Can feminism survive?

The Devil's Advocate


Hanna Rosin’s compelling book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” published last month, jolted the feminist world by describing a concept alien to most feminists: the possibility that men could be more vulnerable than women.

Rosin sees evidence of this on American university campuses, where women earn about three in five bachelor’s and master’s degrees, a majority of doctorates and about half of all law and medical degrees. This emerging power reversal in higher education is easily observable right here at UC Berkeley, where a majority of entering freshmen have been female for the past 15 years.

Rosin even offers an interesting alternative to the traditional feminist critique of the college hookup culture, which essentially asserts that young women are being exploited by predatory, testosterone-driven frat boys. In fact, Rosin argues, young women take advantage of the hookup culture so they can have fun without holding back their careers. “To put it crudely, now feminist progress is largely dependent on hook-up culture,” she writes.

Rosin sees evidence of a “matriarchy” emerging in the economy at large. Young women outearn young men in virtually all metropolitan areas in the United States, according to a 2010 study Rosin cites. Three-quarters of jobs lost in the Great Recession were held by men, and male participation in the labor force is at an all-time low. And it’s not looking any better for men in the future: 12 of the 15 job categories projected to grow most over the next decade are dominated by women.

The striking cultural and economic transformations Rosin exhaustively and persuasively documents in “The End of Men” get at an important question for feminists: How will feminism retain its credibility in a 21st century where so many elements of the West’s patriarchal legacy have broken down?

Unfortunately, instead of using the book as an opportunity to begin grappling with this question, many feminists chose to scoff at Rosin’s thesis.

Writing in the The Guardian, Cambridge University professor Mary Beard expressed skepticism of Rosin’s statistics (without saying why) and calls Rosin’s narrative “mythical.” In The New York Times, Stephanie Coontz, another feminist scholar, implausibly writes off all the trends outlined in the book as the natural products of the end of formal gender discrimination.

Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, even suggested that the ascent of women and the decline of men represents another form of patriarchal manipulation. Using language that a misogynist man might have used to complain about women a half-century ago, Boushey says women are “letting men off the hook” and that men “sit on their butts while women do it all.” Christina Patterson, a columnist for The Independent, took a similarly aggressive tone, disdainfully rejecting Rosin’s thesis in its entirety and proclaiming that it’s time for women to “stop being nice, stop being modest, stop being victims and fight.”

The feminist response to Rosin’s book suggests that feminism is in trouble. Successful social movements adapt to changing circumstances. But reviewers’ knee-jerk, categorical rejection of Rosin’s argument suggests that feminists cannot shake the old conception of feminism, which posits that women are being systematically exploited by an oppressive patriarchy. If the trends described in “The End of Men” continue — and women come to truly dominate higher education and the professional class — this expansive definition of feminism will become irrelevant.

Feminists still have important work to do. This should be clear to anyone who has paid attention to the Republican Party’s position on reproductive rights. Furthermore, women are still underrepresented at the highest levels of business and government, and a surprising new study showed that women still face subconscious discrimination in science at major universities.

But if feminism cannot redefine itself, its ability to resolve the enduring inequities that affect women will be jeopardized. As men continue their economic decline while women flourish, the old, strident, combative style of feminism will lose its political credibility and its capacity to be a force for positive change.

Feminists should instead embrace the findings of Rosin’s book. They should acknowledge systemic disadvantages faced by men as well as women. While they fight to end bias against women in science, they must also look for ways to stop the precipitous decline in male academic performance. While they try to increase female representation in corporate boardrooms and in Congress, they must find a coherent way to address the forces that are leading record numbers of men to drop out of the workforce.

If feminism is to survive, it must adapt to the changing gender dynamics of the 21st century, not deny them.

Contact Jason Willick at [email protected] or on Twitter: @jawillick.

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  • rgerber


    Feminism was begun in the 1960’s with free love. End of the 1950’s value system. Then in the 1970’s broken families. Then in the 1980’s promiscous girls. Could there be an end to what is noted as Feminism merely being an excuse to destroy the American Family.

    It will be no suprise that feminist females in the 1980’s that were permiscous hated ‘Jesus’ and they told me so. One of my girlfriends fired off “I hate the Bible’ while her friend chimed in “I can’t stand the new testament.’

    When all the smoke cleared feminism was creted, concocted, and devised by sociopathic females that wanted the power. And saw the opportunity to destroy American values.

    Males were told what they wanted to hear. Only to be fooled and tricked by feminism. Show me one male that dated and fell in love in the 1980’s-1990’s that is still married to that woman.

    Those times were filled with a sort of hatred if you will of their mothers value system.

