Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Man's End

(this is now an old post that I'm not sure reflects my point of view. I feel this post still might be a bit too gendered or binary or some such. I can't even really read it, anymore. Long story short, skip this post and destroy all men)

No, not the end of Man or anything like that. Rather, the end of man. The end of "the age of testosterone" as one writer put it. The end of socially created and accepted male dominance. It's a long, slow road to equality, with a lot of work ahead of us, and to say that men and women are on even or nearly even footing is false, but progress is in steady motion.

For thousands of years women have been repressed. Dating back to religious stories where women were at fault for Man's fall, and even before that, female representation and equality has been missing.

But now, that world of alpha male breadwinners and "manly" men holding all the keys is ending.

Decades from now, the leaders, the breadwinners, the famous researchers and policy makers will be made up of more women than men.

In some places, that change has already happened.

Earlier this year, women, for the first time ever, made up the majority of the workforce in the US. This population shift has been accelerated by the recession; 75% of jobs lost were held by men. It should come as no surprise; areas in which men typically constituted the vast majority of workers; construction, manufacturing, etc., have been hit the hardest.

Men still hold the cards at the very, very top, most notably CEOs and politicians, but even that is slowly changing. Female CEOs largely receive higher pay and greater bonuses than their male counterparts. A recent study of 1,500 top US companies from 1992 to 2006 revealed that companies with women in higher positions performed better, particularly in positions or firms where “creativity and collaboration may be especially important.”

Similar trends continue elsewhere. Clinics that offer sex selection for children in the US are reporting across the country that demand for boys is at an all time low, a stark change from a time as recent as 1985, when half of all women said they “must have a son." That number is now only 15%.

Physical strength is no longer the barometer of success that it once was, and slowly but surely not accepted to come only from men. Communication and thinking are the prime motivators of success. No longer are jobs as restricted to one gender or the other by societal roles.

The OECD Gender, Institutions and Development Database reveals that countries that have more power held by women are doing better, with very fex exceptions, economically. Pirates and climate change? Perhaps, but striking nonetheless. Countries that are lagging behind in women's equality in the workforce are losing out. The 2007 Economic and Social Survey by Escap came to the conclusion that the Asia Pacific region is losing as much as 47 billion dollars a year because of restrictions on women’s access to employment opportunities.

Predictions are saying the same thing. 13 of the 15 job positions predicted to see the most growth over the coming decade are held primarily by women. For every two US men who get a college degree this year, three women will get one.

As women continue to pass men in areas of employment and education, it is perhaps ironic that the very thing that hampered them is now hampering men. After years of discrimination and secondary roles, women were taught to be adaptable and receptive to change. Men held a much more comfortable, less dynamic roll. Head of the family, no ifs, ands, or buts. As the equal rights battle rages on and equality gaps start shrinking, that adabtability for women has proved crucial. That's not to say sexism was a net positive for women; far from it. But it is an interesting twist.

Even in media old trends are breaking. Gone are the days of movies like The Expendables being released once a week. Gone are the tough, brawn over brain, non-introspective lead roles. Up in the Air even managed to make actor George Clooney, long a representative of male sex and strength, portray a broken man "too old to be attractive," as rebuked by one coworker in the film, and merely a pawn in another women's affair. This postmodern breakdown of "man" is representative perhaps of many men who are uncomfortable being a househusband, or making less money than their female spouse. Many are seeking identity in a changing world.

This is not a cry for female superiority. Indeed, modern third-wave feminism's closest thing to a rallying point is the end of gender roles. And while feminists fight for the end of gender roles in regards to women, they'll be glad to tell you they also want them ended for men. Women have been down the road of inequality for thousands of years, and know it's not sustainable or right to try to "flip the tables," so to speak.

While there are certainly physiological differences between the two sexes, and we still grapple with the idea of nature vs. nurture, neuroscience has demonstrated that experience can change brain structure and function. Early experience can completely and permanently change the chemistry and function of genes inside of cells, causing significant effects on behaviour, as reported in a recent special issue on the male and female brains in Scientific American Mind. The article states that gender differences and roles are often exaggerated and flamed by society and culture, not innate predisposition.

Perhaps if society stopped with silly rules stating that men should never cry and should be less apt to emotional display, we could foster more attuned, compassionate, sensitive, and expressive men.

It may be increasingly a woman's world.

But that doesn't mean men can't contribute too.

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