The patriarchy has suffered a few punches lately, at least in Toronto this year.
Last month, over 3,000 people filled Roy Thomson Hall recently to hear four iconic feminists debate whether or not men are obsolete. On the pro side, Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men and Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist and author of Are Men Necessary? eloquently cited extensive research on the rise of female breadwinners and the biological and sociological reasons why men are no longer qualified to lead. The debate coincided perfectly with the incessant chatter dominating this city (and the world) over the shenanigans of our mayor, whose actions seemed to bolster Rosin and Dowd's case.
As a long-time admirer of both Rosin and Dowd, I see their point. There's no doubt that some sort of cultural shift is underway, where women are out-earning and out-educating men. In the U.S., 40 per cent of U.S. households with children under 18 have a woman as the primary or sole earner. In Canada and the U.S., women attain post-secondary degrees at a significantly higher rate than men. According to Dowd, one in five U.S. men remains unemployed. The changing status of men in the society lead Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, to go so far as to call them "ornamental" and "a luxury, like ice cream."
Rosin's argument seemed less malicious and more matter of fact.
"It's the end of men because men are failing in the workplace," she firmly stated.
Taking this argument to its natural conclusion means one thing: men are in trouble. While it seems too easy to wave Mayor Ford's sexist comments and bizarre behaviour as evidence that the era of male leadership is coming to an end, beneath the surface, boys appear to be struggling. According to Dowd and Rosin, boys start falling behind in elementary and often never catch up. If this is the case, are (white, straight) men the new minority group and do they require our support?
Coincidentally, while the debate raged at Roy Thomson Hall, an Indiegogo campaign quietly tried to raise $25,000 toward a Canadian Centre for Men and Families, which offers educational and advocacy services to support men and boys in crisis.
While I want to acknowledge the struggles of boys and men, a quick scan of our corporate landscape still tells a very different story. It's difficult to reconcile the flagging experiences of the male gender with the obvious fact that women still only hold 4.5 per cent of all Fortune 500 CEO roles, board diversity remains at a standstill in Canada and globally you can count the women who serve as heads of state on two hands.
"I'd be hard-pressed to say (men) are suffering," said Michael Bach, founder and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion.
"Like it or not, the vast majority of people in leadership positions are SWAMS (straight, white able-bodied men). That has been changing over the years, but it's still a huge majority," he added.
Bach explains that women have been the majority holders of undergraduate degrees for over 30 years yet progress in the business world remains glacial at best. "They may be breadwinners but they're still earning less than men doing the same job... Men are not obsolete. Dot matrix printers are obsolete," he insisted.
Alex Johnston, the executive director of Catalyst Canada, also acknowledges that women make over 60 per cent of Canada's undergraduate university students but argues that not enough is being done to support them when they graduate.
"The talent pool of educated women may be growing but progress through the corporate ranks has completely stalled. The real issue isn't whether more women have degrees. It's that we're still not leveraging their talent," observed Johnston.
Caitlin Moran, author of How to be a Woman, summed up my feelings perfectly during the debate when she argued,
"If men are obsolete then I personally aspire to this level of obsolescence. Holding 99 per cent of the world's wealth, 66 of Forbes' 71 Most Powerful People in the World list, being every single pope, American president and secretary general of the UN, and in charge of every military force on Earth.... men are doing quite well all things considered."
There must be some happy medium between total dominance and obsolescence and it behooves us to find that sweet spot. In the meantime, even though the pro side successfully won the debate suggesting that reign of men is over, I think it's safe to say that the patriarchy is doing just fine, thank you very much. There's still a lot of work to be done to even the playing field in the business and political world, even if the erratic behaviour of one city's mayor seems to be proving otherwise.
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"Whatever its origins, the problem of young men falling behind is becoming entrenched ... Now, in families where the fathers have a high school education or less, girls are much more likely than boys to finish college. If the boys do go, they are more likely to drop out. The difference is especially pronounced in families where there is not father."
"Women now earn 6-0 percent of master's degrees, about half of all the law and medical degrees, and about 44 percent of all business degrees. In 2009, for the first time women earned more PhDs than men, and the rate was starting to accelerate even in male-dominated fields such as math and computer science."
