Tag Archives: hanna rosin

Correct that error, Hanna Rosin edition

I don’t know the norms of trade book publishing. When they do a paperback version, do they correct errors that were in the hardback?

true-false

Her extremely wrong description of Congress as one-third female after the 2012 election reminded me: As Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men comes out in paperback, careful readers might like to know if a few specific, unambiguous factual errors have been corrected (with sources linked for true facts).

  • “Women are now lead TV anchors, Ivy League College heads, bank presidents, corporate CEOs, movie directors, scatologically savvy comedians, presidential candidates – all unthinkable even twenty years ago” (p. 198). All wrong.
  • “A recent British study showed the women were three times more likely to be arrested for domestic violence, and far more likely to use a weapon” (p. 183) Yes, the study showed women were more likely to be arrested — among people who committed crimes, which women commit less! (read).
  • “Auburn (Alabama) has become the region’s one economic powerhouse by turning itself into a town dominated by women” (p. 106). Auburn is not dominated by women in any demonstrable way.
  • “Rates [of sexual assault] are so low in parts of the country — for white women especially — that criminologists can’t plot the numbers on a chart” (p. 19). Beside the fact that even tiny numbers can be plotted on a chart, U.S. sexual assault rates, which are declining, are not even low by rich-country standards.
  • “In Asia, as women gain more economic power and retreat further from the culture’s long-standing ideal of a perfect wife, the average age of marriage for women is thirty-two” (p. 6). This is completely wrong (for “Asia” overall, and for every major country in Asia, as Mara Hvistendahl explained).
  • “The recent rise in plastic surgeries is fueled by men — especially middle-aged men — who have been lining up for face-lifts, Botox, and liposuction” (p. 30). This is wrong in every possible way. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which tracks these thingscosmetic surgery (except Botox and its equivalents, which actually is not surgery) is becoming less, not more, common; both men and women had a 6% rise in facelifts from 2000 to 2012; both men and women got fewer liposuctions in 2000 than 2011 (-56% for men, -41% for women) men get a small percentage of actual cosmetic surgery (13%) and an even smaller percentage of Botox (6%); the rate of increase in Botox procedures from 2000 to 2012 is lower for men (314%) than for women (729%); and the decrease in overall actual surgeries is greater over that time for men (-48%) than for women (-11%). Whew, that’s a big ball of wrong.
  • “Nearly a third of Brazilian women now make more money than their husbands” (p. 151). The number, according to her source, is 28% (their “more than a quarter” is Rosin’s “almost a third”), and it applies only to “highly-qualified Brazilian women working full-time.”

Why do I care about these minute details, instead of focusing on the major problem, her false assertion that the “middle class … is slowly turning into a matriarchy” (p. 5), a “matriarchy laying down roots” (p. 160) as women outnumber men in college. What bugs me about the constant factual errors is Rosin’s approach: She uses facts and numbers to prove what she has already decided is true, rather than using them to learn what is true. (I don’t find any errors in the book that run against her thesis.) This problem is not unique to her by any means — I see it all the time among undergraduate students and other polemicists who dig for facts backwards from their conclusions. The commonness of the problem is a good reason to belabor it, which I have done in the blog post series, but I’ve also written on the larger issues, including in this review and this longer article.

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Is the end of men to reality what one-third is to 18 percent?

UPDATE: On Sept. 12, Slate published this correction: “This article originally stated that women hold one-third of U.S. congressional seats. Women actually hold 18.3 percent of congressional seats.” And they cut the stuff about how that means women getting elected is “normalized.” We’ll see what the book version of the epilogue says.

Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men is coming out in paperback, and she’s including a new epilogue, now excerpted on Slate.

For glass-half-empty feminists — like me — eager to obsess over data minutia, and jump on her every mistake, she is very obliging:

The 2012 elections inspired a similar reactionary response in some quarters. A record number of women were elected to Congress, bringing their number to a third of the membership, the level many sociologists cite as a tipping point when a minority becomes normalized and starts to enter the mainstream. In other words, it’s no longer big news when a woman gets elected; it’s the expected.

onethird

Actual number of women in Congress: 18.3%. I don’t know any sociologists who think that is a “tipping point when a minority becomes normalized.”

