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In today's economy, are women surging while men lag?

Joining other feminist-themed books like 'The Good Girls Revolt' is 'The End of the Men,' in which Hanna Rosin posits that men are 'frail dependents in need of a protector.'

By Husna Haq / September 13, 2012

'The End of Men' says that in many cases, because of the economy, gender roles have reversed so that women are the primary breadwinners and men are 'househusbands.'

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If publishing is any indication, we’re experiencing a second wave of feminist sentiment. There’s Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina: A New Biography,” a provocative appraisal of female sexuality; Lynn Povich’s “The Good Girls Revolt,” about a 1970 class-action lawsuit female employees filed against Newsweek magazine; and Hanna Rosin’s “The End of the Men: And the Rise of Women,” a 21st-century exploration of how gender roles have evolved.

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Rosin’s book has been described as a modern-day “Feminine Mystique” of sorts, as well as one that picks up where Maureen Dowd left off in “Are Men Necessary?” But Rosin introduces a new character in this post-recession landscape that, to some extent, changes everything: the economy.

In short, she argues, the recession has been harder on men and has been an unlikely equalizer in the gender games. Traditionally “female” fields like healthcare, education, and service work are strong, while traditionally “male” fields like manufacturing, construction, and finance have been hit particularly hard by the recession. What that means is that while women have returned to work, entered new fields, and surged ahead in their careers, men have largely been left behind.

“If Rosin has an overriding thesis, it's the need to adapt to a changing landscape, something that women have been able to do with greater nimbleness than men,” writes USA Today in a reflection of Rosin’s book.

In the Alabama town of Alexander City, spotlighted in a recent New York Times Magazine essay adaptation of Rosin’s book, the gender roles have so starkly reversed, with women becoming the primary breadwinners and men, the “househusbands,” that Rosin ventures, “These days the establishment is being marshaled to confirm our new cultural notion that men have become the frail dependents in need of a protector. That men need marriage more than women do. In fact, they need it to survive.”

It’s a bold assertion and one that’s certainly supported in some examples, but, writes USA Today, “...where is the statistical evidence to back up such a strong assertion?”

Rosin’s assertions and predictions are nothing if not intriguing, fresh, compelling, and bold. But critics assert the book is great at making attention-grabbing claims, less so at supporting them. “Not all her anecdotes cogently illustrate her points and her statistical evidence is often vague, particularly when tinged with hyperbole,” writes USA Today, adding, “…While her points are valid and bolstered anecdotally, her book sometimes feels like a long-form, and somewhat padded, version of her original essay.”

And then there are those who find the book’s premise itself unconstructive.

“Why are the relations between men and women still portrayed as a zero-sum game?” ask Erika and Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard administrator and professor, respectively, in a Time magazine essay. “So much of the coverage of gender issues — indeed the book’s cover title itself — pits women and men against one another. Why do we need to establish who is winning and losing the war?”

One thing’s for sure, Rosin’s book, and its incendiary title, has got people talking about how rapidly the recession has reshaped gender roles. We’re eager to read her exploration of the intersection of economics and gender, a fascinating topic about which we expect to read much more in the coming months and years.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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