Suzanne Turner offers her analysis of Hanna Rosin’s new controversial book, The End of Men (and the Rise of Women).
Despite being a self-avowed feminist, I didn’t know my sons and I were living on the bleeding experimental edge of feminism until I read Hanna Rosin’s excellent new book The End of Men (and the Rise of Women).
As a last year Boomer and first year Gen-Xer, my girlfriends and I had no trouble getting world-class educations, traveling all over the world, finding interesting, challenging work, and building successful businesses. There was no need for righteous feminist anger, no battering our heads against glass ceilings, no sanding the edges of our personalities to make it in a man’s world.
The relative ease of our personal and professional lives did not prepare us for the ultimate feminist act: choosing a husband.
Rosin makes the case that women are out-performing men in nearly all areas (except at the very top of the income scale) in the United States and Asia. One of her theses is that women’s innate traits make them more competitive in today’s global economy. That point—and the implications for better education and job training—is worth an entirely separate post. She explores the dynamic of female success on relationships, parenting, power dynamics in and out of the office, sexuality, and rising rates of female violence. The findings provide an interesting baseline for policy-making and discussion, and are not nearly as apocalyptic as the title would indicate.
Many have already quibbled about Rosin’s data, but that is not the point of this piece.
This is my narcissistic question: Why did Rosin leave me and my friends out of her analysis?
We qualify in our successes. We qualify in our changed relationship with power dynamics. The only place we didn’t qualify is in our marriages.
When it was time for me to choose a partner, I didn’t have to marry for money. After all, I had the modern equivalent of a dowry—my own very nice income, thank you.
I fell for a very kind, very attractive, very underemployed man. I heard the “click” of total infatuation as I was sitting at a late dinner with an all-male group of top lobbyists. As I bantered with them, I thought “not one of these men would take my car to the shop if the brakes weren’t working—they would be too busy to even notice the car needed servicing.” Just that day my then-boyfriend had (1) noticed the breaks grinding and (2) had actually fixed the brakes himself.
In no time at all we were married and then parents. Suddenly, I was on the bleeding edge of feminism. I was the breadwinner. I worked 16-hour days. I organized children’s birthdays, family vacations, hell, I was even the kids’ school room mother. Since I didn’t have time to clean or cook, I hired a housekeeper. Since I was concerned my now unemployed husband might not be up to the task of child-rearing, I hired a nanny and had daycare. It seemed I could come up with a solution for any problem even as I popped babies out and grew my business. And, in the face of all this activity, my husband smoked pot. All day long. Boy, was I pissed.
This is where the bleeding edge of feminism crashes out of the pages of Rosin’s book and into my and my friends’ personal stories. Our demographic eluded Rosin’s considerable reporting skills. None of us fit nicely into her sliced and diced categories. We are not working class single moms; nor are we in upper middle class “seesaw marriages” where, as Rosin explains, gender roles are handed back and forth seamlessly. We are not elites.
There’s my big wig international development friend who sent her husband to college and later put up with verbal and physical abuse until she and her three kids had to flee. There’s my Harvard-educated giant government job friend who had to bail because her foreign husband was trying to shout her into submissiveness. There’s my big-brained think tank executive buddy whose ex thought she wouldn’t mind his fooling around…all the time, with everyone.
The common denominator? We were high-powered women who chose men with less earning power, and, in some cases, desire for success.
So what’s going on here? Unlike many of the examples used in End of Men, we were older. As the first female generation to enter the highly-skilled, well-paid workforce en masse, I believe that we—and our mates—had much more traditional male-female models in mind.
In addition, we were the first women who, as a large demographic group, controlled the purse strings. Were we kind with the new power dynamics? Or did we fall into the same behaviors of bad husbands of yore? My ex accused me of being a bad feminist for refusing to do housework because I made all the money and paid a maid service. One still-married head of a government agency friend recently confided that her artist husband doesn’t “get to decide” how she spends the money because he doesn’t contribute equally to the household. Other women come and go as they please, leaving their husbands with the children. Still others have affairs.
Were we suffering from some sort of Cinderella fantasy? Men have chosen lesser or no-earning partners from the dawn of time. Even today, Rosin points out that the ultimate trophy wife for top strata male earners is a powerful woman who’s left her career behind. Did we want too much? Someone available to us at home, as well as making a salary?
At the end of the day, I think my girls and I just wanted a little help. The common denominator in our failed marriages seems to be a simple question: Were our spouses helping in the over-all picture, or were they making our already difficult lives vastly more difficult?
So, perhaps it is the end of men. Unless we can devise a world where work and home life are divided 50-50 or 60-40 or even 80-20, those of us on the clock 100-100 may just opt out.
Suzanne Turner is the President and Founder of Turner Strategies, a public affairs and communications firm based in Washington, D.C. Before starting her own business, Suzanne spent seven years at Fenton Communications, where she served as Senior Vice President. Suzanne is the co-founder of Fem2.0, an online women’s rights community that is a pro bono project of Turner Strategies. She is also a co-founder of the Internet Advocacy Center and a founding member of Progressive Communicators of D.C. Suzanne studied at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and the Université de Paris IV-La Sorbonne, and holds a BA from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.