In contrast to all that's been written about the one-night stands with acquaintances common on college campuses being disadvantageous to women, Rosin found that "for most women the hook-up culture is like an island they visit mostly during their college years, and even then only when they are bored or experimenting or don't know any better. But it is not a place where they drown. The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike in earlier ages they have more important things going on, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own to worry about. The most patient and thorough research about the hook-up culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don't derail their careers."
"Over the course of the past century," Rosin writes, "feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature -- first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions have gone the way of the pharmacist, starting out as the province of men and now filled mostly with women. Yet I'm not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men, operating under the outdated pollution rules, still shy away from some careers as women begin to dominate them."
"Sure bets for the future are still jobs that cannot be done by a computer or someone overseas," Rosin writes. "They are the jobs that require human contact, interpersonal skills, and creativity" -- jobs in fields like home health, child care, teaching, veterinary medicine -- "and these are all areas where women excel."
"Reversing centuries of tradition, families are investing in their daughters. The son preference that prevailed for so much of history was not based only on sentimental attachment or habit. Families poured their resources into sons because sons were the most likely to succeed, and perhaps to help support their parents in old age. With women dominating American colleges, the still-striving middle class is putting its best bet on its daughters."
"These days the problem in the dating market is caused not by women's eternal frailty but by their new dominance. In a world where women are better educated than men and out-earning them in their twenties, dating becomes complicated. Men are divided into what the college girls call the players (a smaller group) and the losers (a much larger group), and the women are left fighting for small spoils. The players are in high demand and hard to pin down. The losers are not all that enticing. Neither is in any hurry to settle down."
We know women are marrying less and later than ever, but experts disagree about why. Rosin argues, "the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are now more economically independent and thus able to set the terms for marriage -- and usually they set them too high for the men around them to reach... The whole country's future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African-Americans: The mothers pull themselves up, but the men don't follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.
In a chapter that focuses mainly on the rise of women in Korea, Rosin notes that Asian women dominate in the classroom and have grown up unwilling to take on the traditional female role of the subservient homemaker, even as men continue to want wives who fit that mold. "Asia's looming problem right now is not the dangers of seduction but threat of industrial-scale sexual indifference. In a host of Asian countries, including Korea, the new woman and the same old man have looked each other over and each has deemed the other a wholly unsuitable life partner, creating a region of 'lonely hearts,' as The Economist recently called them."
The one socioeconomic bracket in which the divorce rate is down is among the affluent. This, Rosin writes, in tandem with women's increases in education, opportunity and earnings, has made possible a new mode of time sharing in upper-class marriages: "Couples are not just chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage."
Over the course of her research, Rosin writes, she didn't encounter any woman who worked full-time and had relinquished control of the domestic space to her husband. "This is true even if the woman is working two jobs. It's true even if the woman makes considerably more money than the man." As Rosin told Lisa Belkin, "Women demanded choice, and now there is an excess of choice. But they are not overwhelmingly happier. Partly that's because even women who make significantly more money than the men they are with never ceded the domestic space. And that can be exhausting. Women don't give up things. They don't give up responsibilities. They add new things. They exhaust themselves and still don't give anything up."
"What were once considered exclusively women's concerns are now becoming the baits of the rising workforce. Surveys of Generation Y reveal them to have almost exactly the same workplace expectations and desires as a forty-year-old working mother: They want flexibility, the option to work remotely, to dip in and out of full time and to find their work meaningful ... Women have written the blueprint for the workplace of the future. The only question left is, will the men really adapt?"
"The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminine, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. 'We never explicitly say, "Develop your feminine side," but it's clear that's what we're advocating,' says Jamie Ladge, a business professor at Northeastern University."
Discussing recent cases of female chemists poisoning their husbands, Rosin reflects, "Singular and exotic though these cases may be, they 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 ... For some people the rise in female violence must come as a great disappointment. Many of us hold out the hope that there is a utopia in our future run by women, that power does not in fact corrupt equally. But that vision ... has always had an air of condescension behind it. The most distinctive trait of women is not necessarily that they are kinder or gentler or will do anything to protect their young ... it's that they ... bend their personalities to fit in what the the times allow."
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