The Patriarchy Is Dead? Really?

6241027716_a48cdc30e8Hanna Rosin, who famously proclaimed “the end of men” in her 2012 book of the same name, is at it again. This time—in a Slate article adapted from a new epilogue to the paperback edition of her book—she claims that “the patriarchy is dead.” What should feminists think about this? “Accept it,” she says.

I could list examples of why Rosin is wrong, but she has already done that herself, naming statistics her critics have cited: the tiny percentage of female CEOs, the “appalling” lack of paid maternity leave in the United States, women’s underrepresentation in Congress and the fact that women and men still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. Then, calling such evidence “selective,” she dismisses it as irrelevant—marshaling, instead, her own selective evidence to support her contention that feminists have some kind of “irrational attachment to the concept of the unfair.”

I liked Rosin’s book. Much of what she wrote I could recognize in the experience of my daughter. Born in 1990, my daughter came out of elementary and middle school convinced that boys were mostly hapless screw-ups, while girls were smart and competent and fierce. She transferred to an all-girl high school and reveled in a culture where students were encouraged to speak their minds, defend their beliefs and—because they naturally filled all student leadership positions and never had to compete with boys for attention in class— never doubted their own power. When her high school sponsored assemblies with women guests speaking about the struggles they faced in establishing careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, she and her friends reacted first with puzzlement and later in anger. “Why are you even telling us this?” they would ask. “We never imagined there were any barriers to our success until you told us there were.”

Rosin’s book also helped me appreciate the lives of a fiercely matriarchal branch of my extended family in Alabama. These women relatives, armed with nothing more than high-school diplomas and a tremendous work ethic, have managed—on salaries earned from laboring in fast-food restaurants and big-box stores—to buy homes and raise children and get along quite nicely without any reliable male presence, thank you very much. Meanwhile, as documented by Rosin in her book, men in Alabama struggle in an economy where well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

Because I am a practicing immigration lawyer, there is one particular analogy in The End of Men that I found especially resonant: that women are like immigrants who move to a new country and, finding themselves in an unfamiliar culture, have the flexibility to adapt. Men, on the other hand, are like immigrants who have moved physically but whose mindsets remain anchored in their country of origin and who therefore find it difficult to change their old ways.

There is no question that women have made tremendous strides in this country in the last half century, and that many men, especially those without higher education, are struggling to keep up. In another time or place, if I worked at all, I would have been a nurse or a school teacher, not a lawyer and law professor. My own brother, who never went to college, is only marginally attached to the workforce, relying on his gainfully employed wife (also without a college degree) to be the primary breadwinner. But to suggest that the relative success of women like me, or the fortitude of my working-class Alabama relatives, means patriarchy is dead is deceptive at best, and callously misleading at worst.

When political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history” after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he believed that the demise of the Cold War signaled the historical triumph of liberal democracy. He unquestionably knew the title of his essay and subsequent book was hyperbolic—he never meant to suggest that historical events per se would cease, but rather that the political development of humankind had reached its apotheosis. As it happened, the resurgence of Russia and China and the fallout from 9/11 and Islamic fundamentalism quickly proved him wrong.

In similar fashion, declaring the “end of men” or the “death of patriarchy” is surely meant as hyperbole. But focusing narrowly on strides some women have made in the U.S. glosses over not only the struggles women of all classes in our country still face, but completely ignores the reality for most women around the world.

A quick scan of recent headlines, from Slate and from elsewhere on the web, is instructive: “AP Headline: Partner Rape Isn’t Really Rape.” “Shellie Zimmerman Won’t Press Charges Against Her Husband. Alleged Domestic Violence Victims Often Don’t.” “Shocking UN Report Reveals 1 in 4 Men Admit to Raping Women For ‘Fun’ and Because of ‘Sexual Entitlement.’” “8 Year-Old Yemeni Child Bride Dies of Internal Injuries.” “Afghan Militants Target, Kill Female Author, Police Say.” “Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N.” “AU Force Probes Somali Woman “Gang-Rape.’” “Saudi Woman Held Captive by Family for 3 Years.” “Three From New York Charged with Offering to Sell Women.

