The wife has written a book called “The End of Men.”
The husband, at his peril, is interviewing her in front of an audience.
Right now, the couple are talking about how men have a better shot these days at getting into private universities through gender-based affirmative action. Women are better suited to the demands and rhythms of higher education, the wife concludes in her book, and have taken disproportionate advantage of it — nudging men out of academia and, therefore, out of professional life.
The husband asks his wife: Don’t boys have virtues that should be nourished in a different way than girls’?
“You’re asking the whole world to change,” the wife says. The world in 2012 “requires a certain verbal acuity or organization. . . . You need to prepare the child you have for the world that exists.”
“Hmm,” the husband says, stumped. “All right.”
The chatty, brainy audience at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue ripples with laughter.
“Is anyone taking score here?” the wife asks, turning to the audience. “Is this like a wrestling match?”
“It’s a pro-wrestling match where you will get the victory,” the husband says, resigned to pitching softballs to his wife, who, after all, has books to sell.
The wife is Hanna Rosin, the former Washington Post reporter and current senior editor of the Atlantic. Her husband is David Plotz, the editor of Slate, which is owned by The Washington Post Co. Together, they are one of Washington’s media-centric, byline-famous couples who make their living off the perceptual scoop, the provocative-if-simplistic headline, the pithy turn of phrase that pinpoints the precise trajectory and velocity of the culture at any given moment.
Rosin’s “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” has all three. Its yellow jacket proclaims it a “once-in-a-generation book,” but this is not true. The overlapping generations of late baby boomers and early Gen Xers have written plenty about the erosion of modern masculinity and the rise of women. Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy published “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family” in March, and four different books on the subject hit the market within weeks of one another in 2008.
For millennials who’ve grown up in a post-feminist world where gender is not only balancing but evolving rapidly, none of this is news.
No matter. The end of men! Read all about it. Or, rather, you have read all about it, namely in Rosin’s 2010 cover story for the Atlantic titled — wait for it — “The End of Men.” On Monday, the day before the Q&A at the synagogue, the Los Angeles Review of Books published “Is the Atlantic Making Us Stupid?,” a 5,600-word consideration of the magazine’s habit of shrink-wrapping genders and generations into cover stories with buzzy headlines. The most recent example was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which was shared a bazillion times via social media — the sole measure of success in journalism. Never mind that Slaughter’s and Rosin’s concepts chafe against each other (vive la deliberation) or that the Atlantic’s latest issue includes “The Cheapest Generation,” a business column on how millennials just aren’t spending money. Those lazy kids: not spending money they don’t have because older generations set the economy ablaze and danced around its pyre like punch-drunk lunatics.
So, the mediarati asked Monday: Is the Atlantic making us stupid?
“Is The New Yorker making us snide?” tweeted Michael Roston, social media producer at the New York Times, in response.
“Is Salon making us Slate?” tweeted Foster Kamer, senior editor at the New York Observer.
Yes to all of the above. But we’re getting distracted here. (Sorry! A man is writing this article, and men get distracted more easily than women, according to Rosin.) Back to the Q&A, which is taking place in armchairs on the synagogue’s stage between two giant illuminated menorahs:
“If you’ve noticed, around the house we have three children, and two are boys,” Plotz says at the outset of the conversation. “And — you must’ve noticed this — you are married to me, and I’m a man. . . . How — when [our sons] are of an age to understand this — are you going to explain this book to them?”
“I know that the title seems mean,” Rosin says. “Actually, I’ll revise that: The title is mean. What it actually means is not ‘the end of men.’ What it means is ‘the queen is dead, long live the queen.’ It means the end of one era of man and the beginning of a new era of men.”
Rosin’s book, anchored by data and aromatized by anecdotes, concludes that women are gaining the upper hand because they are more adaptable and because three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the recession were men’s, and men are not flexible enough to bend with the changing economy. In early 2010, women became a majority of the U.S. workforce, and the average American wife now contributes 42.2 percent of her family’s income (compared with 2 to 6 percent in 1970). Women have traded sexual victimization for sexual conquest and leverage. Men are failing because they’re trapped in their self-made prison of traditional machismo; their jailers are Charlie Sheen and Daniel Tosh. Women are thriving because they’ve redefined what it means to be a woman; their Joans of Arc are Hillary Rodham Clinton and Beyonce, whose anthem “Run the World (Girls)” played before the Q&A.
After 40 minutes of chatting, the couple — whose previous collaborations include spending 24 hours no more than 15 feet apart to make an eight-minute video and 2,800-word diary on togetherness — entertain questions from the audience, which consists mostly of young professionals. The questions are mostly redundant or bloviational, so we’ll skip to the last one.
“As always, a man gets the last word,” Plotz says as a tall guy in a lilac T-shirt approaches the microphone in the right aisle.
“This is a lot of pressure,” the guy says.
“Just flex your muscles,” Rosin quips.
How are we reshaping male identity to catch back up with women in the evolving economy? asks the guy, after noting that his home town is a one-stoplight hamlet in Oklahoma, a state where gender identity is as rigid as its northern border.
“I think you are already more flexible in your idea of masculinity than the guys in your town,” Rosin says.
“A little bit,” the guy says. “I’m wearing a purple shirt.”
“It looks great from up here,” Rosin says, as attendees chuckle. “I think the difference between men and women on this front is men don’t tend to do movements. Women had a rights movement where they fought for changes. Men . . . don’t band together in quite that way. It happens not in such a public-cascade way as in a house-to-house way. . . . You see these changes happening, and you work them out in your personal relationships.”
A book signing follows, and Rosin flicks her Sharpie across title page after title page as attendees pass by her table.
“I could do a franchise for the end of everything,” she muses to one woman as she signs her book. “ ‘The End of Dogs,’ ‘The End of Cats’ . . .”