The End of Men, The End of Labor, and The Overturning of Natural Order
The End of Men, The End of Labor, The Overturning of Natural Order
Fear of a Pussified Planet
“Every economic system ever invented was simply a scheme to get men to work. The women have to work anyway.” ~Robert Ashley
Recently there have been many concerns raised about the ‘weakness’ of American society. There have been loud calls from President Obama’s left that he should “grow a pair.” During the recent blizzard in the NorthEast, Governor Ed Rendell decried the postponing of a football game due to weather conditions. Rendell said we had become a nation of ‘wussies’. ‘Wussy’ is, of course, polite for ‘pussy’. In short Rendell was asking the question of America “Are We Not Men?”
In an August 2010 Atlantic Magazine article titled “The End of Men” author Hanna Rosin crafts the argument: Feminists were wrong in the 80s about a natural preference for male children. She quotes Roberta Steinbacher*, a social-psychologist in 1984; “ there’s no question that there exists a universal preference for sons.” This preference and sex-selection technologies would constitute a clear and present danger to the women of the world.
*[the author describes Steinbacher as “a nun-turned-social-psychologist.” We trust Rosin’s description carried no innuendo.]
“Seldom has it been easier to disprove” those old fears of perpetual female subservience, says Rosin in her article. Citing 1990s data from fertility clinics and more recent data that shows that preference for female children runs at about 75% in the selection process, Rosin makes the case that the changing nature of the economy has reversed the gender positions. According to Rosin, the new workplace not only eliminates any advantages men might have had during the industrial age, but actually favors the female gender. “What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?” asks Rosin. “What if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”
Is it curtains for men? Is it the end of us? Is it male destiny (as it is for some insects) to be merely boy-toys and warriors, suited only to take out the trash during peacetime?
The article is actually a good one, particularly for the employment data. Perhaps the title and approach are provocative simply to sell magazines. But my reaction was honestly one of ambivalence.
First, I should make clear my position on ‘labor’. What we conventionally call ‘labor’ in the economy is essentially an economic word for a wage-slave. A wage-slave is a person who trades time and life energy for wages, but is bound (enslaved) by the imperatives of society that require him or her to do so. That is slavery. It is my firm belief that, generally speaking, people do not want a job, they want a life. All creatures work to survive, but only humans need a job to live properly. So obviously, I’m not so concerned if the economy favors female wage-slaves over male wage-slaves. Personally I’d like to chuck it all in favor of an entirely new economic model where value is not determined by productivity and exchange value, but by creativity, imagination and use value.
In Rosin’s article “The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.” Ok, the opposite may be true. I’ve already made it clear I don’t really care, but for argument’s sake and to take away any fear this discussion might raise among my masculine brothers, let’s say that the new economy is gender indifferent. This could actually facilitate a great step forward in our thinking about ourselves, men and women, because it raises the question “What are the benefits of basing my identity on gender?” If there are no economic benefits then the importance that gender plays in self-identification is diminished, and other determinants must replace it for the identity to be complete.
What role does gender play in forming identity if we take away the economic and social roles? The most obvious one is hormonal. The chemistry produced by different sexual organs produces male and female traits on a flexible body, like voice frequency and muscle mass. Each person is more-or-less male/female as the chemistry expresses itself. I will leave the more complicated characteristics such as aggression, cooperation, empathy and objectivity alone as there is no point in getting involved in them here. The point is that, to my mind, the overall importance of gender to identity is, finally, less important than we generally think it is. Of primary importance is the statement “I Am”, and then the qualifiers of “A Man” or “A Woman” kind of recede to their secondary status as qualifiers.
Rosin’s piece contains a rather sad example of what may happen when identity, gender and economic function are bound tightly together:
“In his final book, The Bachelors’ Ball, published in 2007, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describes the changing gender dynamics of Béarn, the region in southwestern France where he grew up. The eldest sons once held the privileges of patrimonial loyalty and filial inheritance in Béarn. But over the decades, changing economic forces turned those privileges into curses. Although the land no longer produced the impressive income it once had, the men felt obligated to tend it. Meanwhile, modern women shunned farm life, lured away by jobs and adventure in the city. They occasionally returned for the traditional balls, but the men who awaited them had lost their prestige and become unmarriageable. This is the image that keeps recurring to me, one that Bourdieu describes in his book: at the bachelors’ ball, the men, self-conscious about their diminished status, stand stiffly, their hands by their sides, as the women twirl away. “
This tragic scene shows the dysfunction that can happen to beautiful people as the result of basing human identity on the gender roles one was born into.
So my position on “The End of Men” is that I don’t care if the economy prefers women to men and I don’t care if my ‘self’ is male or female, some combination thereof, or neither, or other. It just doesn’t matter. Most of my life is spent with books, ideas, music, a motorcycle and a disembodied internet social life where my sex doesn’t matter, and that’s the way I like it.
When thinking about this reaction to the Atlantic piece, I was constantly reminded of a famous meeting between Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin. Goldman, the world-famous Anarchist and (female) liberationist had been exiled and deported from the U.S. in the Palmer Raids of 1919. Kropotkin, world renown scientist (Darwin’s opposite, he demonstrated the role of cooperation in evolution) and intellectual father of Anarchist thought had been marginalized by the Communists. They were meeting at Kropotkin’s modest home in St. Petersburg (I believe). As the story goes, Kropotkin did not approve of Goldman’s emphasis on gender equality and her strident efforts on the emancipation specifically of women. Kropotkin believed that it was a distraction from the overall work of human freedom and served as a ‘turn-off’ to men in that overall effort. These two giants of the 19th and 20th Centuries argued heatedly through the night with great passion and histrionics. Finally in the early morning hours, Goldman, exasperated, shouted at Kropotkin “It may not matter to you, old man, but to millions of young men and women, the issue of sex matters a very great deal!” To which Kropotkin replied “Oh, I see.”
So I understand that my declared ambivalence toward the whole ‘End Of Men’ or the Perilous Pussification of the Planet scenario may be quite idiosyncratic on my part. Other younger lively sexual members of the future workforce may find it of great importance indeed. But remember the lesson of Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic Monthly article: “Some things that work in one epoch, don’t work in the next.”