I have read the review more than twice now, and my tendency is to think two things simultaneously: (1) the book is a somewhat hastily thrown-together expansion of a very successful magazine article; (2) the review is petulant, catty, and fundamentally unhelpful.
The review begins with a complaint about the title, it’s not a title, it’s a sound-bite. Except that, according to the reviewer, Rosin believes in her title, but the reviewer fails to attend to the question of the sense in which Rosin believes in her title. We can’t be talking about the biological end of men, for example, although you, ocean, say exactly that in your original post, that Rosin is imagining the end of one of the genders. Having still not read the book, what is being imagined, I imagine, is the end of a certain kind of male dominance in society, in the family, in the workplace, then in the halls of power. I think it’s very strange that a professional historian complains about this title without even mentioning, let alone investigating, how this book fits into the “End of…” series. I will say, though, that I am now inclined to think that Rosin had a significant interest in marketing herself and her book, in becoming famous and infamous and in increasing demand for herself as a speaker, as well as in selling lots of books.
Here is what most evinced a negative reaction in me to the review. Paragraph three of the review begins, “Human history? Global economy? Her evidence for women the globe over consists of thin, small facts cherry-picked to support outsize claims.” Paragraph four begins, “But Rosin’s real focus is the United States, and here she delivers a blizzard of numbers, studies, statistics.” So, instead of saying that Rosin is more convincing when talking about trends in the US than in talking about international trends, the reviewer tries to have her cake and eat it too. Rosin can’t win for losing. The data Rosin adduces are either far too skimpy and cherry-picked or they are too copious and, by implication (and by implication only), under-digested and either under-interpreted or misinterpreted. Except that the reviewer does not really have anything important or interesting to say about the wealth of statistical evidence that Rosin brings to bear. Paragragh six of the review concludes, somewhat disingenuously, I suspect, “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.” Does this reviewer convey the impression that she was familiar with the “blizzard of numbers, studies, and statistics” adduced by Rosin? She does not convey this impression to this reader. But she sums it all up by saying that “We know the numbers, and the numbers are bad.” This won’t do. This is the meat of the book, presumably, and it’s up to the reviewer to deal with the meat of the book
The complaints about gender stereotyping by Rosin, “Plastic Woman” and so on, seem somewhat damning, this is certainly not the kind of writing or analysis that appeals to me. These are categories developed for highly commercial journalism, the sort of stuff that has made Thomas Friedman rich, except that he was rich before he wrote a word.
Consider this paragraph from the review. “The matriarchy isn’t just happening at the low-income end; it is happening among the middle classes too. Take the young women who are flocking to school to become pharmacists, one of Rosin’s favorite fast-feminizing professions. Giddy at the prospect of a $100K salary and certain they will never not work, even if they have children, these women are planning for lives without men — or without reliable men.” This is doubly important to the review, because the reviewer focuses on pharmacists in her concluding paragraph. “Will the women who are so diligently training themselves as pharmacists today be as flexible and confident when the winds of the feckless global economy turn against them?” My reaction to all this is that the reviewer has chosen the wrong example to fasten on. I can’t myself think of a more secure profession than that of pharmacist in today’s world. I think the rhetorical strategy chosen by the reviewer in this regard is truly idiotic. She does not dispute the idea that these women pharmacists are planning for the possibility of a life with children but without a stable male companion – that would have been one strategy. Instead, she disputes the wisdom of the career choice, but on what grounds? Of course, there could be a glut of pharmacists in the future, but what would be a better career choice if the criteria are a relatively high steady income and some intellectual challenge and psychic reward from the job?
Ms. Homans, the reviewer, has concerns about the political consequences of some of Rosin’s “arguments.” “Is it really a good idea to say that we are, by gender if not by sex, open, empathic, flexible, patient, prone to communal problem-solving and the like? We’ve known for a long time that men do not hold a monopoly on being rigid, hierarchical, close-minded or authoritarian….” And then, “Above all, is it really a good idea to suggest that women are poised to inherit the economy and that over time men and boys, God bless them, may learn to adjust and become more — more what? More like us (except when we’re not)? To suggest, in other words, that success — material, social, sexual, emotional — depends on (our!) gender traits and not on the legal and institutional frameworks we live in? I’m all for each of us remaking ourselves from within, but this kind of argument seems carelessly apolitical, especially at a moment when we are faced with public officials actively working to undermine access to birth control, abortion, equal pay for equal work. Talk about endings.”