I only noticed two other errors in the piece: calling Stephanie Coontz a “sociologist” (a compliment for any historian), and claiming she (Rosin) “sat through… an academic conference dedicated largely to rebutting the claims I had made” (she left halfway through, for which I don’t blame her).

For a full cataloging of Rosin errors and distortions (at least the ones I found), follow my Hanna Rosin tag. I also wrote an article version, “The End of Men Is Not True,” in the Boston University Law Review, which has the whole symposium online here.

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OK, how about the gender gap, within occupations, for people working 50+ hours?

I haven’t had time to write something substantial on this, but I took the time to make this figure so I may as well post it.

Hanna Rosin wrote a blog post in Slate called “The Gender Gap Lie,” boldly proclaiming, “I feel the need to set the record straight,” before summarizing a June 2012 PolitiFact piece on the Obama 2012 ad which said: “President Obama knows that Women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair, it hurts families.”

It turns out, not surprisingly, there are many pieces debunking the misleading use of the gender wage gap statistic, like this one by Kay Hymowitz and this one by Ruth David Konigsberg, with the absurdly offensive sub-head: “Women don’t make 77 cents to a man’s dollar. They make more like 93 cents, as long as they don’t major in art history.” Newsflash: most employed women didn’t major in anything because they didn’t go to college (67% don’t have college degrees!), which also speaks to Rosin’s favorite “apples-to-apples comparison,” the study about University of Chicago MBAs.

Just to be clear: the 77 cents on the dollar statistic (and its variations) is based on all people working full time. It is not a measure of pay discrimination “for the same work.” It is a measure of gender inequality. The correct, non-lie way to describe this fact is modeled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: “in 2011, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.” Calling that lie is a lie. Not all inequality is discrimination, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

Occupations are one thing, that is, why “women” insist on majoring in art history before choosing careers as hotel maids instead of CEOs. Another is hours at work, always an issue in wage-gap debunkery. Men work more hours, on average, so they should get paid more, says the anti-lie crowd.

Fair enough, by the rules of our game. To help inform on that issue, I made this figure. It shows the occupations with the most people usually working 50 hours per week or more among those who worked 50 weeks or more in the previous year.

50-plus-hours-occs-earnsSource: My calculations from the 2011 American Community Survey, extracted from IPUMS.

The pink and blue bars show the median annual earnings of workers who put in an average of 50+ hours per week last year, and worked 50 weeks or more. The dots show women’s median as percentage of men’s. You can see that in two occupations — non-retail sales supervisors and human resource workers — women actually earn more than men on average. In some the gender gap is quite large. For example, among doctors working 50+ hours per week, women only earn 54% of men’s median earnings (so the gap doesn’t just result from surgeons working longer hours than pediatricians, I guess). Also, note that the 50-hour crowd are not all in high-status professional jobs where high earnings drive career choices — those women home health aides are making $11 per hour.

Overall, in these 25 occupations, the earnings gap for people working 50+ hours 50+ weeks is 83%. So, the Twitter version: Within occupations, among those working extra-long hours, women earn 83% of what men earn.

Even though these aren’t side-by-side wage gaps (e.g., two janitors working the same shift at the same workplace, with the same performance evaluations and work experience), you could justifiably call this “the same work” if you acknowledge there are different career tracks and working conditions contributing to this gap. That is, surgeons and pediatricians have the same degrees even if they have different specialty training and skills; they are doing varieties of the same work. You could also dispute that, or clarify it (likewise, among truck drivers, people operating different equipment have different skills).

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End of Men conference video online

Now online, streaming video of all sessions from the conference at Boston University School of Law titled, “Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men”: Legal and Other Perspectives.”

The full lineup of sessions is listed here.

My presentation, which summarizes my writing on Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men through the first week of October, is at this link, and this screen grab shows where the slider is at the start of my talk:

Unfortunately the slides are hard to make out, but most of the figures I used are on the blog here under the Hanna Rosin tag.

Finally, some version of all this will appear in an edition of the BU Law Review in May 2013.

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The Fempire can’t handle the truth?

Liza Mundy has a post up at The Atlantic about the academic feminist establishment — which she has “begun to think of as the Fempire” — that can’t handle the truth. I appreciate her perspective, and her description of us as “on the same team.” We want gender equality. So that’s all good.

