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Are You Ready for the Post-Masculine World?

Hanna Rosin’s new book "The End of Men" bears tidings of a gender apocalypse.

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Rosin conjures up comic-book archetypes for the new world order. We have “Plastic Woman,” who adapts to the new service economy with ease. Her sad counterpart is “Cardboard Man” – too stuck in his outdated ways to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In Rosin’s “new androgenous world at the top,” better educated urban men may adapt relatively well to the new role fluidity and may find relief in not having to worry so much about being The Provider. They may flourish in what she calls the “seesaw marriage,” where partners trade off on who brings home the bacon. But for the less well-off, things look grim. Working-class men may well continue to have trouble earning enough money to contribute to the support of a family, even one of meager means. Downsized and laid off, when they do find a job, the pay is likely to be inadequate and the benefits shoddy. Working-class women, who have also been hit hard by the Recession, particularly in the public sector, will take a long, hard look at Dad. If he isn’t pulling his weight, Dad may be very well get kicked to the curb.

Rosin’s book falls into the category of pop sociology, so there’s not much analysis of the political and economic forces that are driving these recent changes, which is a little bit like seeing a giant iceberg fall off a glacier and only talking about the temperature for the last season. In The End of Men, trends like globalization seem as inevitable as the weather, and we’re left assuming that men and women will have to adjust or be swept away in its wake.

But beyond the construct of gender lies a system of global capitalism as rapacious as any the world has yet seen. It is beyond masculine and feminine categories because it is ultimately not human. Rosin sees a matriarchy forming in the wake of its violent displacements – something that sounds vaguely like the just restoration of some primeval order. Maybe so, but it is also easy to imagine that if something matriarchal rises in the context of this brutal capitalist climate, it will look more like a landscape ravaged by those nasty devouring female lizards in the film Jurassic Park – a pop culture anxiety dream of something natural made monstrous by technology and greed. The world’s richest woman, Australian tycoon  Gina Rinehart, is just now poised to blow past the likes of Bill Gates with her multi-billion-dollar mining fortune. She expresses her contempt for humanity by insulting working people as "whineging," calling for $2-a-day labor and denying climate change.

The demise of old-style masculinity is inevitable, and, in many ways, welcome. It would be great if we got a more sexually diversified culture in its place and women could finally bid adieu to subordination by men. But until we humanize the economic and political systems we’ve got, men -- and women -- who are not at the top will likely find that adaptation to constant predation is not a recipe for happiness. Oppression will perhaps be more equitably distributed, but that’s hardly cause for celebration.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.