Lisa Hickey wants to know why on earth you would take the gains of one gender and position them as the downfall of the other.
In a cover story for The New York Times magazine, Hanna Rosin looks at a handful of families in the area around Alexander City, Alabama where the men have lost jobs in manufacturing and the women in those families have taken on the role of the primary breadwinner to support the family. The men are portrayed as inflexible when it come to a changing economy, unwilling to take “non-macho” jobs” and somehow lost in the sea of changing times. The women, to help make Hannah’s point about being “the new Matriarchs”, are shown in the photos that accompany the piece, stiffly posed and standing above their seated husbands.
And the article is adapted from Hanna’s forthcoming book: “The End of Men and the Rise of Women.” Pictures of which are shown throughout the article. On the cover of the article is a photo of a man with his pants down around his ankles.
Gender differences exist and times are a changing, for sure, but this is such a clear-cut case of “othering” and man-bashing that I’m surprised the Times let it run. Would the Times run an article saying “Guess what, women really are the weaker sex?” I think not.
The changing roles of men and women is not necessarily a bad thing, and to position it as one gender winning or losing seems to me unnecessarily harmful. And Hanna’s observations simply do not ring true with what I see. Yes, manufacturing jobs are changing, and those used to be part of men’s ability to succeed as the economic providers for a family, a role often chosen by men because of societal pressures or because they enjoyed having that be a part of their identity. But I don’t think this is the alternative:
As the usual path to the middle class disappears, what’s emerging in its place is a nascent middle-class matriarchy, in which women like Patsy pay the mortgage and the cable bills while the men try to find their place.
The family structures we’ve seen here at The Good Men Project are neither a patriarchy nor a matriarchy. They are simply two people working together to make things work. Sometimes a man or a women, sometimes two men (or two women). Children may or may not be involved, with no expectations that they need to be to be a fully realized person. If children are involved, then sometimes there is a dad that wants to stay-at-home for a while and raise the kids, and sometimes it’s the spouse. Men do adapt to the changing economy, and if that adaptation is to spend more time with their children, that is seen as a good thing. There is no “head of the household” as Hanna describes:
Like everyone of their generation I spoke to, Charles and Sarah Beth Gettys both insisted that Charles was still the “head of the household.” I often asked couples why the men got to retain the title if they weren’t fulfilling most of the attending duties. Sometimes they answered by redefining “head” as “spiritual head,” meaning biblically ordained as the leader. Often it came down to the man as the ultimate protector, the domestic superhero: if someone broke into the house, if the children were in trouble or out of control, if the roof caved in, if there was a tornado, if we needed him, he would rescue us.
Gender is not a zero-sum game. Men do not need to be de-masculinized every time a woman takes a step forward. If it is okay for a woman to be a woman, surely it is ok for a man to be a man. Let’s allow both to succeed.
Image of trousers courtesy of Shutterstock