Oh, and this one, about how the men (and they’re all men) who run and nearly destroyed, the global economy have gone unpunished: “The Jerks Got Away With It! 5 Years After Economic Collapse, They’re Still Smiling.” These men still rule the world.

Tell me again how the patriarchy is dead?

 Photo of Hanna Rosin courtesy of aspeninstitute-internal via Creative Commons 2.0.

Head shot 1 (C Shannon)Careen Shannon is an attorney, adjunct professor of law and writer based in New York City.






  1. Katharine Bressler says:

    I’m not sure that patriarchy is dead yet – maybe in its death throes – but I’m pretty sure that many men are confused and don’t know what it means to “be a man” any more. My own 28-year-old son is living at home with me, jobless, full of anxiety, and depressed. He just can’t figure out how to “fit in” to this society we live in. So, post-patriarchy, how will men find their way? I hope life will be better for all of us, but it may be more of an adjustment for men than for us women.

    • Men of past generations felt that part of being a man was going out, getting work, establishing yourself as an adult. That hasn’t changed. Men of today can do the same. It’s harder to find work, absolutely. It’s hard for women, too. It’s hard on all of us. But some of those earmarks of adulthood don’t change, and they involve hard work, personal responsibility and persistence in the face of difficulty. Women are doing that out of economic necessity; men can do it too, and many are.

      • Of course it’s an adjustment for men–and about time! Don’t baby them or make them inferior. Men are intelligent, strong, problem solvers–and equal to any woman. Time to stop spoiling and coddling them! Raise the bar! After all men are equal to woman, aren’t they?

    • Of course it’s an adjustment for men–and about time! Don’t baby them or make them inferior. Men are intelligent, strong, problem solvers–and equal to any woman. Time to stop spoiling and coddling them! Raise the bar! After all men are equal to woman, aren’t they?

  2. Perhaps he can start (as well as you) by not worrying about what it means to “be a man.” How about trying to be a good person? Focus on identifying and utilizing his strengths in order to make a living and be a good partner and parent, if that’s what he wants. Trying to redefine gender roles only gives strength to the idea that there are distinct and different expectations for men and women. Gender dichotomy is a patriarchal idea.

  3. Patriarchy is dead? Tell that to a domestic abuse survivor. Tell that to a sexual assault victim. Tell that to countless women who have endured discrimination, harassment, poverty, and invisibility. Patriarchy is very much alive, sadly, and we need to fight it.

  4. I was infuriated after reading Hanna Rosin’s new article, reclaiming the end of patriarchy, and subsequent articles (thankfully) decrying her conclusions. It is good to see this very measured response to Hanna Rosin’s article as she undoubtedly makes some good points. Still, to hear a woman of her privilege out and out dismiss the experiences of basically everyone else is pretty disheartening. What I found really ridiculous was that, as a regular listener of the Slate Political Gabfest podcast, I heard one of Rosin’s co-panelists halt a debate about Syria – ostensibly to move on to other topics – whereupon Rosin says something to the effect that “yeah, we’re moving on because you’re losing the argument” and after a little banter he says “well Hanna, I just figured our listeners were tired of hearing you talk.” It felt like a slap in the face because that’s the sort of line that women get all too often when vociferously expressing their opinion. Hanna Rosin is declaring the end of patriarchy even as she experiences it. I know that none of us want to feel as though we’re being affected by sexism because we don’t want to be victims, but that doesn’t mean you should deny sexism when it’s telling you to shut up.

  5. Cheryl Marcuri says:

    I’m sorry, but this woman clearly doesn’t understand that the war against women by the patriarchal society we live in is still very much going on. This is a “hot” war, with serious ammunition being used to try to strip away from us what rights we have earned so far. I was a young warrior in this war, when a woman’s job was to find a husband and raise kids. The very idea that we had worth in our own person, instead of as defined by spouses and offspring, was a totally new idea at the time. I fought that battle, usually alone, and I thought we were getting somewhere. But we still do not earn the same amount for the same work (except in the military), and we still have to fight past sexual discrimination by men of all ages. Younger generations of men are more inclined to take a woman at face value, but even they have problems at times. Now I am much older, and the battles still rage around me. I worry about the rights of my daughters, especially in light of the overwhelming attempts by Republicans to take from us our rights to reproductive choices (i.e. birth control) and the medical coverage we need. Women like this do more to damage our cause, tho, than any man does, simply because her words are specifically designed to TELL YOUNGER GENERATIONS THERE IS NO NEED TO FIGHT. If our younger generations don’t take up arms and continue the fight, then the patriarchy WILL win, by default. And women like this, who declare the war over long before we’ve managed to fight them to a stalemate, will be the reason why.

