Author Hanna Rosin claims that feminists need to accept that the patriarchy is dead. Here, Abigail Collazo argues that it’s alive and well.
It’s become pretty clear to me that author Hanna Rosin wants to be one of the boys. What do I mean by this? She wants to gain validity and acceptance from the old boys’ club, and she’s doing it by trashing her own gender and giving credibility to that scary threat known as feminism.
She’s doing it by validating the insecurity men feel in a world in which gender roles, how genders relate to one another, and how we define genders, is evolving and changing. In which many people no longer know what it means to be a “real man” or what masculinity is supposed to be. She’s catering to the sense of loss and insecurity that men are feeling by letting them know that she agrees with them, that she feels their confusion and the fear women have instilled in them, and that she believes it’s valid.
In an economic environment that has destroyed the livelihoods and economic security of all Americans, men are feeling the loss keenly. As Jennifer Homans writes in The New York Times:
“’The end of men’ is the end of a manufacturing-based economy and the men who worked there, many of whom are now unemployed, depressed, increasingly dependent on the state and women to support them. We know the numbers, and they are bad: Since 2000, the manufacturing economy has lost six million jobs, a third of its total work force—much of it male. In 1950, 1 in 20 men in their prime were not working; today the number is a terrifying 1 in 5.”
Rosin writes in the new forward to her book, The End of Men, that she inevitably runs into passionate feminists who disagree with her on her thesis—that the end of men is near and the age of women is rising. She writes about them: “These women were by and large young and ambitious, and as far as I could tell, hadn’t been held back all that much in their careers by the patriarchy. Many of them are in positions of influence, widely published and widely read; if they sniff out misogyny, I have no doubt they will gleefully skewer the responsible sexist in one of many available online outlets, and get results. These are exactly the types of women I portray in the book as benefiting from the new age of female dominance. Why should they feel reassured to be told that men are still on top, that the old order had not been shaken?”
Rosin seems confused (not unusual for her). She thinks that as a group, feminists enjoy feeling victimized and are apparently so desperate for that feeling that we’re willing to ignore things like facts and data (an accusation that women’s hearts are ruling their minds? Because we’ve never heard that one before). The problem, of course, is that we would gladly pop the champagne ourselves if this were actually happening. But we’re not reassured.
Rosin doesn’t see that the patriarchy has held back any of these intelligent successful women. And that’s because she doesn’t want to. She’s not just drinking the Kool-Aid, she’s mixing it up herself. I imagine I’m exactly one of those people to Rosin. Young, ambitious, educated, employed, etc. And yet Rosin believes that the fact that I can dress myself like a professional and speak like the educated person I am means that I haven’t been held back by the patriarchy.
She has no idea that at several of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve later discovered I was paid less than a man doing essentially the same job. She has no idea that especially in my neighborhood, street harassment is a daily threat to my safety, health, and well-being. She has no idea that preventing myself from accidentally getting pregnant is a constant, costly part of my existence as a woman. She has no idea that as soon as I DO decide to become pregnant, workplaces in America are generally unfriendly to child rearing and I’m likely to be held back in my career because of it, whether it’s because of insufficient maternity leave, inflexible family leave policies, or a harder time rejoining the workforce after my children are of a certain age.
To say that she can’t tell that I’m held back by the patriarchy would be laughably absurd if it weren’t so true. She can’t see it. She can’t tell. Why can’t she see these things? Just because things are better for me than they were for my grandmothers?
I think one reason is that this sort of gender discrimination is simply not always easily visible. Beverly Tatum, acclaimed President of Spelman College, describes racism in much the same way. She writes that racism is like smog: Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always day in and day out, we are breathing it in. Gender discrimination, I think, is much the same.
Sometimes it comes in the form of a gang rape or pervasive domestic violence. Sometimes it comes in the form of my having to cross the street in the hopes that I’ll avoid street harassment. But it’s always there, always a smog that we are breathing in, whether we see it in that particular instance or not.
This is hard for people of privilege to grasp, and I won’t say that we go out of our way to make it easy for them. Most men I know—even feminist allies—feel uncomfortable with the concepts because they feel like rants against the patriarchy just end up painting all men as rapists or sexists. That feminism doesn’t distinguish between men who are really good guys and doing the best they can and the ones who really are “out to get us,” if you will.
And it’s challenging. No doubt about it. Just as the average person doesn’t like to think of themselves as ablest or racist, most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as sexist.
But that’s the trouble. When we talk about privilege, such as male privilege in this case, we aren’t necessarily talking about men intentionally and actively doing bad things to women. We’re talking about a system that reinforces it while simultaneously making us blind to it. A system that is constantly pushing smog into the air, a pollution-creating machine, that fools us into thinking that a lighter day of smog is a good day, when we notice it at all.
This is what patriarchy is. Yes, it is a culture in which violence against women is normalized. But it’s also a culture in which the status quo is a system that devalues women and provides benefits to men without necessarily overtly seeming to do so.
When men lost all those jobs as the economy went under, women lost jobs, too. And the ones who didn’t were still, on average, paid less than men were, and they were still most often the ones to handle the work at home as well, including child care. They were still less likely to have advanced in their career, they were still more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment, and they were still more likely to face unique challenges in any other public space that had previously belonged solely to men.
The end of patriarchy isn’t the same thing as the end of men, because they aren’t one and the same. Men are the individuals and patriarchy is the system. Patriarchy is so much bigger and so much deeper and so much more entrenched than just the individual actions and everyday words of individual men. And this is where sometimes men get alienated from the movement for gender equality and feminism (two related, but different things). They feel personally attacked when we push and fight for gender justice, equality, and opportunity.
There isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma. On one hand, the feminist movement needs to do a better job of distinguishing between patriarchy and men, between men and masculinity. On the other hand, men need to start to appreciate and understand the difference between passive and active sexism. Just because they aren’t rapists, or aren’t intentionally paying women less money than they pay men, they still need to realize that the system is already in place and we are all contributing to it when we don’t stand up to it. And that the status quo is negative for women, and that a few women rising to success and achievement are doing it despite the times, not because of the times.
One of the few things that isn’t helpful in this battle is the narrative being pushed by Rosin. Offering validation to the idea that men are on the decline is to deny the system that even despite this violently shifting ground, still benefits them while holding back women.
Rosin may want to gain points with certain kinds of men—and yes, women—who want their feelings of insecurity and loss to be validated by someone of authority. But at the end of the day, those points will come at the expense of everyone who is impacted by a world in which gender-based discrimination is front and center in blocking the road to progress. And that would mean everyone.
Abigail Collazo is a feminist activist and Democratic political operative. She is the former Editor of Fem2.0, an online community for young women, and has written extensively about women’s rights and gender equality. Her work has also appeared in AlterNet, Feminists for Choice, Abortion Gang, and the Huffington Post. Abigail tweets from @LeftStandingUp.