After mentioning Stephanie Coontz, Nancy Folbre and me (a list I cherish), she writes about us:

Why look only at the half-empty part of the picture? Part of this, of course, is a real concern for women’s struggles. But you could also argue that there is an institutionalized mindset that sets in when you become an institution. A certain investment in your historical argument. Certain currently popular theories—that the gender revolution has stalled; that marriage squeezes women out of the workforce—have a hard time embracing situations where there is no stall, and where married women have a strong incentive to work. … You could also argue that in the months prior to the recent election, the Fempire wanted to keep women’s issues in the headlines so that people would vote for, you know, the right guy.

It’s a shame I have to suffer this criticism, even as I still get grief from other feminists for exposing the “women own 1% of world property” meme as a myth. If the Internet had a longer attention span maybe I’d only have to be tarred with one of these brushes at a time.

Anyway, since she comes close to impugning my motives — which is fine and reasonable, of course — I feel permitted to offer just make a little dig in return.

In the post, Mundy writes, about her book: “I argued that female breadwinning could someday become the norm.” Wait a minute, could someday? In the book, on p. 6, it is: “women will become the top earners in households. … that Big Flip is just around the corner.” I should mention (she doesn’t) that the subtitle of the book is, “How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.”

I hate to impose cynical motivations on Mundy, or on Hanna Rosin, who has also distanced herself from the title of her book, saying, “The End of Men seems to be a provocative title. It’s the one that was given to my Atlantic piece not by me but by my editor…” But it is almost as if one can walk back the the title and overreaching claims after the book is on the market, and not worry because they don’t have to be “true” for the book to be good.

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Women’s Economic Dominance: Is It Really Inevitable?

Originally published at TheAtlantic.com.

Both Liza Mundy (The Richer Sex) and Hanna Rosin (The End of Men) argue that the transition to a postindustrial, service- and knowledge-based economy—in conjunction with declining gender discrimination—are leading inevitably to women’s economic dominance. I have critiqued those stories in a series of posts on my site Family Inequality.

But there is one piece of Mundy and Rosin’s argument I haven’t questioned until now. It is so intuitively appealing that I assumed it was true: The demands of the economy are shifting dramatically in women’s favor. Brains have superseded brawn and social skills have become increasingly important, they both claim (and I accepted without thinking much about it) which all favors women over men.

Mundy and Rosin make frequent references to a set of projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showing that the occupations with the largest expected growth are dominated by women rather than men. But that description is, it turns out, misleading.

Occupations Projected

First, here is how Mundy and Rosin use the BLS numbers. Mundy writes:

Projections made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women’s occupations will be favored in the next decade. … All in all, of the ten jobs with the largest projected job growth—nurses, home health aides, customer service reps, food preparation and serving workers, home care aides, retail sales, office clerks, accountants and auditors, nursing units, and postsecondary teachers—nine are majority female.

Rosin uses similar statistics, which have been repeated in reviews like this one in the Chicago Tribune, this one in the Globe and Mail, and blogs like this one at the World Bank. She writes (in a passage approvingly quoted by David Brooks):

The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer…. Of the fifteen job categories projected to grow the most in the United States over the next decade, twelve are occupied primarily by women.

Okay, here’s the first moment I should have paused. Women are almost half the labor force. So if occupations are “majority female” or “dominated” by women, how different are they from average? Does this really mean the occupational structure really strongly shifting in women’s favor?

The BLS projections are detailed here. They include hundreds of occupations, but they also summarize this pattern for 22 “major occupation groups,” which range in size from 1 million to 23 million workers. I added in the gender composition of each group to show the relationship between gender composition and projected growth.

cohen_post1chart1.png

As you can see, the female-dominated occupations are projected to grow fastest. For dramatic effect, one might point to the top-right point: healthcare support occupations are 87 percent female and projected to grow 35 percent over the decade. On the other hand there are production occupations: 26 percent female and aiming for a paltry four percent growth. But that would be cherry-picking examples. What the sophisticated reader really wants to know is the overall relationship between gender and job growth. And that is not what it appears.

Here is the same graph, but with the occupation groups shown in proportion to thethe number of workers they represent, and the trendline redrawn to reflect their disparate weights.

cohen_post1chart2.png

Now the picture is much different. That giant dot on the lower right is 23 million office and administrative support workers – 72 percent female and growing slowly. And near the middle are three large occupation groups that are 40 to 50 percent female, also growing slowly (sales, food preparation and serving, and management). The gender action is all in the occupations that employ a smaller number of people. The big story about growth and gender composition of major occupation groups is not true. (In technical terms, the slope of that line in the first figure is reduced by half when we account for the size of the dots. And in fact the slope would be cut in half again if we just dropped the healthcare support occupations point, which exerts outsized influence as an outlier.)

