The Blog

How the Gender Wars Became a Class War

When's article "The End of Men" came out, I was irritated. They're at it again in a piece that crows about "The Spectacular Triumph of Working Women Around the Globe" -- a title that becomes mystifying as soon as you read the article.
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Co-written with Rachel Dempsey

When The Atlantic's article "The End of Men" came out over a year ago, I, like many women, was irritated. But it took me a long time to understand why I found the article so grating.

It makes good points. It's true that many jobs that were long dominated by men are on the decline. The statistics author Hanna Rosin cites are convincing: of the 15 job categories projected to grow in the next ten years, 13 are dominated by women; women earn some 60% of bachelor's degrees; the recession, as we all know, hit men the hardest. White working-class men have every reason to be worried about what the future holds.

And there, in those modifiers, you have the problem. Class and race are invisible categories throughout The Atlantic's article. And without them, the article's argument doesn't make any sense. Working-class men of color have long been unemployed at higher rates than women. And upper-class men are, to put it mildly, doing just fine: they make up 96.5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs, 85% of equity partners at law firms, 83% of senators -- and six of the seven editors listed at the top of The Atlantic's masthead, as well as a significant majority of the magazine's contributors.

The Atlantic is at it again in a piece on its website that crows excitedly about "The Spectacular Triumph of Working Women Around the Globe" -- a title that becomes utterly mystifying as soon as you actually read the article. "The triumph of female employment and opportunity is quite possibly the most important economic story in the world," Derek Thompson writes. And then, right below it, a subhed: "The United States: More graduates. Equal work. Less pay."

The article goes on to cite several of the same figures used in "The End of Men" -- that women have more college degrees than men, that they work in faster-growing industries, that brute strength no longer counts as a skill in a world populated with machines. All of that may be true, but women still earn 77 cents to every man's dollar. Thompson proposes barriers to advancement, family responsibilities (he calls them family choices; not even going to go there, since it feels like I have about a million times already), and sexism as possible explanations for this persistent gap, and then offers two more. One, that women are getting more advanced degrees because they need them to even approach the earning potential of less-educated men, and two, that the jobs that women are occupying in increasing numbers are relatively low-paid.

That doesn't sound like a spectacular triumph for women to me. That sounds like women still need to prove their competence above and beyond comparable men, by seeking out expensive college degrees that give them a necessary seal of approval. It sounds like the feminized jobs of the service industry continue to be undervalued, even as demand for them grows.

What's more, it sounds like the entrenchment of traditional gender roles, played out on a grand scale. The people in charge -- those who control the rhetoric, the policies, the economy -- by and large, are still men. The people who take care of them -- make them food, care for their children, nurse them when they're sick -- are women. Working-class men and upper-class women are pushed to the side entirely. The current discussion doesn't make sense when we continue to ignore the role class plays in the economic landscape. There is a huge and significant change taking place in the working class, as working-class women's earning power increases and working-class men increasingly struggle to find jobs. Meanwhile, the upper classes remain as male-dominated as ever. The Atlantic sees "The End of Men"; I see the marginalization of working-class men even as the power elite remains emphatically male.

That's not the equality any of us is looking for. So please, let's stop pretending that it is, before the gender war becomes a class war that nobody can win.