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.






Careen Shannon is an attorney, adjunct professor of law and writer based in New York City.