Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Girl Power Indeed: A Conversation with Hanna Rosin, the author of The End of Men and the Rise of Women

Written by Adrienne Urbanski
The title of Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, is simultaneously off-putting and provocative. With the title spelled out in giant fluorescent pink letters, I found it difficult to read in public without eliciting responses from those around me. A male coworker, for example, asked, “But what will you do when all the men are gone? Can the human race survive?”  
For some, the title arouses fears associated with a common misinterpretation of feminism: that women who desire power in society wish to crush the male race and/or reduce them to effeminate slaves. Rosin’s book however, in the end, does not argue for the end of the male gender, but rather sees our society as shifting towards a more egalitarian state where women are taking on the role of family breadwinner. Rosin credits this shift in part to our recent economic recession within which, she believes, the more “macho” jobs were the first to be eliminated (according to the book 7.5 million jobs were lost by men during the recession) leaving women to make up more of the workforce in an effort to keep food on their families' tables. (In nearly 64 percent of families in Washington D.C. women are the main breadwinners.) 

The book is divided into six sections, each of which explores  a recent gender shift in a specific aspect of life. These aspects include marriage, sex, professional achievement, and academic achievement. Rosin even includes an entire chapter on the dramatically changing gender dynamic in South Korea. 

Adrienne: The title of your book can be a bit off-putting. What kind of responses have you received regarding it?
 
Hanna: The title is very provocative. It wasn’t written by me; it was written by my editor, and it stuck. It has become playful; it looks like a road sign. It’s true that it can be offensive. My son is offended by it, which is why I dedicated the book to my son. A better title may have been The End of Macho, or The Rise of a New Kind of Man, or The King is Dead. It’s [about] the end of the old kind of man and the possibility for a new kind of man.

Adrienne: Has the title caused people to misinterpret its content? What are some of the misconceptions people have had?

Hanna: It has caused people to maybe not even crack it open and give it a chance.  It is not a feminist screed, though many think it is. It’s about economic realities and how those realities affect the way we live now and decisions we make about love and sex and how we raise our children.

Adrienne: What are some of the significant changes that have led to this shift towards women gaining power?

Hanna: Women are having an easier time adapting to the new economy. They are getting degrees at greater rates than men. What sort of used to be a manufacturing centered economy placed around physical strength has been replaced. Men are having a harder time adjusting to the new economy while women are finding ways to adapt. Women are doing better in school and are doing a lot more to improve their futures. There has been a huge shift in the current culture.

Adrienne: How has the economic recession in America contributed to this power shift?

Hanna: We have seen the macho jobs take a serious hit. At first a lot of manufacturing jobs were pretty hard-hit during the last recession. It was a hard time for everyone however, and women suffer as well, especially when government jobs are eliminated. It’s not that men are the only ones suffering right now. It’s a hard economy for anyone. It’s just that women are the ones adapting.

Adrienne: Has popular culture reflected and/or contributed to this change?

Hanna: Yes, I was actually just thinking about the movie and book The Hunger Games and what a reversal of traditional masculine and feminine roles it shows. Katniss is a provider and a protector for her family. She’s a leader. Meanwhile, the male Peeta is kind of gentle and nurturing. Coming off of that I think that pop culture is serving us new archetypes and seeing if they stick. We no longer just see men who are dominating and aggressive. We see men who behave in a different way.

Adrienne: The most common criticism that critics have given towards The End of Men and the Rise of Women is pointing out the fact that we still live in an era where women make less than men. The glass ceiling also, arguably, exists in some industries where only men can make it to the highest positions, as women are written off as not being aggressive enough to make it to the top. The most compelling chapter of the book, appropriately titled, “The Top” does not extol the rise in female power, but rather examines the barriers that are still holding women back professionally. We may see women with more power in society, but there is still much work left to do.

What are some of the main areas where women still have yet to achieve equality and dominance?

Hanna: Part of the reason we don’t acknowledge what an important role women play in the workforce is because we have a workforce that pretends that women are not capable of the higher level leadership roles. We don’t always have paid maternity leave, which is barbaric if you consider how we are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have it mandated. We are still not always comfortable with dominating women and are turned off when women behave in aggressive ways. This holds women back professionally.

Adrienne: Is it an entirely positive thing that women are gaining power and dominance in our society?

Hanna: I think it is both positive and negative. Some things are really good, and in some ways it’s nice for women to have expanded opportunities. It’s nice that a woman can be visibly pregnant and be a CEO at an online company. That’s an advancement. And it’s really good that women are doing a lot more child care and a lot are working. The non-college educated women are getting married much less [than college educated women] and raising and having the children. They’re going to school to get the training they need, so their lives are harder.

Adrienne: Do you believe that women have gained more equality in terms of their personal and sexual relationships with men?

Hanna: That’s complicated. We often just focus on women as victims of the current sexual climate, and this misses the bigger picture. There are also things women get out of the current sexual climate. They want to have emotional and sexual relationships and not get tied down. Women in their twenties and thirties want freedom and don’t want to compromise their futures. [In the book I mention that] some researchers camped out in a college dorm and were looking to study sexual violence against women. What they found was that women were avoiding getting pinned down by someone who deterred them from what they wanted to do after college. It’s just that women have a lot of other things to think about. [In the past] if your job was to land a guy in college then relationships and dating mattered more. Whereas now it’s not all you’re thinking about . . . A lot of women want to avoid getting tied down in college, so they can move up their status and achieve. Women focus on that.

When it comes to the coarseness of the hookup, people in college are forgetting how to have relationships. They eventually, usually do get married. Americans are just doing it later. The hookup culture happens to coincide with when the focus on college is really strong. The hookup culture is kind of a trial by fire, and you can end up in a relationship through it eventually.

Adrienne: How have interactions and relationships between men and women changed in recent years?

Hanna: For young people in the dating period of their lives, things have changed. Women are pretty successful before they have kids. Women may be making more financially than the men around them. If you make more money than your boyfriend and you want to suggest going on a vacation that’s more than your boyfriend can afford, in this era the woman will be the one picking up the check.  When women are the ones picking up the checks, it creates a lot of confusion. We have visceral things like this that make things unclear socially. It’s just very confusing out there for both genders. I don’t think people quite know what to do. They’re not sure what guy they want. They know they’re not supposed to feel comfortable following the old ways. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse. It’s just confusing. It’s good that [women] are making money, but on the other hand there are women who are nostalgic and wish things could go back to the way they used to be. Things are in a very confusing place right now.

Adrienne: Do you see a correlation between the types of households women grow up in and how empowered they are as adults?

Hanna: Women with non-educated mothers are rising up and going to four year colleges and not wanting to just be stay at home mothers. It was solidly expected when I was growing up, because we were in the girl power era, that we could do anything we wanted. However, in the real world we can’t always do everything easily [as women]. It takes a lot of confidence, and it takes awhile to get ahead in the heavily male-dominated industries. When moms are now raising their daughters in a post-feminist era, it is assumed that girls will be given the confidence they need.

Adrienne: Did your own home environment teach you to see female power as a possibility?

Hanna: My parents are very traditional. My dad worked, and my mom sometimes stayed home and sometimes worked herself. However, my mom is a super dominant woman. It seemed natural to me that women should have power. She definitely wore the pants in the family. My own household and marriage have definitely been influenced by that.

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