Let’s leave to one side the question of the political consequences of the book. The changes Rosin is talking about are either happening or they are not. The reviewer seems not to dispute that they are happening. So what do the changes mean, and what do they portend? Will the trends continue in some linear fashion until they stop, as Rosin apparently suggests, or not? The reviewer does not say. I don’t see why the causes of the trends should not be based both in gender and in institutional frameworks. Does Rosin anywhere deny that institutional frameworks were fundamental in determining how much income women contributed to households prior to 1970? Who, in his right mind, would deny this? But if she does not deny this, is she saying that institutional frameworks suddenly became irrelevant after 1970 or that they are not relevant now? Globalization is itself a collection of institutional frameworks, of trade arrangements and floating exchange rates in the first instance, of multinational corporations and so on. When Rosin argues that globalization has caused the trends in gender relations and economic performance that she studies, she is perforce arguing that institutional frameworks have been largely responsible for the trends. So the complaint cannot really be that the analysis is apolitical, but it is rather that the reviewer does not share what she characterizes as Rosin’s rosy faith: “And I can’t share Rosin’s rosy faith in the global economy. Revolutions, economic or otherwise, have a way of disappointing women. They tear down the old, women step in and make strides, and as a new order sets in the strides disappear.” I would have to read the book in order to know if Rosin really has a rosy faith in the global economy.
In terms of policy prescriptions, I have argued in the bhtv forums against the pure free-trade position and in favor of an industrial policy in the US that would favor high value-added manufacturing. But I don’t really know enough about this subject to know if such a strategy would have a good chance of being effective. And I was not looking at this idea through the prism of gender, but it could be seen as a small way of helping the male gender, I suppose. But there is nothing, in principle, which would prevent women from obtaining a majority of the jobs in new industries dominated by information technology and engineering. Women are still lagging behind in engineering, however, that’s my impression.
I am as sceptical as the reviewer about the idea that women are outperforming men in the service economy because of specifically female psychological traits, i.e. because they are more empathic than men or more cooperative or more intuitive. But it does make sense to me intuitively that there is some percentage of men who are ill suited to bureaucratic jobs or to nonmanual labor. A lot of men are better suited to physical labor than to intellectual labor and do not like to be cooped up, whether in school or at work. They can’t sit still, as it were.
I am still inclined to think that fears about an important political backlash to this kind of book are ill-founded. Opposition to equal pay or access for women to various jobs antedated the book and is unlikely to have been intensified by the book, in my view.
“The stubborn fact that in most countries women remain underrepresented in the higher precincts of power and still don’t get equal pay for equal work seems to her a quaint holdover, `the last artifacts of a vanishing age rather than a permanent configuration.’” If this is a correct characterization of what Rosin thinks about the stubborn facts, then that could be a serious defect of the book, or at least grounds for serious criticism of the book. But one’s estimate of the seriousness of the defect should also depend upon one’s assessment of the meaning of the trends identified by Rosin in her blizzard of statistics and studies. There has, in fact, been a kind of revolution in the economic status of women in the US since 1970, and some of the revolution has been at the expense of men. I never really understand it when people complain that economics is not a zero-sum game, because it clearly is a zero-sum game for the most part. Economic growth is not infinite, it always concerns a finite quantum. The quantum has to be divided, or distributed. So some of the quantum will go to less developed countries, some to more, some to men, some to women, and so on. This is analogous to what I said about the innate conflict between economic growth and environmentalism. Basically, people like to pretend that life is not tragic, but it is. One could try to design a political system in which economic gains were equally distributed between the sexes, or between countries, or regions, or whatever. That might be a good idea, it might not. Generally speaking, I favor the idea of designed human institutions that are supposed to produce some desired outcome, but one has to admit that there are often unintended consequences, that human designs are highly fallible.
I don’t think Rosin was attempting to write a book, or an essay, that was highly informed by an underlying political theory or political philosophy. And it does not sound as though she wrote a book that has a very sophisticated view of gender differences or of the history of gender and gender roles, though she has presumably read a fair amount of stuff that bears on this. I don’t get the feeling that the reviewer is reading the book on its own terms. She shoud have dealt in much more detail with the blizzard of data from the US. If she doesn’t like Rosin’s interpretation of those data, she should offer some alternate hypotheses or interpretations. She did none of this.