    See I told you an old dog can learn new tricks.

  • ianjoe

    let us watch how feminists rule this world with peacefully and maintain the world with economic and social welfare state ??? and how to provide natural justice to men ???? Gender equality ???? how to RE-establish a moral values in the society and among people ??? what will be their moral standard ??? what will be their moral standard on making laws and justice system ???

  • If in fact a matriarchy is rising, why do women still need government entitlements? Also, if women make up 60% of college students why did Obama create a Title IX initiative (quota) to increase the number of women in STEM programs? It seems equality only exists when women do better.

  • mary beard

    I think I do give a brief reason why her statistics are problematic! Expansion in low pay areas, etc

  • Anonymous

    Whatever anyone thinks of Willick’s arguments, he is without doubt the best writer the Daily Cal has to offer. Economical and urbane. Simply a pleasure to read any one of his articles.

  • samjgreene

    In attempting to juxtapose a new feminist view in which women work with men to help mutually achieve advancements for both women and men against a less relevant, older, yet still existing view which pits males against females until the death of one gender type, namely males, or the death of gender roles altogether, at which point I’m not exactly sure where the discussion goes, Jason is showing that continuing to act on the old view will only tip the balance the other way rather than find some stable, steadily growing, equilibrium. Correct me if I am wrong but that is my take away from his piece. Thank you for your genuine and concerned writing Jason, I know it’s always coming from a good source when I read your stuff.

    I think he is trying to make the point that if women identifying strongly with the feminists movements and values gradually moderate toward a more collaborative approach both males and females, also known as people, will benefit the most in the long-run. I see how moderating away from a dogmatic and unwavering position to one which is not only counter-intuitive but probably repulsive to many women doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, especially considering many of the inalienable women’s rights men violated in the past. However, as much as history determines the present, I urge you to consider the present situation with a more open mind, be proud of the great achievements women have made thus far and think about how you can now be an example for both men and women, instead of using your new found status to raise those most biologically similar to yourself simply because of mistakes that were made in the past.

  • HH

    Rosin’s book is ripe for casual observers of gender inequality to come along and spend 30 minutes thinking about this issue (while still being a white male with no real stake in the game). It’s called the End of Men. I get it. You’re concerned. Do you think it’s really your place to redefine feminism for feminists? Sure, there are a lot of passionate male feminists, but you, sir, are not one of them. For me, feminism is about redefining mindsets, identities and undermining gender roles and stereotypes. I really don’t think you could have any grasp on this if you honestly think your “advice” is going to help “direct” this movement. Thanks for the cloying paragraph about the important work feminists have left though. You’re so open minded.

    • I_h8_disqus

      Not doing such a great job of redefining your mindset or undermining gender roles and stereotypes by the way you address Jason.

  • glass ceiling…also invisible

    WOW, do Cal students not know how to use Google or Wikipedia anymore? Rosin doesn’t deny that women still make 78 cents on the dollar. How about the fact that women only make up 1/5 of Congress? Or 1/5 of many STEM fields?

  • glass ceiling…also invisible

    is that an invisible table you’re resting your hands on? Or is the table actually there?

  • D

    “elements of the West’s patriarchal legacy have broken down.” Are you fucking kidding me? Just the phrase “patriarchal legacy” makes your claims sound satirical.

  • Current student

    You can tell someone is a loser if they try to use “cis” as some sort of codeword for “normal”

  • adsahdj

    You look like a pussy, Jason.

  • Rogue

    “feminist progress is largely dependent on hook-up culture”

    Feminism is cock dependent and gets back at men by pleasuring them. Enough said…

  • I_h8_disqus

    Jason, you make one mistake by saying that all feminists are in favor of abortion. Visit Feminists for Life, and you will learn that our earliest feminists and many current feminists view abortion as anti-woman. In fact, a majority of women do not support abortion, and the feminist movement would have been much more successful if it considered the feelings of all these women instead of making them all feel excluded.

    • Calipenguin

      Women in developing countries are using ultrasound technology to identify and abort female babies so that they don’t have to raise a daughter. Pro-abortion feminists should think about that before claiming that all feminists support abortion rights.

      • I_h8_disqus

        It is a vicious circle sometimes. You think you are doing something that helps women, but then you see China and India where the birth rates of females fall far behind the birth rates of males, because that thing you think helps women is actually being used to kill them.

      • JJMMC

        You can’t compare the situations of women in first-world and developing nations so casually.

        Besides, the vast majority of feminists certainly do support the the right to abortion for women in developing nations, just not for purposes of sex selection.

