Hanna Rosin’s new book targets the huge cultural and gender shifts in American life.
By Heather Boushey
October 2, 2012
“The age of Men is over. The time of the Orc has come! ”
—Gothmog, in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Just as men were about to win the penultimate battle in their quest to retake Middle Earth, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s final volume of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the forces of evil declared that the “age of men is over.” Yet, in the end, it was a lady, Éowyn, who made the decisive blow in that fictional battle, securing the rise of men to their rightful place as leaders of Middle Earth.
There are some disturbing parallels between the world of contemporary American men and women that Hanna Rosin depicts in her new book, The End of Men, and this fantasy scenario. The idea that men are in trouble isn’t necessarily new—we started hearing that boys were in “crisis” about 10 years ago, for example—but Rosin takes the argument one step further. The title of the book aside, her thesis is not so much about the end of men as it is about the rise of women.
But before we sign onto this simplistic and oddly appealing storyline, we might do well to take a closer look. It’s true that economic forces are creating serious challenges for U.S. workers and their families, and that men are having a hard time. But women’s ascension—measured by the share of women getting professional degrees or being a family breadwinner—does not necessarily signal the end of men. Indeed, it may be just as fair to argue that with all their overachieving, multitasking efforts, women are actually letting men off the hook, to women’s own detriment.
Yes, there are fewer men employed in the United States now than at any time since 1948 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping this data. And, yes, there has been only a slight increase in the share of men finishing college relative to 30 years ago. And, yes, male wages have stagnated since the end of the 1970s, with only a brief uptick during the booming 1990s.