The rise of feminism in the modern world has been a boon in many respects. For one, it enabled new perspectives on and opportunities for women, which had not been immediately available to them for centuries. It freed them from potentially harmful and abusive stereotypes that have long defined femininity (such as those found in Brady’s essay). In fact, feminism became the prominent discourse from which the modern woman, as she is often depicted, molds herself—or, at least, is instrumental to her identity construction. Perhaps it is consequential, then, that the narrative of the independent, intelligent woman, who does not require a man for sustenance and whose qualities sometimes far outshine those of the males of species, has become a prominent image in our day and age (Homans; Schwarzbaum). But this comes with a steep price. Perhaps due to the unexpected growth of the movement from its 1960s roots, it marked the beginning of another inequality we face today: a growing trend of male intolerance that is steadily taking root in modern perception. What was once reflected in the lives of women is now lived within the experiences of many men.
Today, the apparent glorification of women in society almost always comes with the unavoidable denigration of men. Hanna Rosin’s creation of the concepts of Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man are symptomatic of this: that men are “mentally muscle-bound” while women are “infinitely malleable” heralds the creation of a new stereotype, one that is essentially anti-male in conception (Homans). Rosin celebrates ‘the end of men’, i.e. the end of paternalistic society, which has nurtured the view of female inferiority for millennia. For her, the displacement of men in key sectors of the workforce marks a new era of prosperity for women. Along with the depiction of modern women as strong and determined, Rosin paints a generalized image of men as “unambitious couch potatoes” (Homans). Rosin’s writing reveals a social consensus that many of us tend to accept uncritically. The presentation of men as clumsy, stupid and/or weak—especially in relation to proximate female bodies—has arguably become a staple of media and entertainment. This new branding of gender roles has found its way into the more intimate aspects of society, like education. As Sommers has keenly observed, there is a blatant misrepresentation of boys and an inevitable favoring of girls in the current system. In a more recent article, she argues that conduct in school is a significant determinant of student assessment and grading in the classroom setting, a criterion which tends to affect more girls positively than boys. The rowdiness and social misbehavior associated with boys, after all, do not conform to the mold of expectations embodied by school standards, where students are ‘supposed to’ sit still and listen (“Boys at the Back”). But gender defines behavior to a significant extent; Sommers argues that masculine traits tend to be pre-defined to a degree, and while genetics is not wholly responsible for behavior, it is a significant contributor. She argues that male conduct, especially during childhood, is a manifestation of their capacity for ‘tempered maleness,’ which she sees as a social good, even a social necessity: “traditional male traits such as aggression, competitiveness, risk-taking and stoicism—constrained by virtues of valor, honor and self-sacrifice—are essential to the well-being and safety of our society” (“In Their Nature”). And yet it is viewed by many educators themselves as “primitive violence—a lethal masculinity,” to the point of ‘reforming’ them—if that were at all possible—ignoring all consideration of genetics entirely (“In Their Nature”). On the subject of biology, Shwarzbaum also highlights a key issue on the concurrent changes in gender qualities and standards. The modern woman’s anxiety, embodied in the image of the bag-lady, comes from the unique social conditions that have been formed in the past couple of decades under the banner-head of feminism, and also from biological instincts that predate modern efforts for gender equity. Shwarzbaum describes an instinctive desire to be taken care of, despite the context of self-sufficiency. She highlights the cause of this neurosis, as she calls it, to the fact that for generations, women have been raised to expect traditional trade-offs between genders—“his paychecks, her casseroles”—but current trends have made these expectations obsolete (Shwarzbaum). Homans shares this point of view. She asks while criticizing Rosin’s Plastic Woman concept: “how flexible can a woman be when she has been training for something for years and suddenly it is blown off the map by the new economy?” (Homans).
This is not to undermine efforts for gender equality made possible by the rise of the feminist movement. However, there is also a danger in downplaying the role of men in society in our desire to elevate the status and conditions of women. The dominant mode of feminist discourse and of the feminized society has yet to achieve true equality, because it merely reverses the roles of male and female in an oppressive binary relationship. Ignoring the effect of biology and the framework of society on our assessments of gender value and behavioral quality is a pitfall that we must be careful to avoid, because, if we are not careful, our actions might lead to yet another future where a past, that we should have learned from, is repeated.
Brady, Judy. I Want a Wife. 1971. Web. 04 October 2013.
Homans, Jennifer. “A Woman’s Place: ‘The End of Men,’ by Hanna Rosin”. The New York Times. 13 September 2012. Web. 04 October 2013.
Schwarzbaum, Lisa. “The Fear that Dare Not Speak its Name.” The New York Times. 13 September 2013. Web. 04 October 2013.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. “Men—It’s in Their Nature.” The American Enterprise. September 2003. Web. 04 October 2013.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. “The Boys at the Back.” The New York Times. 02 February 2013. Web. 04 October 2013.
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