Hanna Rosin’s new neon-covered book, The End of Men, just hit bookshelves and has already led to a slew of interviews and excerpt placements. The title may sound familiar: the book grew out of her Atlantic article of the same name. That piece came out at the height of the recession, when men were suffering historic levels of unemployment. Rosin’s thesis is that the recession exaggerated a broader trend already well underway, in which American men are ceding economic dominance to women, who are better suited to a new economy that values communication, collaboration and service work. Her story’s moment may have faded: since the recession officially ended, women have gotten less than 20 percent of the jobs added to the economy, regaining just a quarter of the jobs they lost during the crisis. Men have recovered 42 percent of lost jobs.
But perhaps the biggest challenge in grappling with Rosin’s book is her tendency to use key concepts over and over without stopping to consider what they actually mean. “Matriarchy,” “success,” even “feminism” all play major roles in the End of Men, but they’re sketchily defined at best. Women have what it takes to be successful in the economy, she tells us, and calls this a matriarchy, suggesting that thousands of years of ruling patriarchy are coming to an end.
Let’s do some defining, then, starting with patriarchy. What does it mean to live in a patriarchal society? It is not just men’s ability to earn more income and control the TV remote. In Stephanie Coontz’s fantastic Sunday New York Times op-ed, she describes 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.… 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.
Patriarchy is not just a system that rewards (mostly white, straight, upper-class) men with the jobs and the money. In a highly patriarchal system, men are endowed with almost complete social control over women, not just economically but in sexual, political and reproductive realms. But, of course, having access to all the jobs—highly paid and low—and therefore all of the money is a great way to reinforce this system. Rosin acknowledges this system, saying, “For nearly as long as civilization has existed, patriarchy—enforced through the rights of the firstborn son—has been the organizing principle, with few exceptions.” Men took over “social and political institutions and [kept] women under their control,” allowing them to have “the power and resources.”
As Coontz points out, these “entitlements” for men have been losing strength for a while now, but began to erode more quickly in the past half century, as women flooded the workforce. Does this mean that we’ve ended the patriarchy? According to Rosin, the end is nigh, if not here yet.
If patriarchy is on its way out, then “matriarchy,” as Rosin puts it, is on the way in. The term figures prominently in the book, showing up on page five of Rosin’s introduction and even in one of her chapter titles—“The New American Matriarchy.”
It’s worth pausing to consider what a matriarchy would really mean. Here are some of the ways Rosin defines it: