The End of Boys and the Rise of Girls

A mother of boys casually predicts their limited future as girls move ahead.

Posted Oct 02, 2012

“All boys do is pee on things. Nothing good comes from being a man. Women bring good things to the world… I wanted a little Anne of Green Gables. Someone creative and good. I would love it if the next one is a little girl. Like my wife. A superstar.” (A man, whose wife is pregnant, referring to their 20-month old son.)

-- quoted in Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (2012)

In July 2010 The Atlantic published a piece by Hanna Rosin titled “The End of Men.” The article got so much attention that she expanded it into a book, to which a subtitle has been added: “And the Rise of Women.”

Seven weeks before the book was published, the publisher offered me a pre-publication copy, perhaps because I had written a piece citing Rosin’s article. So within days there it was, staring me in the face: The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. Me, the father of three grown sons and the grandfather of three young grandsons. What were they thinking?

Maybe Google searches had automatically generated the publisher’s list of who should be offered advance review copies. That could be the only reason I got one, since the piece I had written [ in response to Rosin’s Atlantic article decried the defeatist and ultimately eugenic attitude toward males that she described.

When Rosin writes a book which clearly says that in this changing world men are essentially done, I feel that she is saying to me, Maybe you’re a winner and your children can be too, but your grandchildren are definitely losers. So just as I felt it was more appropriate to read her Atlantic title as “The End of Boys,” I see her book title as “The End of Boys: And the Rise of Girls.”

Actually, while “The Rise of Women” is only her subtitle, Rosin seems much more excited by this than she is distressed by the end of men. Consider several of her chapter titles and subtitles, along with representative quotes: “The New American Matriarchy: The Middle Class Gets a Sex Change” (“Auburn (Alabama) has become the region’s one economic powerhouse by turning itself into a town dominated by women.”), “Pharm Girls: How Women Remade the Economy” (“In the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women are making the rules and men are playing catch-up.”), and “The Gold Misses: Asian Women Take Over the World.” (“In the latest national study in 2010, about 40 percent of mothers and fathers said they would prefer a daughter, about 30 percent said a son, and the rest said they had no preference.”)

Rosin’s tone throughout the book seems to exhibit little sympathy for men, or the boys who will become men, while it is filled with excitement at how women are doing. What startled me after I read her Atlantic piece, and continues to amaze me after reading her book is that both were written by the mother of two young sons (and, much less surprising, one daughter).

In fact, the dedication of her book is to the older of her sons, and reads, “To Jacob, with apologies for the title.”

Apologies for the title? She should be apologizing for her barefaced delight over the growing opportunities for her daughter tempered barely at all by a recognition of the far more limited prospects for her sons.

Reading the book, starting with her dedication, was a painful and often infuriating experience. I found myself writing margin notes on every page. And I can’t help but feel that Rosin is, for want of a better word, a traitor to two of her children. Rather than taking such obvious joy in how young women are doing today, she should be far more concerned about how young men are doing, what this might mean for her sons, and what we, as families and and institutions – especially schools -- might do about it. Rosin spends precious little time on this.

Rosin’s book has not (yet) attained bestseller status, but it has certainly received a great deal of media attention. It has stirred some controversy, not the outrage it would have caused had she written not about the end of men, but rather about the end of women, blacks, Latinos, or gay people. In fact, suppose her title was, as it truly should be, The End of Boys: And the Rise of Girls? Would that possibly be a different story? Would that possibly upset parents (and grandparents) of boys at least a little?

And really, isn’t that what her book is ultimately about? She certainly is not talking about men of my generation, or even that of my sons, who are still able to share power with women in a somewhat equal way. No, it’s about the generation after them – the teenagers and 20-somethings, where on virtually every measure, females are surpassing males. And though she says little about young children, in terms of undeniable trends she is truly talking about my grandsons, who range in age from two to seven.

In a chapter titled “The Seesaw Marriage,” Rosin mentions David, a 29-year-old, whose live-in girlfriend makes more money than he does, though that could change back and forth (hence the “seesaw”) as their relationship goes on. David “finds the word ‘breadwinner’ funny.” His girlfriend is “a passionate second-wave feminist, who earnestly counts the number of female executives in every office, and David is all for that.” But yet he sometimes feels emasculated when his girlfriend pays for dinner.

On the next page, though, Rosin talks about the good things couples have in their more and more egalitarian marriages: “Today a married man with a college degree (only later in the book does she talk about how far fewer men are earning these degrees than women) is likelier to be healthier and have a lot more money to enjoy in retirement, thanks to his wife. He is also relieved to have a wife he can talk to about work or politics or anything else that interests him.” This sounded so good that I wrote in the margin, “Yes, this is a positive thing.”

But I had barely a moment to enjoy what Rosin had written, because the very next lines were these: “They should be able to tune in to the fact that the clock is running out slowly, that it’s not necessarily them but more likely their sons or grandsons who will be routinely working for women.”

There we are. Rosin doesn’t really mince words. But what gets me, what I can’t let go of, is the fact that she is the mother of two young sons, as well as a daughter. What I cannot get over is how a mother of sons can so casually talk about trends which put two of her children in a clearly “less than” position. Is this something to be happy about, that her boys will be routinely working for women? That is, if and when they work outside the home. Both in Rosin’s book and in many articles there is much positive being said these days about the “stay-at-home” dad, the “househusband.”

But weren’t under-education, underemployment, and relegation to the home among the major motivators for the modern women’s movement? Are we parents and grandparents of sons simply supposed to sit back and say to our boys “College isn’t essential, but if you do go, maybe you’ll meet a future doctor or lawyer; in fact, maybe you could be her secretary. And, listen, there’s nothing wrong with being a househusband!”

Did women working far below their true abilities turn out to be a good thing? Obviously not. Then why should we expect it to be a good thing for men? And did “A woman’s place is in the home” work out so well? Why should “A man’s place is in the home” work out any better?

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