I first heard of Hanna Rosin’s latest book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (Riverhead) in the most unusual fashion; the author sent me an e-mail. We aren’t friends or even acquaintances, but it wasn’t spam. Rosin and I were distant colleagues. She’s an editor at Slate and founder of Double XX, their women’s news and analysis section; from 2008-’11 I was a frequent contributor at The Root, Slate’s African American news and cultural site. During my final months in that mix, I may have even pitched Rosin as gender issues are close to my heart and while The Root dumbed down their sports coverage (I’m not saying it was a bad thing, but that’s what they did), I sought any sympathetic editor for my ideas and with years of interest in Women’s NCAA under my belt, I’m sure I may have had a Double XX-ready idea or two.
Anyway, I’m glad Rosin wrote. If she hadn’t I almost certainly wouldn’t have read her book, and its hysterical title notwithstanding, the book is an excellent read. It sympathetically documents a sea change in American culture. The shift in gender roles and expectations in American society takes time to wrap one’s mind around if you’re stuck in official American culture, and Rosin’s approach, a series of feature stories on a variety of milieu that illustrate the change is useful. She’s able to demonstrate that this change cuts across all geographical, political, and demographic lines. Her reportage is what enables the book to rise well above Guy Garcia’s The Decline of Men.
But at the same time there’s a gorilla in the room that is left to roam on its own. It’s abundantly clear that women draw strength, savvy and inspiration from both the women and the men in their lives whereas men only draw from either the men in their lives or the stereotype of men propagated in the media. And those stereotypes thanks in part to NASCAR and hip-hop have often grown less progressive and stalled necessary progress.
I imagine that Rosin avoided the larger issue to keep her book concise and play to its strengths. Her portraits of unemployed middle aged men in Alabama and ambitious collegiate women in the northeast are longform journalism at its finest, great examples of how empathetic reporting and a keen eye for social change can result in stellar writing.
Just as we’re in the midst of a burgeoning genre of America post-2008 books, I suspect we’re at the cusp of an emerging genre of post-millennial gender shift books. Rosin’s End of Men… is an excellent addition that screams out for follow up and elaboration.