The lazy, stereotypical thinking in Hanna Rosin's "The End Of Men"

It’s okay, I checked - the men are still here!

Whenever a person makes any of the following statements – the future is female, men are the new weaker sex, masculinity is in crisis, the pendulum has swung too far, the male of the species is becoming redundant etc* – it is surprisingly hard to mount a challenge. Deep down, you know such people are talking straight out of their arses, but you really don’t want to be the one to say so. First, it sounds mean and unsympathetic. If, for instance, you are a middle-class woman and you’re being compared – somewhat conveniently – to a working-class man, you risk appearing rather uncaring and ungrateful (and that’s before you get onto the standard feminist rant about how positively frightful visiting Waitrose on a Saturday can be). Second, you don’t want to make it look as though you actually believe feminists are merely engaged in an ongoing competition with the patriarchy to win the coveted Crappest Life Cup. Challenging gender stereotyping and power imbalances – and actually proposing change – are rather different activities to splitting the human race into two undifferentiated groups and complaining that your group is the current “loser”. It’s important not to engage in such a stupid argument (even if stupid people have spent years trying to bait you into doing precisely that). So you might think “well, best say nothing – it’d only give them ammunition”. Or perhaps pull a sad face and nod thoughtfully, just to make sure these people get off your case.

Well, this evening I’ve decided that I am REALLY SICK of this bloody stupid LIE. And that’s, like, using capital letters and everything, so you can tell I’m totally cross. All of this “now it’s the men’s turn” bollocks – it’s just nasty passive aggression and I’ve had enough of it. It might get newspaper columns and sell books, soothing egos in the process, but not only is it rubbish, it’s cruel and damaging. This isn’t about feminists wanting to jealously guard some much-valued victim status. It’s about the ongoing discomfort some people have with women being active agents in the world. It’s about telling women they’ve taken something that isn’t theirs. What’s more, it’s about ensuring that the unease we have with women in positions of power endures and can continue to be portrayed as toxic to society as a whole.

Now I am not a conspiracy theorist. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might, for instance, go to Sainsbury’s, accidentally crash my trolley into another woman’s and then, rather than simply say “sorry, shall I pick up your custard creams?”, strike up a deep and meaningful conversation, find out about said woman’s whole life story and domestic set-up, decide it is emblematic for all relationships between women and men, then spend the next few months obsessing over said woman and her ex, regarding them as Everyman and -woman and longing for them to get back together. I might even invent cartoon superhero counterparts for the former couple, christening them Cardboard Man and Plastic Woman. Then I’d create a whole thesis around it, dropping in random facts picked up here and there, plus some stuff I didn’t really understand (which I would therefore dismiss as “irrelevant”). I might do all of these things, but for two reasons: 1) I’ve not completely lost it, and 2) the journalist Hanna Rosin’s done it all already.

In an extract from her new book The End of Men, Rosin plays straight into the hands of those who see the world in 2012 as a realisation of The Two Ronnies’ 1980 misogyny-fest The Worm That Turned. To be fair, I don’t think she means to do this. Even so, I can’t help feeling that without a backdrop of resentment at women behaving in ways they’re not meant to behave, owning things they’re not meant to own and making decisions they’re not meant to make, such flawed thinking would never have gained such support and publicity. Rosin argues that evidence that women have “in many ways surpassed” men (whatever that means) is “everywhere”: “it was only centuries of habit and history that prevented everyone from seeing it”. Thankfully, through bumping into “Bethenny”‘s trolly, then tracking down her much-pitied ex “Calvin”, Rosin is able to perceive that the rest of us can’t (oh, and she also did “a lot more reporting and research”, presumably damaging many more trollies in the process).

There are plenty of intelligent things one can say about the loss of traditionally “male” manufacturing jobs in the west and the ensuing instability of our replacement “knowledge” economy. This isn’t one of them:

In the past, men derived their advantage largely from size and strength, but the post-industrial economy is indifferent to brawn. A service and information economy rewards precisely the opposite qualities – the ones that can’t be easily replaced by a machine. These attributes – social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus – are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men. In fact, they seem to come easily to women.

