Fat Books & Thin Women


#Longreads : “The End of Men”
September 14, 2011, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Favorite Longreads | Tags: , , , , ,

Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Having lived abroad for the past two years, I have a narrow vision of what men in America look like right now, colored by that fact that so many twenty-something men in the Balkans are unemployed, live with their parents, and spend their days drinking coffee or beer, and that of my college friends most of the guys are unemployed (or at best hold temp jobs), live with their parents, and spend their days drinking coffee or beer.

Hanna Rosin’s article from The Atlantic, split roughly in halves, delves into the areas in which women are besting men, the impact opportunities for women have on a nation’s economy and collective ability to innovate, and how the increasing economic power of women impacts men left unemployed by downturns in manufacturing, building and other typically male industries. It’s not just that women are gaining ground, but that they’re doing so with, in Rosin’s words, with “remarkable speed.” What does this mean for men, for families, for the American middle class?

Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.

What’s so interesting about “The End of Men” is the ways it points out that the gains of women are due in part to the failures of men: the failure to pursue higher education, the failure to pursue jobs that have been classed as feminine while women have taken over occupations that were once dominated by men.

The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits. Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt. Over the course of the past century, feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature—first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered. As Jessica Grose wrote in Slate, men seem “fixed in cultural aspic.” And with each passing day, they lag further behind.

Rosin comes at questions how of men are lagging behind, how their roles have changed in recent years, why and how women have made such professional and intellectual strides in recent years, and how the failure of men to keep up with women impacts relationships. As someone who hasn’t been living in the States for two years now, who doesn’t have a real sense of where men and women stand (apart from what I can see in my own group of friends), I want to know: what do you think of Rosin’s article? Are the issues she addresses ones that you’ve noticed yourself? Do you think there’s value in her discussion of why men are “failing” while women improve their economic standing, or is it more overblown hokum?

Read Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men”

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#Longreads : “Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold”

Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Gayl Jones, author of Eva’s Man and Corregidora, is no question one of the best American writers of recent memory. Her work is at times overpowering, horrifying, grotesque, but the attention she pays to relations between men and women, the passing down of history (cultural, familial and personal), and the ways she imbues her texts with the blues have given us works that are stunning both in meaning and in form.

This makes the 1998 New York Times piece on Jones and her husband, Bob Higgins, all the harder to read. Jones is a reclusive writer who rarely gives readings and handles many necessary communications by email rather than phone, but the publication of her then-new novel The Healing brought media notice. Articles on The Healing precipitated events that led to her and her husband barricading themselves inside their home as police attempted to gain entrance and ascertain whether the Joneses planned to kill themselves or neighbors. When the police finally entered the home, Higgins “thrust one of the knives into his throat with such force that it lodged in his spine.”

Peter Manso’s “Chronicle of a Tragedy Fortold” considers the day of Higgins’s suicide, Jones’s upbringing and education, and the sometimes parallel development of Jones’s relation with Higgins and her novels. How Jones, referred to by Manso as the “brilliant black writer,” fell under the spell of the unstable Higgins is a disturbing and necessary read. It’s a story that ought only to exist as fiction, all the more so because so many of Jones’s own works take such unbalanced relationships as their subject.

Read Peter Manso’s “Chronicle of a Tragedy Fortold”

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