Hearing about “The End of Men” has become a constant refrain in the media. Women are more educated than men, they say. The recession hit men worse than it hit women. Women emasculate men. (That last one I made up to see if you were paying attention, but I’m sure there’s someone on the Internet spouting off just that line.)
And, yes, it’s true. Women are more likely to have a Bachelor’s degree than men are. The recession did hit traditionally men’s industries, like construction and manufacturing, harder than it hit women’s industries. But, even though both of those facts are true, men still earn more money than women, on average. Men climb the career ladder higher than women do. Even when men go into traditionally female sectors, like nursing, they earn more money than their female co-workers.
Any discrepancies from the story about “The End of Men” – like women being strongly outnumbered by men in STEM fields – are explained away by explanations, like how women tend to receive better verbal scores than men, so they tend to go into fields that reflect that. Of course, that explanation doesn’t explain why journalists, screenwriters, authors, critics, and professors (I could go on) are more likely to be men – despite the fact that those would all seem to be careers that require a high verbal level. And men earn more money in the same field, because they pursue career options that earn them higher pay, though that doesn’t account for the pay discrepancy between, say, a male or a female nurse practitioner.
Even still, The New York Times still has a piece about the apparently always relevant subject offering a new explanation about why men are not doing better. It’s actually kind of funny, as if even the (male) journalist is giving an eye-roll to this one. The gist of the article is this: men aren’t doing that well. Well, they’re still doing well – they still earn more money than women – but they earn less more money than they used to. Because men aren’t going to college. Why aren’t they going to college? Single parents are why they aren’t going to college. More people are not getting married before they have kids. Because men aren’t doing as well as women. So women don’t want to marry them. But people need to get married. Problem solved. No, wait, problem not solved, because those men would still not be doing well. Men need to get jobs then. But men don’t have educations for those jobs.
I make fun, but the article does bring up a valid point. Despite the fact that low-income, less educated and single parents are statistically equally likely to have daughters as they have sons, those girls are still more likely to go to college than their brothers, male cousins and neighbors. Much of that likely has to do with the fact that we raise children differently depending on their gender. I’m not talking about Barbies and toy cars, though I guess that’s part of it. But it’s probably related to the same reason people give about why they’d prefer having sons than daughters: “Because they’re easier,” they say.
My friend Jackée brought up an interesting argument, though, about why boys are considered easier to raise. It’s that people tend to have a stance that boys can be parented less, that they can just end up in the world as men and be all right. That can even be spotted in the New York Times article, where researchers found that single parents spent an hour more time a week with their daughters than with their sons. It’s the mantra that “girls bring their problems home; boys bring their problems to other people’s homes”.
But, as we may be collectively discovering, those differences in parenting styles have consequences, chiefly in the way that people deal with conflict. Girls, who become women, are taught to look internally when something doesn’t go their way. Boys, who become men, are often taught to look externally. I’m oversimplifying and generalizing, and both have their pitfalls, but you get my gist.
As a society, things are far from equal in terms of gender, but we’ve done a great job of bringing up young girls, stripping down a lot of barriers in the process. Title IX means that it’s no longer a bad thing for girls to be athletic; Honors and AP courses are disproportionately filled with girls, who are no longer told that it’s a bad thing to be intelligent. (When they’re young of course; once they hit 18, then you are no longer allowed to be sporty, smart or funny.) We talk to our sisters about their feelings, because it’s okay for girls to be emotional. Before I went to college, my father steered an awkward conversation about how to avoid feeling pressure in sexual situations.
Admittedly, I grew up in a house full of women, but I don’t think these same explicit conversations occur with men. In our race to remind our girls that they’re good enough, we’ve often made them adept at dealing with obstacles. A friend recently told me that, while she was constantly drilled by her parents about the importance of her future, the same conversation never occurred with her brother. Needless to say, he’s been the troublemaker in their family.
The truth is, for most of history, we’ve never needed to have these discussions with our sons, nephews or brothers. By virtue of being a man, things have always been relatively easy for them. Of course they’re strong, intelligent and funny. Now that the playing field is leveling to incorporate not just white men, it’s certainly possible that parenting just hasn’t caught up to reflect that.