So how do Mundy and Rosin come up with the dramatic lists of occupations projected to grow the most? The top 10 growing occupations (at the detailed level) are mostly female-dominated. But those occupations made up just 15 percent of the workforce in 2010, and are projected to make up only 17 percent by 2020. The top 15 are projected to increase from 22 percent to just 23 percent of the workforce. The growth in these jobs just doesn’t represent that much of a change for the entire economy.

If occupations aren’t really shifting in women’s directions anymore, we shouldn’t be surprised. In 2001, analyzing occupational trends of the 20th century, David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman concluded:

Change in the occupational structure is not responsible for the continued growth in women’s labor force participation after 1970. That is, it is not the growth of traditionally female occupations that is driving the continuing growth in women’s labor force participation rates in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rather, it was – and still is – the growth of integrated middle-class occupations, and women moving into new occupations, that provide the impetus for women’s increased labor force share. Hard as it is to believe, the overall shift toward traditionally female-typed occupations largely ended by the 1970s. Yes, there are more nurses and home health aides today than there were then, but there are also fewer maids and domestic servants. And although blue-collar manufacturing jobs have continued to decline, truck-driving and construction have not. (I extended their trend through 2010 to check whether this is still true. Women’s share of the labor force would have increased from 38 percent in 1970 only to 41 percent in 2010 based on occupational shifts alone, if the gender composition of each occupation hadn’t changed. That means about 70 percent of the increase in women’s share of the labor force came from occupations becoming more integrated instead of occupations growing and shrinking.)

In other places in her book, Rosin presses the ongoing structural change in the economy in terms of industries (what firms make) instead of occupations (what workers do). Here she is on slightly firmer ground. She writes:

Since 2000, the manufacturing economy has lost almost 6 million jobs… During the same period, meanwhile, health and education have added about the same number of jobs. But those sectors continue to be heavily dominated by women, while the men concentrate themselves more than ever in industries—construction, transportation, and utilities—that are fading away.

In one respect here, Rosin is exaggerating: She is referring to 4.5 million as “about the same number” as 5.7 million. And construction, transportation, and utilities, rather than “fading away,” in fact are togetherprojected to produce 2.7 million new jobs from 2010 to 2020, a 26 percent increase.

But she nevertheless makes a true and important point: Those masculinist industries are growing slower than education and health services, which are projected to add 6.5 jobs, a 33 percent increase. During the next decade, BLS projects education and health will grow from 15 percent to 17 percent of the workforce. But outside of that group, there is no relationship between gender and projected growth. Here is the chart:

cohen_post1chart3.png

The blue line shows the relationship with education and health services included—big dots out on the edges have a huge influence on the trend. If you exclude that you get the pink line. Manufacturing is shrinking, but it’s already only nine percent of workers, and shrinking to eight percent by 2020. Most of the employment growth is in the integrated industries: retail trade, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and government—which affect men’s and women’s employment. Health and education growth are a big part of our expected future, but they’re not the whole economy.

Conclusion

Overall, you might be surprised to learn—I know I was—that women are projected to increase their share of the labor force from 46.7 percent in 2010 only to 47.0 percent in 2020. That’s it: less than one percent. How can that be? So many people are so attached to this narrative of women’s rapid advance that they haven’t noticed there has been no advance in the last 17 years: Women have occupied between 46 percent and 47 percent of the labor force every year between 1994 and 2011.

cohen_post1chart4.png

This stagnation itself complicates a big part of Rosin’s and Mundy’s narratives. The continuous—and fast—pace of change is why they argue that we are heading not just toward equality but beyond it, to female domination. As Rosin writes:

Yes, the United States and many other countries still have a gender wage gap. Yes, women still do most of the childcare. And yes, the upper reaches of power are still dominated by men. But given the sheer velocity of the economic and other forces at work, these circumstances are much more likely the last artifacts of a vanishing age rather than a permanent figuration.

And, after several paragraphs of statistics comparing the present mostly to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Mundy concludes: “Given these trends, it is only a matter of time before a majority of working wives outearn their husbands.”

