12/27/2013 12:23 EST | Updated 02/26/2014 05:59 EST

Sorry, but (White, Straight) Men Are Not the New Minority Group

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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