Hanna Rosin On Where The End Of Men Should Start
1:15 pm, October 1st | by Sarah Devlin
Atlantic reporter Hanna Rosin’s provocative book The End of Men (And The Rise of Women) has been making waves in the media since the piece that inspired it was published in 2010. A lot has changed since then, but the problems she identified continue to be debated today. We sat down to talk to her about the process of writing the book, the greatest challenges facing women today, and in which part of American life the end of men could stand to happen a little more quickly.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
I know that the impetus for the book was your article in The Atlantic in 2010, so you’ve been talking about this subject for a while. How do you feel about being associated with this particular book for so long, since it’s really made a big impact and people have a lot of strong feelings about it — is that something you’ve thought about a lot?
No, not before I started it…the title is something that came out of my Atlantic story, I didn’t write the original title, but then it became assciated with the article over time and it’s become a shorthand for it. It’s a blessing and a curse — a blessing because it’s brought the book a lot of attention, but it’s a curse because it doesn’t exactly reflect what’s in the book, so it’s complicated in that way. And no, I’m much more comfortable as a reporter than I am as a sort of ideologue, and personally my style is much more to report stories than to write and hammer at them, so that’s been kind of funny.
Did you have any idea that the book would blow up the way that it did?
No, definitely not when I was writing the article and then it did get all this attention. When I started writing the book I thought “Oh, well, it’s all already been said…” I mean, I expected that people would respond strongly because the title is very provocative, but I think that people react to different parts of it and that’s part of what gives it a long life, because people are interested in the marriage part and the sex part and the work part.
Do you find the reaction can be kind of negative because the title is so provocative, and sort of implies that there can only be one gender on top?
I think there are definitely people who read the title and are turned off by it, and you know, how could they not be?
Have you found that the response to the book differs along gender lines, or has there not been much of a split?
Yeah, the split is within genders, so for men I get two responses: one is that the title is so offensive — which is how one of my sons has responded to the title — and then the other response is “the expectations of society have been such a burden on me, and I don’t want the pressure to be that kind of guy,” and so there’s relief on the part of men.
And then for women I get one response, which is “Are you implying that ther’es s no more struggle and we don’t have to do anything for women anymore,” which is not what I say but that’s one response, and then the other response, especially to the hookup chapter, is that I found a lot of gratitude from women for describing that phenomenon in a different way.
I know that you dedicated the book to your son and you mention your husband in the book – was he kind of part of a collaborative process in writing it, or does he just kind of appear, almost as a character?
He’s been really nice, especially with the first few days of publicity…He went on The Today Show with me just as my husband even though he’s the Editor In Chief of Slate, so he’s been a total trooper about all of this. He certainly read a chapter or two, but I wouldn’t say he’s been a collaborator. But he’s been totally supportive and done more than his share — for example while I was finishing the book he took the kids on vacation one time, so he’s done a lot of stuff like that.
Regarding the hookup chapter [in The End Of Men] I read your piece in The Atlantic “Boys On The Side” a few weeks ago, and I was kind of surprised about the reaction to the piece because the argument that I was getting from some people was “Well, it shouldn’t be this either/or choice where women either grow up wanting to get married and live their lives according to that track or say ‘I’m not so interested in that’ and kind of focus on their career,” but what I got from it was that you were just finding that it’s not so much an either/or dichotomy so much as it’s no longer this horrible void in a young woman’s life to not be in a relationship, and just be focusing on her career and figuring what she wants to do. I was wondering how you felt about the response to the piece and if there was anything that you felt like people didn’t get.
It’s actually been one of my better experiences: I’ve gotten a lot of letters and emails from younger women who are around the age that I write about, and they’re basically explaining to me in greater detail what the third way is that they’re trying to bring about. It’s not like they want to have a lot of one night stands, we all understand that. It’s not like they want to get married right away, we all understand that people get married a lot later. But they want to have emotional connections, maybe with boyfriends, and they’re creating these new sorts of relationships that are not necessarily heading towad marriage but are satisfying in their own way.