But the reality is that it is not only a matter of time. The ostensibly gender-neutral processes of economic transformation are not the source of women’s progress they once were. And that’s the real danger in their stories: creating the impression that women’s progress is inevitable and unstoppable.

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Family Inequality now on The Atlantic (Sexes)

Starting today, I will have posts on TheAtlantic.com. They will appear in the new Sexes section (to be launched shortly). Today’s first post is temporarily in the Business section, here – where it naturally continues my reading of The End of Men and The Richer Sex: How the fastest growing occupations can be female dominated while the economy is hardly shifting toward women.

For scrapbookers, it’s also on the front of the web site this morning:

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When women earn more but wives earn less (Mundy/Rosin edition)

We have been told many times now that in U.S. metropolitan areas, among 22-30 year-olds who have no children, have never been married, and work full-time and year-round, women’s median income is higher than men’s.

One implication both Hanna Rosin and Liza Mundy draw from this is that, when these people get married, there will be more marriages in which women are the higher earners.

I previously showed that women’s advantage in this group is partly the result of its odd race/ethnic composition — with a lot of White women and Latino men especially — reiterating  that men outearn women at all ages and all education levels.

But what if that group really was the marriage market, with more and more women looking down the economic ladder at the men they’re dating? Would we have more egalitarian married couples? Maybe, but not necessarily.

Atlanta is a good place to start, since, according to Liza Mundy’s book The Richer Sex, it’s the place where women’s advantage is greatest:

Of all the major cities where young women outearn young men, Atlanta is number one. Well do these [high-income women she's interviewing] know the accuracy of that statistic. “I never had a boyfriend who made more than me,” says one of them.

Let’s look at this case, starting with a hypothetical income distribution of men and women:

These women have it made, with a median income $2,000 greater than men’s. Now let’s imagine that 80% of them get married — which is 8 marriages involving 16 people. Look how egalitarian the couples will be:

Whoops. Turns out men and women don’t get married randomly. If all men decide to marry women with lower incomes, they can — they just have to squeeze out the poorest two men and ignore the two richest women. Or, maybe it’s that the richest two women opt out of marriage, and the rest of the women taking advantage of the chance to marry up, ignoring the two poorest men. Either way, there’s a $2,000 male advantage in every couple, and the median incomes are now reversed, with married men having a $2,000 advantage, $41,000 to $39,000.

Is this what’s happening in Atlanta? Pretty close, I think.

Using the 2008-2010 American Community Survey (ACS) for the Atlanta metro area (three years pooled for larger sample size), I got the never-married, childfree, full-time and full-year employed men and women ages 25-34 (22-30 is not a good marriage market, since the average age at marriage is near the top of that range).

Sure enough, the women in this group have an earnings advantage, with median earnings of $37,473, compared with $35,000 for men. The distribution looks like this:

I’ve added a few calculations to the figure. The “index of net difference” (ND) is a handy tool for showing how two groups rank hierarchically along a single dimension (in this case income). Using the formula given by Lieberson here, and these categories, I reckon that the chance that a random woman will be in a higher category than a random man from this distribution is 45%. The opposite, that a man will be in a higher category, is 39%, so the ND is -.06. So, that’s good for women.

Note also that, despite the alleged statistical know-how of the high-income women at Mundy’s table, there are actually 1.6-times as many men in the the top income range of this marriage market as there are women. They have plenty to choose from at the high end, even though women’s median is higher. That’s because there are more men than women in the pool. I suppose there are two reasons for this: First, fewer women work full-time year-round. And second, lots of people are single parents, and when children live with their mothers, it’s the mothers who are excluded from this pool — the fathers, not the mothers, come up as childless.

Anyway, that’s the pool. What about the marriages? The ACS identifies people who got married in the past 12 months. In that 3-year sample I have about 200 couples to work with. So, here is the income distribution for men and women, ages 25-34, with no children present, who just got married. I dropped the full-time and -year restriction, since people could have quit working, and I limited it to couples where both are in the age range:

Just as in our hypothetical example, richer men and poorer women got married. Now the distribution skews decidedly male. The ND has reversed, and husbands’ median income is $12,527 higher than wives’.

How is that possible, when, as we are reminded so often, women are so much more likely to have graduated college? Two reasons: first, people overwhelmingly marry partners on the same side of the BA/no-BA divide; and second, men with BAs make more than women.