  6. Charles Huckelbury says:

    Interesting that polemicists cite the lack of men’s ability to “find their way” in the world as evidence of a dying patriarchy, as if equal disenfranchisement and economic deprivation indicate such. In truth, the failure of men to find accommodation in the work place and in society in general is due specifically to the patriarchy’s thriving longevity. With only 2% of the country’s population (the vast majority of whom are men) controlling most of the wealth, just who do you think is responsible for the difficulties the lower 98% experience? Patriarchal greed is an equal opportunity predator, but it still derives from a self-imposed sense of male superiority.

    • Charles, I want to thank you for that insightful response. You blew my mind. Not many men can see this issue without a reactionary response. Your measured approach is refreshing.

  7. Hanna Rosin should get the mansplainer of the year award. By denying that patriarchy still exists, she helps ensure that it will continue to exist. I used to enjoy Slate but not anymore.

  8. My goodness, we’re at the end of patriarchy? Why don’t the small numbers of women in leadership positions count? How do we explain the high rates of rape and battering? Why is a resume with a woman’s name at the top deemed “lesser” than a resume with a man’s name at the top? Language is still on the patriarchal side. And women are also more likely to see the world through men’s eyes — as when scantily clad men can appear “gay” – attractive to men, instead of just attractive. I could go on…

  9. Whether The Patriarchy is dead may be a moot point to those inclined to question if it was ever alive. After all, it’s only a shifting concept – and not everybody takes it on faith.

  10. … females still have a long ways to go before achieving actual equality with the men. while i have witnessed wonderful strides in my generation of women here, and all over the world, there still is a lot of work to be done.maybe in generations to come, will females actually have total equality and high-paying careers. what comes to mind immediately is women getting the best education, both in the grade schools, and also in college. the more a woman is educated (especially in non-traditional fields), the more power and self-esteem. as for me …. i am man-free at the moment. while i have had some wonderful relationships with guys who truly get females, and empower them to get ahead, i am still convinced that most of what ails the world are the evil decisions that men make. most of those said decisions usually don’t benefit women nor kids.

  11. I think the tables could be quickly over turned when women achieve political power. I don’t think that will happen until women can achieve a united front like during the women’s suffrage movement.
    As long as there are feminist and non-feminist, patriarchy will flourish. Since the birth of patriarchy, men have played the game of divide and conquer. It worked thousands of years ago and it still works today.

  12. I think, she may be speaking from the perspective of say a “Cosmo Fun Fearless Female” perspective. You know, Wow, we have cool city jobs and spend all our money on shoes AND we demand orgasms now, so we are like totally “beyond Feminism”. Got news for ya “ladies”, gals, girls, broads, women…if there is one man on the planet, who thinks you are less than him because you don’t have a penis, there will be a need for Feminism. And far as I can see, from the rates of sexual abuse, child brides, rape, sexist advertising, violent, degrading films and video games, and still fewer women in high authority/high pay positions, and we still listen to angry, upset, confused men complaining, sometimes violently, if they don’t get what they want, when they want it and then go on to find some way to blame a woman or women for it (or a minority) then I think we still need to consider Patriarchy as a force to be dealt with, undermined, laughed at etc.

  13. Shahin Larhnimi says:

    Patriarchy is definitely not dead, yet, hopefully. As you said in you post that; “women’s under representation in Congress and the fact that women and men still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.” There are for sure a lot of disadvantages in our society that are results of patriarchy. Like the other people that commented on your post said about what it means to “be a man,” even though some men in our society are much equal to women in some places, we still have men that have the better jobs and earn higher salaries. It may be hard on some men that women are demanding more space, but we all know that men are still dominant in most workplaces.

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