I found these women were much more articulate than I was at laying out what they want from guys at that age, but I didn’t think that it was that controversial, even though it was an article about sex. I did try to correct the impression that women are victims of this culture when it’s obvious at some level that they are helping to create this new way of being, and it doesn’t even have to destroy people’s’ capacity for marriage because most college educated women do get married in the end, so it seems like it largely works out. And the letters I’ve gotten from women have been quite sweet. I don’t read these letters and think “Oh my god, it’s the death of young love,” I read them and think “This is kind of interesting.” People are thinking about this in ways that are different than i did when I was younger and I think they’re right, you know? I read some of these letters and thought — you know, if my daughter wrote one of them I would feel happy about it.
Yeah, I found it to be very optimistic and so I was kind of surprised – I just remember I found a link to the article on The Hairpin, and a lot of the comments were kind of miffed about someone talking about how hookup culture has replaced marriage, and I really didn’t see that way at all. Has that been kind of a constant frustration for you?
With other parts in the book it has, like one aspect of the book that I think has been misread is that it’s a very triumphalist feminist manifesto and I think from reporting the book it has been pretty clear that some of the things that are going on are not great, like if you don’t have a college degree you’re much more likely to raise children alone…so those are not great developments. And so I think I’ve reported it as this cultural moment but not been cheering at every aspect of it, and I try to emphasize over and over again that this is a mixed bag at the moment and it’s not all necessarily good.
By the same token, a lot of times people frame more women going to college and being in the workforce as a net good because women bring qualities of collaboration and intuition and that sort of thing, and I know people agree and disagree with that idea. I was wondering if you felt like by virtue of having women be the majority at universities and in the work force there are qualities that are going to fade away that might be good about having a lot of men in leadership positions and a lot of men going to college.
Yeah — you’re asking about women being in leadership positions being positive?
Right, and if men fall behind what might be missing from the equation.
Oh yeah, I mean for example when I talk about colleges in the book, college admissions offices basically feel it’s a crisis, they really don’t like the idea of their college campus being dominated by women. They feel that it throws off everything — courses, academic choices, it’s very harmful for certain departments that men prefer and also just the social relationships on campus. People don’t really feel comfortable when they’re on campuses where there are so many more women than men. So I think that’s not necessarily a good thing at all.
Do you feel like that attitude is a problem that we should really try to address and make people feel more comfortable, or is it more like “Well, we could coddle them or they could just get used to it.”
It could go a few ways – a good thing that could come out of this is let’s say when my sons grow up, if they live in a world in which their girlfriend or fiancé or whomever makes more money than they do and that’s not even a topic of conversation, and that’s fine with everyone, I think that would be good. In a world in which that’s true for some couples and not true for other couples, then that would be perfectly fine. I feel the same way about men in certain professions – if more men wanted to be teachers, that would be pretty awesome too. But in terms of all men becoming stay-at-home fathers, I really don’t think that’s going to happen. Nor do I think that immediately overnight everyone will be comfortable with women in positions of power and dominance. I think that’ll be a while.
But there are definitely some of these changes that i think would be good, and that we could even get into policy questions like when two people are living together treating them as a family even when they’re not married, and I think that would be social policy that would be good for men. I mean, we don’t want men to feel increasingly alienated from their roles as fathers, because that would be terrible.
I know you have sons and I was wondering if this has impacted the way you think about raising boys in this new educational and working climate, or do you feel like that’s not really at the forefront of your mind?
I do, for example one son only plays with cars and trucks and my other son is writing computer programs, so they’re pretty gender stereotyped in that way. I’m pretty realistic about what school is like for them and how difficult it is for them. The way I think about it is that I can’t change them and I can’t change the system, so i try to think about them meeting the system halfway and explaining why certain things are important and why the teacher wants them to learn certain skills and is asking for certain things, and as far as things that are not that natural or particularly easy, I hope they internalize some of those things.
The college counselors that I talked to say that when they read college essays they often say “Oh, what a great essay Mom wrote” and I don’t want to be one of those people, so I want to teach them how to do what the system is asking of even if they don’t want to all the time.
And do you feel like the system, especially in early education, kind of favors girls in that there’s an emphasis on being neat and tidy and organized, and that might come more easily to young girls than young boys? Do you feel like an emphasis on those values is okay, or would it be better to try and meet younger boys halfway?
