Joanna Schroeder has had it with “The End of Men” and believes having a title that will sell millions of books isn’t worth furthering the myth that men and women can’t rise to power together.
Yesterday, The Daily Beast featured a piece by Jessica Bennett about the controversial and much-debated book by Hanna Rosin, The End of Men. I’m not sure when I’ve seen a book get so much pre-publication play, but it’s not surprising giving the controversial title…a title that I’m not afraid to say is ridiculous, if not downright damaging.
Bennett seems to agree, citing her own experiences carrying an advance copy of The End of Men around New York City with her:
First, you get a lot of inquisitive stares. Some people snicker. When you accidentally leave the book on the counter of your morning coffee shop, the man who returns it to you points to the cover, giggles, and does a little jig.
I certainly admire Bennett for braving the streets with the brightly-colored book. I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible habit of making everyone else’s book titles my business in a public place, and am willing to sheepishly admit that I judge people based upon said titles. I fell in love with my first serious boyfriend because he was double-fisting the Bible and War and Peace.
Fortunately for us, Bennett isn’t so shallow, and offers an examination of the book beyond the title, citing Rosin’s research into women delaying marriage, women taking over professions like pharmacy work and the many men who are staying home with their children because of their wives’ earning potential.
But the title doesn’t go unnoticed here. In Internet publishing, we would call The End of Men “linkbait”—and linkbait is generally frowned upon. A title should be evocative, maybe even controversial, but it should accurately represent the contents of the article. Linkbaiting is a cheap tactic, one we associate The National Enquirer of the 1980s using to make us wonder if Michael Jackson really did marry an alien* only to discover that the entire article is just a quote from some random cousin of someone who had a vision.
We certainly expect more from an editor of The Atlantic, or from the New York Times which seems to also be capitalizing upon linkbaity titles in reference to this work. Bennett notes that the people in Rosin’s life aren’t too keen on the title either:
But if you are the author of a book called The End of Men—with a man for a husband and a boy for a child—you get sticky notes left on your bedroom door. “My 6-year-old, to whom the book is dedicated, writes things like, ‘Only bullies write books called The End of Men,’” says author Hanna Rosin, whose 2010 Atlantic essay turned 310-page book hit stands this week. She clarifies: “He’s learning about bullying in school.”
Yeah, he’s learned about bullying in school and has learned that it’s not nice to call people names or hurt other people’s feelings.
One has to imagine that the men interviewed by Rosin weren’t anticipating that their hardworking life stories would be used as evidence that men are ending, though we can’t know that for sure. And ultimately, the book isn’t about the end of men, it’s about the ways in which gender roles are shifting.
The question is, was it worth it to Rosin to title her book in such a way that exacerbates a myth those of us working in sex and gender politics have been battling for decades? The myth that as one sex gains power, the other sex suffers? I’m not sure to which degree Rosin identifies as a feminist, but she certainly should know that the myth of the zero-sum gender game was used to keep women from gaining any power in a time when women had very little. We see it at work today in the battle for marriage equality. You often hear that if same-sex couples get the right to marry, it will some how detract from heterosexual marriages.
In truth, we can all enjoy marriages that are equal but different. And we can all enjoy power that may take different forms at different times, but is ultimately equal. The goal is equality, not the stomping down of men as women gain power. If there are ways in which men and boys are suffering, such as in education, we need to believe in equal progress in order to do the work of fixing the disparity. And from Bennett’s article, it seems that to some degree Rosin understands this.
Ultimately, Rosin knows all too well that it is not actually the end of men—and she’s got a husband (Slate editor David Plotz, who will interview her about her book this week) and a son (to whom the book is dedicated, “with apologies for the title”) to remind her of it.
I may be only an online editor and blogger, but I can say with confidence that I’d rather not have the fame, the press, the money that comes along with a title like The End of Men if, ultimately, it does damage to the quest for gender equality; a cause that was started more 100 years ago when women like my grandmother wanted the vote and legal access to property and protection from abuse. It was continued by my mother’s generation who wanted reproductive rights, better enforcement of domestic violence laws, and equal pay. And it is a cause that is shifting and changing focus in the 21st century. One that now includes men and LGBTQ people in its richness.
What we want is equal opportunity, and furthering the myth that we can’t all rise together only damages us all. And I’m sorry, but I simply can’t get past that, even for a great title that will sell millions of books.
*Not a real National Enquirer headline…as far as I know.
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