No One Knows Who the Hell Is in Charge AnymoreS

Did you hear? Men are over. No, wait. Women are over. Women never began. Men are in now all boys. Women are banding together to keep boys down. Women are glitter-obsessed little girls. Scratch that. They're confident business bosses being pressed under the glass ceiling and pinned down like insect specimens. Forget the "End of Men" or the "War on Women" — welcome to the Age of Bickering Over Who Has it Worse And How to Fix It, Whatever "It" Is.

Hanna Rosin's newly-released The End of Men (based on a column from The Atlantic with the same name) argues that, basically, Spice World was one of the more prescient films of the last fifty years. Girl Power has been exerted in all areas of society, from higher education to the board room to the living room, where women now control something like 30% of America's remotes. Women may not dominate the upper echelons of Fortune 500 companies just yet, but give it time. The pipeline is full of ambitious young pump-wearers eager to replace the liver spotted Monopoly men currently in charge. Meanwhile, men, unable to do any damn thing right, are regressing to a sort of stunted Daniel Tosh-esque be-hoodied boy manhood. Soon they will be kept on ranches and farmed for their sperm while the women of the matriarchy hold high minded debates about whether it's okay to require that men taken for walks off of preapproved government Man Reserves should be leashed, or if that's inhumane. At least, that's how the arguments against the book go.

But claims that Men are Ending have been met with some pretty strong skepticism from people who have observed that men are still totally in charge, and that advances women have made relative to men haven't positioned women to suddenly take over everything; rather, social advancement has only served to put ladies in a slightly less bad position than they were 50 years ago. Professor Stephanie Coontz argues in the New York Times this weekend that any assertions that men are over are just trumped up charges churning up social anxiety over a weakening of the patriarchy in order to sell books and, in fact, it is women who are in trouble. Back in the olden days, she explains, men were born entitled to certain man-rights that weren't available to women — the right to good jobs, the right to unbridled access to their wives' bodies, the right to do pretty much whatever, because they were men and men ruled. And while women have made great advancements since the 1950's, in the last 15 years or so, their ascendance has slowed and, in some cases, reversed. Women are choosing "pink collar" jobs with limited earning potential in greater numbers now than they were in 1987, and they're shying away from computer-related fields.

And that widely-touted number that some unmarried women in their 20's now outearn their male counterparts? Bunk.

Proponents of the "women as the richer sex" scenario often note that in several metropolitan areas, never-married childless women in their 20s now earn more, on average, than their male age-mates.

But this is because of the demographic anomaly that such areas have exceptionally large percentages of highly educated single white women and young, poorly educated, low-wage Latino men. Earning more than a man with less education is not the same as earning as much as an equally educated man.

Among never-married, childless 22- to 30-year-old metropolitan-area workers with the same educational credentials, males out-earn females in every category, according to a reanalysis of census data to be presented next month at Boston University by Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland. Similarly, a 2010 Catalyst survey found that female M.B.A.'s were paid an average of $4,600 less than men in starting salaries and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth throughout their careers, even if they remain childless.

Men aren't the ones ending! Women are ending!

But what's a society to do to counter the rising forces of man-ending or woman-ending inequality? Get some female leaders in charge so they lovingly mother nations and industries back to health? Wrong again, argues Nicholas Kristof in a Times column called, provocatively, "Women Hurting Women." Equality (or whatever is happening right now!) means that women can be assholes, too.

Case in point: Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who has used her position of power to crap all over Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a "champion of the economic empowerment of women around the world." Kristof theorizes that Hasina's campaign of hostility against Yunus is based on "paranoia," or "envy," or being "resentful" of Yunus' success. Guess this means that women are shitty leaders!

What a topsy-turvy picture: We see a woman who has benefited from evolving gender norms using her government powers to destroy the life's work of a man who has done as much for the world's most vulnerable women as anybody on earth.

But that's the rub, isn't it? When a male leader acts messed up, he's just an individual without the wherewithal to effectively or compassionately lead. When a woman does it, she's an indictment of all woman leaders. Because of Hasina's perceived fuckery, Kristof concludes that lady leaders don't make a difference,

Metrics like girls' education and maternal mortality don't improve more when a nation is led by a woman. There is evidence that women matter as local leaders and on corporate boards, but that doesn't seem to have been true at the national level, at least not for the first cohort of female leaders around the world.

As with every bit of data in the endless "Who is in charge? BATTLE OF THE SEXES!" conversational loop, Kristof's assertion is directly countered by data that indicates the opposite, at least here in the US. EMILY's list's Impact Project has tracked the legislative records of women elected to serve in the US government and found that women tend to be more progressive than their male counterparts.

Do Democratic women in Congress make a difference? After looking at the data, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, data shows that Democratic women have been the most progressive voting bloc in Congress for over 20 years. From Equal Pay to Title IX to Access to Women's Healthcare, Democratic women have had an unmistakable influence on the outcome of national policy.

Until recently (ahem, SARAH PALIN), Republican women were also more progressive than Republican men.

So, men are ending, says the data, except when the data says they're not ending at all. And the way to fix the inequality, or lack of inequality is to appoint female leaders, says the data. Except when the data says female leaders don't make a difference and sometimes make things worse. There is no "battle of the sexes." But we are witnessing perhaps the bloodiest Battle of the Statistics the world has ever seen.

[NYTimes]

Image by Jim Cooke