You know, I’m honestly really supportive of that, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it looks like but not enough time thinking about what the right focus is. People talk about finding more reading materials that would be interesting to boys and having more recess but there are sort of much bigger problems, like why does the system naturally favor young girls as the gold standard in school, and maybe that was always true but it matters more now because girls can really go places with that. I don’t know, in my own personal example I really have a hard time badgering schools and teling them that they have to change their ways in order for my son to thrive.
It’s definitely more of a systemic issue.
I think it’s so interesting that this book came out when it did, because we had kind of a crazy summer politically in terms of women’s issues, when a lot of women got very upset — and rightly so — about the things that were being said about birth control. They did this at the Republican National Convention too but particularly at the DNC there was a lot of emphasis on women and women’s issues, and even in President Obama’s acceptance speech, anytime he invoke the rhetorical device of a “young student” he used female pronouns. I was wondering if you feel like that was an immediate response to the opportunity to attract women voters, or if you think that kind of shift is going to keep being important politically.
I think both those things are true. The “war on women” is dfeinitely reactive to a lot of what I’m describing, especially the idea that we reopened the question on contraceptives, which is absurd because of how dependent most families are on that technology. So that felt very reactive. And in terms of the Democrats I think it’s a permanent thing because there’s a growing voter demographic of single women, and they are growing partly because people are getting married later and less often. So there’s going to be a battle between the parties for single women, largely college-educated professional women and women who are in the working class and not getting married and who are probably a bit more conservative, but living a life that doesn’t look like the Romneys’ life. So I think they actually are becoming an important demographic.
Yeah I found that very interesting and heartening too, I thought it was really pretty cool.
What do you think about representation at the upper echelons of companies and in politics: there’s something that I’ve kind of nicknamed in my mind the “American Idol phenomenon” where now there’s one female judge on every panel for all of these talent shows, and there are female candidates for president and we’ve had two female Secretaries of State, and several female Supreme Court justices, but it seems like there would never be a situation where we would have a Supreme Court with a majority of women, or on a less serious level, a televised talent competition where all the judges are women. Do you agree with that, or think that’s something that might change?
Yeah, that’s great — you immediately envision the panel and what it looks like with one woman sandwiched betwen two guys — I actually think it’s going to change but in a spotty way. I think in politics we’re pretty close, I feel like after Barack Obama there will be a viable female candidate running for office. The culture is almost ready to accept women in those positions of power and dominance. I think that CEOs and finance will be very slow to change. Finance and Wall Street are pretty male dominated and have a pretty macho culture ,and big law firms are the same way. But then the majority of Ivy League presidents are women, so there are certain places that are more open for some reason, and I think that other places will take a lot longer.
Do you subscribe to the view that I know a lot of people hold, and i think that people can be half serious when they say this, that if the majority of traders and investment bankers on Wall Street had been female, that maybe something like what happened in 2008 would have been less likely or could have been avoided — or do you find that reductive?
There’s a great story that I love about JP Morgan where there was this woman, Ina Drew, and in 2008 she was in charge of two teams of executives and actually steered things away from the 2008 crisis by kind of managing all the infighting. Then in 2010 she got lyme disease and she left in the middle of this huge battle between the New York and London office and they made a disastrous bet. The New York Times called it the “Lyme Disease Theory of Financial Collapse” and its a perfect example of the kinds of things that can happen in these male-heavy environments.
The last question I wanted to ask is if there’s one sector of the economy or one industry or area where you think a majority of women or at least many more women would do the most good, what would you say that ought to be?
Oh, that’s such a good question, I haven’t been asked that question before. I think it’s politics, becasue i think a lot of other changes in the work force have impacts in other countries, like in Scandinavian countries and with issues like work hours, and I think that it would make a huge difference if you had people looking out for women’s interests in politics, that the process of change would be much better.
Definitely — it helps to have women advocating in those position in addition to the advocacy that we already see from male politicians.
Well this has been such an interesting discussion, thank you so much!
Sure, thank you!
[Photo via The Daily Beast]