I can’t help but wonder if we claimed ourselves victors prematurely.
By Leah Eichler (Founder, Femme-O-Nomics)

When I read Hanna Rosin’s original essay, The End of Men, in the Atlantic two years ago, I felt like Neo swallowing the red pill in The Matrix?. Suddenly, an abundance of anecdotal evidence appeared to suggest that a post-industrial society would favor those with a double x chromosome. Many of my female friends found greater success in the business world than their partners. I kept encountering boys struggling with learning disabilities – and studies show they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Women now place greater importance on a higher paying career than men and surpass men in college enrollment and completion, according to a Pew study. Contributing to this argument with frightening implications, a recent story in Slate magazine illustrated the lengths to which some families will go to conceive a daughter. The days where having a son meant a promise of a secure future for parents appears to have evaporated, like the rotary phone.

Yet personal observation and a smattering of data belie our current reality and in the years since Ms. Rosin’s story and the recent release of her book The End of Men: And The Rise of Women, I can’t help but wonder if we claimed ourselves victors prematurely. In Canada, women comprise only 10% of board seats and 16% in the United States.

In fact, the number of female lead directors of Fortune 500 companies fell in 2011, while Ms. Rosin was busy writing her book. How can we claim victory when the EU is currently struggling with legislation to ensure 40% of non-executive board seats are filled with women by 2020?

Granted, social upheavals don’t occur overnight but I caution against believing that a matriarchy is definitively in the cards and it’s just a matter of time before the power flip. The advancement of women is not an inevitable consequence of social trends and deeply entrenched beliefs about men and women at work remain difficult to overcome.

Rather, what I believe we are currently experiencing is a unique opportunity where women’s gains in business and education lend itself to a softening of social mores. It’s fertile ground to advance equality in the workforce but we must resist the urge to believe this advancement comes at a cost to men.

“It is not inevitable that women will rise through the ranks. It’s still the case that men are the majority of managers, CEO’s and occupy the highest positions of power, status, authority, and wealth is the majority of workplaces,” observed Dr. Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor of sociology at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. “Where women have succeeded, they are not often at the ‘top,’ and when they are, I think they’re more often thought of as the exception that proves the rule than they are as the next generation of super-power women who will stop at nothing to take over the economy,” he said.

To capitalize on the change, a broader dialogue on the evolving definition of masculinity in the workforce needs to take place. While women seem to have reconciled power and femininity, I worry that the definition of masculinity remains in limbo. “I think men today are struggling with deciding, ‘what it means to be a man,’” observed Dr. Bridges. “They’re not happy with their fathers’ and grandfathers’ masculinities, but they have yet to stake a claim to something new,” he added.

Defining masculinity among the backdrop of a challenging economy remains no easy feat. “If women can earn as much as men can, then earning loses some of its masculine cachet — and for some men, that’s reason enough to give up trying as hard,” observed Hugo Schwyzer, a Jezebel columnist who also teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. “Many men are choosing to opt out, not because women have pushed them out of universities or careers, but because they’re refusing to develop the flexible skills that women are willing to acquire,” he observed.

UK-based futurist Dr. Ian Pearson hones in on the evaporating need for traditional male skills more specifically, arguing that manufacturing jobs will be increasingly replaced by robotics and analytical jobs will be displaced by artificial intelligence. “Just as power tools have reduced the economic advantage of being physically strong, so future AI will reduce the economic advantage of being smart,” said Dr. Pearson.

What’s left, Dr. Pearson argues, is a phenomenon he dubs the “care economy.” While women may have an advantage in the “care economy”, men don’t seem to be disappearing from the top ranks of companies in droves. A cultural shift may be underway but gender equality cannot be taken for granted.

“In my opinion, we’ll know we got there (gender equality) if we don’t write books about the “end of men” when women find themselves gaining some ground,” quipped Dr. Bridges.

This post was originally published at Femmeonomics.

Photo credit: ToutSocial on Facebook.
About the guest blogger: Leah Eichler is the Founder of Femme-O-Nomics, a content portal for professional women. She is also the Founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration app. Leah is a columnist on issues surrounding women in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter at @femmeonomics.