        • I_h8_disqus

          While the vast majority of Americans do not support sex selective abortions, just in May there was a bill (HR 3541) to end sex selective abortions in the US, and it was defeated. 85% of the Democratic members of the house voted to allow sex selective abortions, and president Obama made a statement afterwards saying he supported sex selective abortions. The bill to prohibit sex selective abortions was opposed by the large feminist organizations and large pro-choice organizations. So everyone has an actual recent event that tells us different from what you are saying.

          • JJMMC

            You’re talking about sex selective abortion in first world nations.

            I’m talking about sex selection in developing nations, where we actually see evidence that sex selection is skewing gender distributions and perpetuating patriarchy.

          • I_h8_disqus

            The same organizations that support sex selection abortions in the US support it everywhere in the world. They are consistent in their stance that abortion should be allowed in any situation.

          • JJMMC

            lol sure buddy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this thread, it’s that you don’t know much about contemporary feminism.

          • I_h8_disqus

            I am hoping that you are just scared to face the truth that some aspects of feminism are not helpful to females. You can continue to hide your head in the sand, but it would be better if you started acting like a Cal student should act and think critically. Do a little research about the issue. There is a lot of information out there. It is sad that so many students at Cal know the three Rs, but they don’t have any idea about social issues.

          • JJMMC

            Coming from you, this is rich. As young men, we’re hardly in a position to determine what’s best for women. This is apparently especially true for you, since your opinion contradicts the long thought out (near) consensus reached by a lot of really smart women with a whole lot of collective life experience.

            And seriously dude, “females”? Who are you, the Borg?

            Drop the arrogant tone. It’s annoying and you can’t back it up.

          • I_h8_disqus

            The word “females” sounds arrogant? Should I just say “dudettes” so you are more comfortable? If you are now saying you don’t know enough to discuss this topic, then why are you making up things like “long thought out (near) consensus.” You have stated that you have no idea, so you have no reason to do anything more than go out and learn something. And stop using fallacies for all of your arguments.

          • JJMMC

            The arrogant part was your suggestion that I don’t think and act critically because I disagree with your opinions.

            Your use of the word “females” where “women” would have worked perfectly fine was not arrogant (although it can be in certain contexts), just dehumanizing.

            I never said that I don’t know enough to discuss the subject. My statement was a merely an acknowledgement that, as a man, there are certain parts of the experience of women that I can never hope to understand the same exact way a woman does. This is the concept of privilege: Because the existence of privilege is inconsistant with your worldview, you’ll probably dismiss it offhand as just another jargony construct. But a lot of smart people spend quite a bit of time thinking about it, so you should probably attempt to understand the concept and its consequences before you accuse another commenter of not “doing a little research about the issue.”

          • I_h8_disqus

            I made the comment that you need to think critically, because your disagreement came out in the form of a couple of fallacy arguments that just attacked me instead of indicating that you had been thinking and actually had a reason to disagree.

            Using the word “women” would not be accurate. Not all females are women. There is nothing dehumanizing about using a term like females. It is the word you use when you talk about children, girls, teens, and women who happen to all be female.

            Privilege is not inconsistent with my worldview. I never said that feminism wasn’t worthwhile. I said that I believe it would be greatly helped if many feminists didn’t tie it so closely to abortion rights. The feminist movement isn’t nearly as strong as it could be, in fact it is pretty weak, because it is opposed by so many women and men who do not support abortion. Abortion is not just a women’s issue, because life and death considerations and moral issues are not exclusive to a gender. For example, there are cultures where women often kill themselves when their husband dies. I am not going to sit on the sidelines just because this involves women. I am going to argue the reasons it should be stopped.

          • Stan De San Diego

            > As young men, we’re hardly in a position
            > to determine what’s best for women.

            Yet if you were ever involved in a relationship with an American woman, you would know damn well that most of them think they know what’s best for men, and wouldn’t hesitate to run their lives for them given half a chance…

        • Stan De San Diego

          Yet most abortions in third world countries are exactly for that purpose. Feminists (and other “progressives”) seem to forget that intentions do not necessarily equate with results.

  • Anon

    Have we all forgotten Faludi’s “Backlash?”

    • nostalgicfor90sbestsellers

      Yeah, and what about “The Bridges of Madison County?”

  • I_h8_disqus

    Are you kidding me… cis-hetero men need to stay away from defining feminism

    • Guest

      I didn’t know Hanna Rosin was a “cis-hetero” man. (And what the fuck does cis-hetero mean? Another one of the terms contrived by you liberals?)

    • I_h8_disqus

      Fake me. I have no problem with men or women adding to the conversations about either gender. We are all in this together.