economic realities change. Factories close and the men don’t have jobs anymore. Their work defined their masculinity, and from one moment to the next it all falls apart. The men seem paralyzed.

SPIEGEL: What changes does that bring about?

  • Rosin: The older generation tries to somehow reconcile economic realities with its traditional view of the world, for example by disconnecting the role of the breadwinner from that of the head of the family. Even if in many cases it’s the woman providing for the family, for example working as a nurse, the unemployed man remains the head of the family. She earns the money, but he makes the decisions, with his authority now entirely founded on spirituality. The younger generation, though, is reacting differently. For them, everything is breaking down.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean exactly?

  • Rosin: What young people learn in church can no longer be reconciled with the realities of their lives. Yet men and women alike are finding it immensely difficult to accept their changed roles. This is why marriages are failing, and mothers are raising their children alone. Many women would rather remain alone than marry a man who can’t contribute anything to the family’s income.

SPIEGEL: You write that recent developments in the American economy have hit men harder than women, because women have reacted more flexibly to the changed demands of the job market. Can you back up that theory?

  • Rosin: It’s a fact that within the space of a few decades, women have achieved a massive shift in the role they play — in the way they act in public, and in the way they have conquered areas of the working world that were until recently considered a man’s domain. In comparison, little has changed about the way men act. The financial crisis has caused the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs in the US — yet men aren’t moving into traditionally female growth sectors such as healthcare or education, even when those are the only jobs still available. That brings about the societal tensions I’ve just described: men who are the head of the family, but unemployed, and women who are the family breadwinner, but not by choice.

SPIEGEL: Critics of your book say it provides only a snapshot, and that if the financial crisis were to expand to include female-dominated areas such as schools and the public sector, then women in these fields would lose their jobs to the same high degree that men have in other sectors.

  • Rosin: That’s not a convincing argument. Public sector jobs are cyclical. Teachers get fired when money is tight, then rehired when things get better. Manufacturing jobs, on the other hand, aren’t coming back. They’re relics of a past age.

SPIEGEL: Listening to you speak, it would be easy to get the impression that you consider men obsolete.

  • Rosin: In certain parts of American society, they truly are, but I think it’s awful. Among the working class, more than half of children of mothers under 30 are now born to unmarried women. Most of these children grow up without a father. We know this phenomenon from the poor, black community, but it’s spreading to other parts of society as well, even to the middle class. Men aren’t able to find jobs anymore, and they’re withdrawing from society, essentially creating a matriarchy. For the upper social classes, marriage is still a successful model, but for poorer people it’s not.

SPIEGEL: So marriage is indeed the “private playground of those already blessed with abundance,” as sociologist Brad Wilcox puts it?

  • Rosin: It is, and the statistics prove it. People with a college education are now less likely to divorce than they were a few decades ago, and they’re more likely to describe their marriages as happy. That finding really surprised me. It appears that those with a higher education have been more able to dismantle strict traditional roles and, in doing so, gain more freedom. I call it a seesaw marriage, one in which both the man and the woman take turns being the breadwinner, making it possible for each of them to experience career advancements or breaks at different times.

SPIEGEL: That sounds very optimistic. But in your book, you describe couples for whom the fact that the woman was suddenly earning more money than the man caused considerable tension.

  • Rosin: That’s true. These arrangements are so new that both men and women often have mixed feelings about them, and you don’t have to dig very deep to find those feelings. I think one young man from Canada put it very well when he told me that theoretically and politically he believes in the idea of a househusband 100 percent — he just doesn’t want to be one himself.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Rosin, we thank you for this interview.

(full interview text).


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