Why (Some) Men Still Have It All
Working-class men may be doomed, but the ones who run the world are doing just fine.
There is a chapter in The End of Men, Hanna Rosin’s compelling, provocative, but occasionally misleading new book, about what she calls the “new wave of female violence.” In it, she charts how women, in keeping with their increasing social prominence, are becoming more aggressive and even homicidal, and less likely to be victimized. It’s an example, she suggests, of her book’s broader subject—the way changing gender dynamics are remaking us in ways that once seemed inconceivable, upending the sexual hierarchy that’s prevailed for almost all of recorded human history.
Rosin opens the chapter with the story of Larissa Schuster, who ran a successful biochemical lab while her milquetoast husband, a registered nurse whom acquaintances described as “meek,” “timid,” and “accommodating,” took charge of their two children. At least he did until she murdered him by stuffing him in a barrel of acid, apparently because she was disgusted by his passivity but didn’t want to pay him alimony in the event of a divorce.
Women like Schuster, writes Rosin, “raise the broader unsettling possibility that, with the turnover in modern gender roles, the escalation from competitiveness to aggression to violence that we are used to in men has started showing up in women as well.” Later, she cites figures that appear to demonstrate that women have caught up to men as perpetrators of domestic violence. “Since the United States passed mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence in the late 1990s, arrest rates for women have skyrocketed, and in some states reached 50 percent or more of all arrests,” she writes.
In a rhetorical trick that Rosin uses throughout her book, she nods at feminists who argue that these figures are misleading, but suggests they’re in denial, mired in outdated assumptions about gender and power. “Our attachment to the notion of women as vulnerable runs deeper than politics, of course,” she writes. “It’s hard to fathom that women’s circumstance could shift something so fundamental as raw, physical power.” Rosin is a smart and skillful writer, and she constructs her arguments tightly enough that every time I doubted them, I wondered whether I was being blinkered by ideology.
Yet a bit of research shows that while the number of women killed by their partners fell between 1976 and 2005, killings of men by wives and girlfriends declined much more. “[T]he number of black males killed by intimates dropped by 83 percent, white males by 61 percent, black females by 52 percent, and white females by 6 percent,” according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. It may be that women are now less likely to kill their partners because female empowerment has made it easier for them to get out of abusive relationships without resorting to homicide. Still, these numbers do not suggest that Schuster represents much of anything except a ghoulishly interesting anomaly.
Similarly, the arguments against Rosin’s reading of the domestic violence statistics aren’t as easily dismissed as she implies. In some cases, mandatory arrest laws lead police to detain both members of a couple when they can’t figure out who is at fault in an altercation. Because of such laws, people aren’t just being booked for punching, kicking, or stabbing a partner—they’re also being arrested for less severe infractions like shoving or throwing things. It’s still overwhelmingly women who are the victims of the most serious acts of domestic violence. According to the National Institute of Justice, a review of domestic violence research found that “more than 90 percent of ‘systematic, persistent, and injurious’ violence is perpetrated by men.”
It’s not Rosin’s responsibility to drag her readers deep into the methodological weeds on every point she makes. But a book heralding the incipient end of patriarchy has significant policy implications. So-called men’s rights activists, for example, have long argued that domestic-violence law is an outdated feminist boondoggle, and will likely be delighted to see Rosin helping them to make their case. More broadly, one of the biggest obstacles women face in fighting sex discrimination is the insistence that it’s no longer a problem, and that, if anything, men are now the ones who are oppressed. Thus it’s frustrating how frequently The End of Men, which has important, fascinating things to say about rapidly changing gender roles, elides or downplays the very real ways male power remains entrenched.
The End of Men grew out of a 2010 Atlantic article of the same name, which argued, often convincingly, that men are floundering in our post-industrial economy while many women are thriving. The book expands this premise, describing what Rosin sees as an epochal transformation in the sexual order. Her reporting, she writes, showed her that we had “reached the end of two hundred thousand years of human history and the beginning of a new era, and there was no going back. Once I opened my eyes to that possibility, I realized that the evidence was everywhere, and it was only centuries of habit and history that prevented everyone from seeing it.”
This passage suggests why Rosin’s writing is at once so scintillating and, at moments, so maddening. A senior editor at The Atlantic and co-founder of DoubleX, Slate’s women’s blog, she comes across as a liberal feminist who prides herself on her lack of dogma and openness to findings that challenge progressive assumptions. Of course, those are things to be proud of, and they’re why most of what she writes is worth reading. But a love of the counterintuitive can, at times, become its own sort of orthodoxy. Sometimes the dull conventional wisdom—men are more likely to abuse their wives than vice versa—is true.
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