Does ‘Doing It All’ Mean the End of Men?: Hanna Rosin
In The End of Men, Hanna Rosin looks at the rise of women in education, work, and as household breadwinners - and asks whether our world now puts men at a disadvantage. But is the rise of the ‘double shift’ - women who are both breadwinners and household managers - progress? Is it equality? Jo Case considers.
Hanna Rosin is a feminist who other feminists love to hate. In her controversial bestseller The End of Men, she writes that women are not only catching up with men, but are often out-performing them.
Looking at the decline of male-dominated manufacturing jobs in America since the 1990s, she notices a corresponding rise in female breadwinners, some of them choosing to raise children alone rather than take on the additional burden of an unemployed man.
‘The story was no longer about the depths men had sunk to; that dynamic had been playing out for several decades and was more or less played out. The new story was that women, for the first time in history, had in many ways surpassed them.’
Rosin says that men ‘reacted more favourably than I expected them to … they sense that things are changing’, while women ‘were more hostile than I expected them to be’.
Female breadwinners on the rise
New Australian research, published this week, backs up Rosin’s argument that women are on the rise: women are nominated as the main breadwinner in one in four Australian households now. Numbers dip to one in five households during the child-rearing years, and soar again to 34 per cent when the woman is aged 60 or more.
But while it’s a notable demographic shift, such numbers hardly mark the ‘end of men’. One quarter is not a majority. And female breadwinner households bring in around $1000 less per week than those with a male breadwinner. The pay gap between men and women remains at about 17.5% in Australia.
‘If this is a budding matriarchy, it is a surprisingly poorly paid one,’ observed Mary Beard, who reviewed The End of Men in the Guardian. She cited 20% as the average at which women’s salaries lag behind their male counterparts.
Women doing better in education
Rosin also identifies a changing proportion of women who attain higher degrees, which lead to better-paid jobs. She finds evidence that some colleges are quietly practising discrimination in favour of men, to keep the gender balance relatively even. Women earn almost 60 per cent of bachelor degrees (‘the minimum requirement for an affluent life’), 60 per cent of masters degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and about 44 per cent of all business degrees.
She cites figures showing that the education gap between men and women is widening all over the world. Australia hovers at about ten per cent.
‘Young people live in a world in which the educational elite is as lopsidedly female as it once was male,’ she writes. ‘Men … start out in life internalizing the idea that women are more successful than they are, and that when it comes to knowledge, drive and discipline necessary to succeed, women are the naturals with whom men have to strain to keep up.’
Claudia Buchmann, co-author of a new book called The Rise of Women and a sociology professor at Ohio State University, has found that the education gender gap is less about innate ability than social conditioning. She says that boys have historically been trained to think that they needn’t obey rules or work hard, because men used to be able to drop out of high school and still earn wages comparable to better-educated women, thanks to jobs in fields like manufacturing, construction and travel. ‘Boys’ lower engagement in school leads to weaker preparation, and then reduces their chances of getting through college,’ she says.
The double shift: Women who do it all
Rosin’s research seems to back this up. One man she interviews, who has returned to college to complete a teaching degree after two years working at Taco Bell, was ‘the class clown in high school’. He was motivated to get his degree by his sister, a single mother who ‘gets her three kids to school by seven, goes to the community college until three, and then works her night job at the IRS from six in the evening until three in the morning’.
Many of the women she interviews work on these kinds of exhausting schedules to get ahead, or to make ends meet. In one particularly egregious example, self-proclaimed ‘mediocre house dude’ Steven takes care of his toddler son during the day and goes to law school at night; his (heavily pregnant) wife Sarah works as a lawyer, cooks, cleans, and takes care of all childcare and household duties whenever she is home, as well as helping Steven with his course work. Steven keeps his son ‘reasonably happy and mostly fed and the house mildly clean’, but draws the line at laundry, cooking meals or washing nappies, which he leaves in the sink for Sarah when she gets home. Sometimes Sarah comes home to ‘poop on the walls that Steven has not bothered to clean’.
Is this kind of ‘double shift’ progress? Is it equality? Reading Rosin’s book, it feels like neither.
‘It is perhaps to the credit of Rosin (and her honesty) that if you did not know the title of the book you might very likely imagine that whole sections of it had been written to support precisely the opposite argument,’ writes Mary Beard.
Indeed, this is a book that - whether you agree with Rosin’s interpretations of the shifts in the gender gap or not - presents a fascinating body of research, and an array of intriguing provocations.
Is it possible that women will overtake men in work and education? Do women want to? How far do men have to go in stepping up to take on more in the domestic realm? (And do they want to?) If we’re all working the same punishing schedules, who will take care of the kids?
And to what extent does class have an impact on all this?