While such an interpretation of the situation is satisfyingly simple, it’s also nonsense (not just because the most powerful men one might think of haven’t exactly spent their lives engaged in backbreaking work). Traditional ideas about male and female qualities have shifted to serve different purposes and in line with different roles. If you buy into notion of extreme male and female “hard-wiring”, you’d have to say that Rosin’s choice of stereotypes is selective, to say the least. For instance, you could easily vaunt women’s “open communication” while simultaneously regarding them as indecisive and unfit to lead i.e. still not “male” enough for the fewer but more privileged senior roles. Moreover, even if you accept the uneven, selective stereotyping, the argument that male unemployment has risen disproportionately within specific social groupings because men as a whole aren’t as good at sitting still and being socially intelligent seems to me a sneaky way of letting a series of social, political and economic failings off the hook. Does any man think “I’ve lost my job because the ladies have won, and that’s because they’re better at communicating?” Well, I suppose he might do. But it would seem to me a gross misdirection of justified anger.

Like many who panic over the “devaluing” of men, Rosin appears attracted to an essentialist understanding of gender roles, except when it doesn’t suit her argument. Hence we have Plastic Woman – who has “throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility” – and Cardboard Man – who “hardly changes at all”. You could argue that this is linked to power; the weak can change because they have less to lose and more to gain. Or you could say that this challenges “hard-wiring” theories; the fact that women don’t remain the same in their roles and aspirations might indicate that the supposed essence of woman doesn’t exist. I’m not going to argue either of these things because it would mean arguing over imaginary, crude characters invented to support a failing argument. The choices open to men and women depend on a huge range of social factors. That gender should not limit their choices ought to be self-evident, but it isn’t, not least because of the publication and ever-increasing simplification of arguments such as Rosin’s.

So men haven’t grasped traditionally female roles with the eagerness with which women have grasped traditionally male ones. Rosin appears to be puzzled by this:

They could move into new roles now open to them – nurse, teacher, full-time father – but for some reason, they hesitate. Personality tests over the decades show men tiptoeing into new territory, while women race into theirs. Men do a tiny bit more housework and childcare than they did 40 years ago, while women do vastly more paid work. The working mother is now the norm. The stay-at-home father is still a front-page anomaly.

“For some reason”? Ooh, let’s think. Money and status, perchance? The fact that no one wants to do the housework? The fact that if “the working mother” is doing everything there’s no point in being arsed? I realise these are all gross simplifications, but I genuinely find Rosin’s bemusement disingenuous. Who doesn’t “hesitate” before cleaning a toilet for no wage whatsoever? Who wouldn’t want the freedom and choice that financial independence brings? It’s not rocket science (which, as far as I am aware, is not an area in which women now unjustly dominate, but hey, who knows? [Women, probably, what with them being good at gossiping and finding stuff out]).

Rosin indulges in lazy, stereotypical thinking which she assumes her reader to share:

For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, a trait that shows up in contemporary life as a drive to either murder or win on Wall Street. Women are more nurturing and compliant, suiting them perfectly to raise children and create harmony among neighbours. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order.

Well, it might have framed hers, but as for me, I’ve been too busy emulating my male partner in, um, murdering people and winning on Wall Street.** Therefore I have not been remotely surprised that women have been able to achieve things in supposedly “unfeminine” fields, nor that more women in power (intermittently) has not meant a more caring, sharing, flowery form of leadership. I am sorry that, to others, this has come as such a shock:

Difficult as it is to conceive, the very rigid story we believed about ourselves is obviously no longer true. There is no “natural” order, only the way things are.

What a depressingly unremarkable observation, and how sad to find it in a piece that continues to seek out winners and losers within a far more complex narrative.

What truly angers me about an argument such as this – and its public endorsement – is the fact that there are all sorts of inequalities and ways in which choice is unfairly withheld from others. These are based not just on gender, but on class, race, belief, sexuality, physical and mental capabilities, place of birth etc. etc. To crudely cast women as having “won” not only distorts the complexities of power imbalances, but also reinforces the active discrimination which still holds many women back from having similar choices to men when other factors are taken into account. It suggests that women – who simultaneously stand accused of having failed to capitalise on equality due to their “natural” difference and of having claimed too much by going against “natural” expectations – are interlopers. It adds strength to the feeling that women have encroached upon no-go areas. It blames female advancement for the failures of politicians and economists. It pretends ongoing inequalities in unpaid domestic labour are caused by the mysterious inability of “Cardboard Man” to pick up a dishcloth. In short, it sodding well isn’t fair.

I am now off to Sainsbury’s, in a suitably bad mood. If you see my trolly heading for yours, I’d watch it if I were you.

* Please add your own – there are loads.

** Both of these things are fibs. Obviously I wish one were true, but I’m not saying which.

This post first appeared here on glosswatch.com. Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Men: really not that badly off. Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.