Here’s the Atlanta situation. First, education: Women in this group — 25-34, FTYR, never-married, no kids — are much more likely to have BAs: 62% to 41%.

However, in 72% of couples both spouses are on the same side of the BA divide (57% + 15%):

Setting aside all that educational endogamy, with so many more women BAs, women really are much more likely to marry down the educational ladder: 25% of childless, 25-34-year-old Atlanta newly-wed couples have a BA wife and a non-BA husband.

But men earn more at every education level. As a result of that — and by whatever additional machinations of partner-selection — only 38% of these couples have a higher-earning wife. Only a third of the BA-BA couples have higher-earning wives, and even when the wife has a BA and the husband doesn’t, that number is only 54%:

That’s how, even when you define the marriage market in such a way as to paint women’s situation as positively as possible — finding that rare niche in which women earn more than men — you discover the marriage system reproducing gender inequality.

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End of Men conference in Boston

This Friday and Saturday I will be at this conference at Boston University. I’m excited to be part of it – a great lineup of legal scholars, sociologists, historians and etc. – plus Hanna Rosin talking about her book, The End of Men, which I’ve been writing about under this tag.

If you’re in the area I hope you can make it. It’s free and open to the public (schedule here, registration form here).

Here’s the blurb:

“The end of men,” a phrase coined by journalist Hanna Rosin, captures the proposition that women have made such remarkable progress in all domains—and men have suffered such declines and reversals—that women are effectively surpassing men and becoming the dominant sex. This interdisciplinary conference will evaluate claims about “the end of men” and consider implications for law and policy. It will examine empirical assertions about men’s and women’s comparative status in concrete domains, such as education, the workplace and the family. Feminist diagnoses of sex discrimination have fueled changes in law and policy, as well as in cultural norms. Should recent claims about the status of men likewise prompt redress? The conference will examine how the data supporting claims about the end of men— and progress of women—look once differentiated by class, race, region and other categories. It will provide historical perspectives on current anxieties about imbalances between men’s and women’s power, opportunities and status. The conference will also put “end of men” claims in comparative and international perspective, asking whether they are distinctive to the United States. Papers and proceedings will be published in the Boston University Law Review.

And here’s the roster of speakers:

  • HANNA ROSIN, author of “The End of Men”
  • RALPH RICHARD BANKS, Stanford Law School
  • MICHAEL KIMMEL, SUNY at Stony Brook, Dept. of Sociology
  • JOAN C. WILLIAMS, University of California-Hastings College of the Law
  • KHIARA M. BRIDGES, Boston University School of Law
  • KINGSLEY R. BROWNE, Wayne State University Law School
  • NAOMI CAHN, George Washington University School of Law
  • JUNE CARBONE, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
  • MARY ANNE CASE, University of Chicago Law School
  • PHILIP N. COHEN, University of Maryland, Dept. of Sociology
  • KRISTIN COLLINS, Boston University School of Law
  • STEPHANIE COONTZ, Evergreen State College, History and Family Studies
  • FRANK RUDY COOPER, Suffolk University School of Law
  • LYNDA DODD, City College of New York, CUNY, Political Science
  • NANCY DOWD, University of Florida Levin College of Law
  • KATHRYN EDIN, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government
  • SHAHLA HAERI, Boston University Dept. of Anthropology
  • MICHAEL HARPER, Boston University School of Law
  • DANIEL L. HATCHER, University of Baltimore School of Law
  • PNINA LAHAV, Boston University School of Law
  • SERENA MAYERI, University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • LINDA C. MCCLAIN, Boston University School of Law
  • ANN C. MCGINLEY, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law
  • FIONNUALA NI AOLAIN, University of Minnesota Law School
  • ANTHONY RAO, Behavioral Solutions
  • CARYL RIVERS, Boston University College of Communication
  • WILLIAM M. RODGERS III, Rutgers University, Heldrich Center for Workforce Development
  • ROSEMARY SALOMONE, St. John’s University School of Law
  • MICHAEL SELMI, George Washington University School of Law
  • KATHARINE SILBAUGH, Boston University School of Law
  • JULIE C. SUK, Yeshiva University, Cardozo School of Law
  • MARTIN SUMMERS, Boston College, History Department

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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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