One of the most depressing pieces I have read recently was Kate Bolick's All the Single Ladies in The Atlantic. The synopsis reads this way:
Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing). But this strange state of affairs also presents an opportunity: as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family—and to acknowledge the end of “traditional” marriage as society’s highest ideal.
I don't know if it was more depressing for me as a male (and it was depressing) or as the father of two girls.
One part of Ms Bolik's message can be summarised this way: as women storm the last career bastions and men in general become increasingly marginalised, the ability of women to find a suitable male is reduced. The reducing number of younger alpha males, those in top positions, can get all the sex they want and aren't interested in marriage. The rest of the male population with their diminishing career prospects aren't worth considering. The solution for ambitious career minded women is to do away with men and focus on female relationships. The last paragraph of the article reads:
When an American woman gives you a tour of her house, she leads you through all the rooms. Instead, this expat showed me her favorite window views: from her desk, from her (single) bed, from her reading chair. As I perched for a moment in each spot, trying her life on for size, I thought about the years I’d spent struggling against the four walls of my apartment, and I wondered what my mother’s life would have been like had she lived and divorced my father. A room of one’s own, for each of us. A place where single women can live and thrive as themselves.
I have written a little on this blog about changing gender roles and the problems created for men. The highest unemployment rates in Australia are among younger and older men. As Kate Bolick notes, the economic structural changes that have taken place in the US (and in Australia) have greatly disadvantaged men as compared to women.
I have also written about the problems faced by those men who, like me, choose to take on the primary child care role, an important precondition if ambitious women are to both have children and pursue their career objectives. My advice has been by all means do this, but if you do then be aware of the costs. I was not.
As I read Ms Bolick's piece, I wondered where the concept of family fitted in. I accept that families can take many forms. I accept that the type of female relationship she talked about towards the end of her piece can be classified as a form of family. But to my mind the concept of generations is central to family.
Human beings have always had a need to see themselves in an intergenerational context. This holds regardless of married state or the presence of children.
The decision of the Australian Finance Minster and her partner Sophie Allouache for that partner to successfully seek pregnancy through IVF is a practical illustration of the power of the concept of the intergenerational family.
The type of issues that Ms Bolick opines about seem to be topical in a US context.
In another piece in The Atlantic from last year, Hanna Rosin writes on The End of Men:
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.
The message in Sandra Tsing Loh's article is summarised in the heading and subtitle: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off: The author is ending her marriage. Isn’t it time you did the same?
A significant long term social change, and the shifts in education and roles between men and women is one such change, often involves painful adjustments. Futurologists and that sub-group science fiction writers can take the trends, extrapolate and create new worlds. One such world involved a protected world dominated by women defending itself from feral men roaming the streets. In another, men have disappeared.
I have no especially profound wisdom on all this. At a personal level, I struggle a little with the nature of the changes that have taken place.
When I look at the younger age group that I know best, my daughters and their friends, they do not seem to have the same views as Ms Bolick and some of the other writers on The Atlantic.
This is a middle class group, better educated than the majority of the Australian population and largely drawn from one area within a major city. I make this point because their views may not be representative
They are more individualistic, less gender oriented than in the past with a span of views about marriage and relationships. Yet there is still the same desire for long term relationships, for children, for family.
Looking at the various articles that triggered this post, one common subtext appears to be growing apart. This makes sense in a world of two careers and varying interests. A second is disappointment in a world of choices. The writers I read were educated middle class women with options.
Concluding, one of the difficulties I have in considering some of these questions lies in my inability to properly distinguish the issues involved.
I wonder, for example, whether the continued obsession with gender roles is not blinding us to other important factors.
One is simply the nature of choices in long term relationships. This hold equally for same sex couples as it does for others. A second is the impact of uncertainty on relationships, including economic uncertainty as well as the question of survivability of the relationship itself. This affects men as well as women and can become increasingly important with age.
Both laws and ways of thought are still conditioned by a now past world in which the male was the major income earner. Many of the legal changes that have taken place over the last one hundred years were designed to protect women and children in relationships where at least economic power was asymmetrical. Increasingly, relative economic power is becoming gender neutral and may vary with time. The number of dependent males is rising and we haven't worked out how to manage this.
These are just examples for further thought.
On 28 October 2011, Ruth Rosen had a piece on TPM Cafe, Are Male Baby Boomers Doomed To Become Lonely Seniors? Here she is talking about the difference between men and women in social terms. Because men are not so good at maintaining relationships in a proactive way, they risk greater loneliness and isolation once work is withdrawn.
I think that's true. It has implications for some of the discussion in this post.
On 6 November 2011, Sarah Whyte's Mothers, divorce and the HSC itch (Sydney Morning Herald) began
IT IS called the ''post-HSC'' divorce. Women in their 40s and 50s keep the family together for the youngest child's exams, then start hatching their own plans for freedom.
The phenomenon, observed by relationship experts, is one reason why divorce rates for Australian women in this age group are climbing faster than any other.....
Marriage exit strategies or ''five-year plans'' were increasingly common for older women who were not satisfied and had delayed separation for the sake of their children's upbringing or education, said the director of clinical services at Relationships Australia, Pam Lewis.
This phenomenon is actually similar in some ways to that Ms Bolick writes about.