I picked up the summer issue of The Atlantic last week. I couldn’t resist, the cover story by Hanna Rosin (The end of men. How women are taking control – of everything) captured my attention. As a woman I wondered, where had I gone wrong? To call on words familiar to all feminists, aren’t I a woman, too? And I’m in control of …. what?
To rephrase Rosin: the emerging economies of the new western world may be more suited to capabilities inherently found in females, such as “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus”. Those qualities typically ascribed to males, such as strength, stamina and aggression, are no longer in demand, due to the decline in manufacturing, construction and all other jobs that require superior physical abilities.
This decline in blue-collar employment opportunities is also reflected in the education sector, where boys and young men are being left behind as girls and young women continue to increase their representation in academic institutions. The engineering and the hard sciences continue to lag behind, and it may be that remains the case (see NYT columnist John Tierney’s comments) for some time.
It’s an interesting thesis. As a woman at mid-life, ok – maybe a few years past, I could see the path my life had taken written before me, a product of sixties feminist influences: sexual freedom, young, married motherhood and then divorced, single parenthood. All the while working full time. I’m at the other end of parenthood now, in those years just before grandparenthood, and I’m relishing my newfound freedom from teenage demands. Rosin provided me with lots to reflect on while I considered her evidence and compared it with my own experience.
I’ve worked with women all my life. I’ve recounted the experience of my first job in this forum previously, so we won’t revisit that. But my experience with women in the workplace is that we are all different and although we may be joined by a DNA chromosome that expressed itself “female” there can often be little to connect us as the influences of culture, class, colour and consciousness work against our common existence.
So it may be that women are entering into professions in numbers greater than men, but the behaviour of women to other women has not necessarily shown any progress, change or improvement.
There have long been women willing to stand up and fight for their rights and those of their sisters; this tradition continues in countless community organizations, whether feminist-identified or not. Historically, it’s been women fighting for women’s rights, so the sisterhood has a long history. But how common can we really say we are?
I’m reading a book right now by Phylis Chesler, Women’s Inhumanity to Women (2003). She mentions, almost in passing, an interesting thesis (although not hers) that the patriarchy is grounded in women’s need for protection from other women, under the arm of a man. I haven’t poked out that note yet, but I’ll pursue it further when I finish the book, and I’ll have something more to say then; it’s an interesting thesis.
More so in light of the fact that Rosin notes that instances of women behaving badly, to men and other women, are on the increase.
Women are still subject to intense competition with other women. Whereas before such competition was commonly understood to be for the most eligible man; that will probably never disappear. However, in the absence of eligible males, or when one is already in the picture, the competition is for those same things that men fought so tenaciously for: financial success, the corner office, the vice-president title, image, prestige, as well for those things that women have always fought amongst themselves for: the best dressed, popularity, the good mother. This newfound increase in female power has not lessened the degree of rivalry between women, it has only opened up new avenues of expression.
Rosin marks 1978 as the peak year for women entering the workforce. That was the year I got my first full-time job. And I’ve been working ever since, through two pregnancies, a marriage breakup, and a return to school to complete an undergraduate degree, two diploma programs and almost finish a master’s. The thought of not working, of being “dependent” on the earnings of another, of not having my own security net is, to me, dangerous, whether male or female. I’ve carried that issue with me from my earliest reckoning about work.
Mothers of young women are more likely to push them towards establishing a career. I know I did. I pushed them both. Hard. Students in my women’s studies classes have cited their mothers as inspiration; many of them single mothers. Several of the women in Rosin’s interviews express their mother’s influence in their choice of career.
Rosin argues that the workplace change that women influenced the most is the adoption of flex-time, a gender-neutral practice usually open to all employees of a company, whether male or female, mother or father. Flex-time is a perfect example of the effects of women entering the workforce that has changed the environment for everybody. Flex-time is what attracted me to work at McMaster University 23 years ago. The other attraction was “free” education. My reading of history has taught me that in the course of my (hopefully) long life, I will have to recreate myself in the employment market at least a few times before I place my head on the pillow of my eternal rest.
Rosin states that women are shifting their attention from men to children, that is, reproductive technology being what it is these days, a personal connection with a man is no longer required. As the focus of women’s attention moves from men to children, the competition cranks up a notch, or two. Witness the ongoing bickering between mothers who work vs mothers who stay at home. An interesting phenomenon is happening in Sweden where the concept of “housewife” carries only contempt.
“Guys…are the new ball and chain” opines one college senior Rosin interviews. I feel shock at her comments and remember that men use that term to describe wives. Is that the difference women have to make? None? I would hope we could bring a new perspective to the debate, if only from the previously held position of “ball and chain”.
Another college student speaks of establishing a high-powered career while her husband stays home to take care of the kids and I wonder if that isn’t what is needed. I know what it’s like to have somebody cook and clean, do laundry and look after the kids. It was great!
If we look at the past and consider the way in which gender influences professions and the work environment, we can see multiple instances of what was once high-value occupations (school teacher, secretary, now doctor) where the movement of women into them resulted in a loss of prestige for that profession; the “feminization” of any profession is the kiss of death. Will the “masculization” of motherhood, or rather, the redefinition of what is fatherhood, result in greater value being placed on the parenting relationship? It’s an interesting concept.
And just where will this value come from? Hopefully it will first come from the women who recognize the value in the work done in the home by their male partners. They will appreciate the freedom from laundry, cooking, cleaning and childminding. Or will they? Despite the constant cry from women for, at the least, recognition of the value inherent in mothering, they are often the first to decry the boredom inherent in raising children.
I wonder what a world of children raised by men would look like?