BREAKING: Men seize power in Alexander City, Alabama

It depends what Hanna Rosin’s definition of “had” is.

In The End of Men, Hanna Rosin quotes a man who’s been trying to get his benefits from the women at the local unemployment office, writing:

“I was born in the South, where the men take care of their women,” he said. “Suddenly it’s us who are relying on the women. Suddenly, we got the women in control.” This year, Alexander City had its first female mayor.

Katie Roiphe, writing about the book in Financial Times Magazine, liked the passage so much she re-wrote it for herself:

One man told her, “I was born in the South, where the men take care of their women. Suddenly it’s us who are relying on the women. Suddenly, we got the women in control.” And that same year the town elected its first female mayor.

But wait, look again. Rosin wrote, “this year, Alexander City had its first female mayor.” What does that even mean?

Roiphe, carefully not plagiarizing as she repeated the passage, substituted “elected its first female mayor.” An obvious mistake to make, since why else would Rosin write, “this year,” as if there was something relevant about this year (whichever year it was written) — something that would compound the poor unemployed guy’s pain.

But.

In fact, mayor Barbara Young was first elected in 2004, and then re-elected in 2008 (with 85% of the vote). This is her:

I am not saying that Hanna Rosin deliberately left the impression that Barbara Young is the new mayor of Alexander City. Just that it was an easy mistake for Roiphe to make. And it fits her narrative better than an equally accurate statement, say, “This year Alexander City will lose its first woman mayor.”

So, if you got the impression from The End of Men that the declining manufacturing base of the city led to a power shift in which men lost ground and women took over, culminating in the election of a woman mayor — that’s not surprising. (I already wrote about Alexander City’s 17% city council and 7% female department heads.)

But consider that the town’s manufacturing woes date back to the 1990s, when the Russell Corporation started heading for the exits. Barbara Young has come and gone during that time, and the patriarchy was still able to scrape together a man (or five) to replace her.*

Alexander City has fallen on hard times. The men who worked in manufacturing have had it especially hard. But it’s no matriarchy. As I noted the other day, it’s also a place where men have higher employment rates than women, men have higher median earnings than women, and men are twice as likely to earn more than $75,000 per year.

*Oh yes, the breaking news. Now we read in the local paper that, among the five men and no women running for mayor this year, the current mayor’s son, Bill, came in last in the primary, with just over 500 votes. His disappointing showing might or might not have had to do with an old felony conviction. His mother might or might not have been helpful, but she had at least $1,000 less to give him after her contribution to Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby in 2010.

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