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In an op-ed published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, Sociologist Stephanie Coontz argues that claims about the end of men greatly exaggerate the change in the distribution of power that has taken place over the last half century.
Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men. The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.
Yes, things have changed. For example, women’s real wages have been rising for decades, while the real wages of men have fallen. Yet, this hardly makes women the “richer sex.” Women started from a much lower base. Furthermore, “….the median wages of female managers are just 73 percent of what male managers earn. And although women have significantly increased their representation among high earners in America over the past half-century, only 4 percent of the C.E.O.’s in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female.”
The ‘70s and ‘80s saw a reduction in job segregation by gender, especially in middle-class occupations. But, as sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman explain, this reduction in segregation slowed during the subsequent decades. And, some fields even became more segregated. In 1980, 64% of social workers were women; today, the figure has risen to 81%.
Further, many who note the rise of women often cite that, today, women earn almost 60% of all college degrees. Yet, women are still concentrated in traditionally female areas of study.
According to the N.Y.U. sociologist Paula England, a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, most women, despite earning higher grades, seem to be educating themselves for occupations that systematically pay less. Even women’s greater educational achievement stems partly from continuing gender inequities. Women get a smaller payoff than men for earning a high school degree, but a bigger payoff for completing college. This is not because of their higher grade point averages, the economist Christopher Dougherty concludes, but because women seem to need more education simply to counteract the impact of traditional job discrimination and traditional female career choices.
The decline of men has also been exaggerated. As Coontz notes, rates of domestic violence have halved since 1993, and rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70%. Husbands have also doubled their share of housework.
Yet, just like women, men also face an obstacle: over-investment in their gender identity.
Just as the feminine mystique discouraged women in the 1950s and 1960s from improving their education or job prospects, on the assumption that a man would always provide for them, the masculine mystique encourages men to neglect their own self-improvement on the assumption that sooner or later their ‘manliness’ will be rewarded.
Boys who engage in “girlie” activities are often bullied and ostracized, and men who take an active role in childcare and housework are more likely to be harassed at work.
Contrary to the fears of some pundits, the ascent of women does not portend the end of men. It offers a new beginning for both. But women’s progress by itself is not a panacea for America’s inequities. The closer we get to achieving equality of opportunity between the sexes, the more clearly we can see that the next major obstacle to improving the well-being of most men and women is the growing socioeconomic inequality within each sex.