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Is the Atlantic Magazine Making Its Readers More Stupid?

The magazine is obsessed with the “you won’t believe this!” angle.

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It’s hard to blame Bennet for leaning so hard on this talking point – he probably speaks frequently in public, and why shouldn’t he want to send a consistent message? But it’s fair to ask what kinds of “conversation” The Atlantic is generating when it comes to gender issues, and whether its “provocative arguments” are in fact “advancing constructive engagement” – whether, in other words, they are enlightening rather than just entertaining its public. I’d say that the record is mixed.

Of the articles and columns that have generated the most buzz in recent years, Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men” provided the most solid grounding for ”engagement.” Rosin is an experienced journalist, with stints at The Washington Post and The New Republic, and her article relied on detailed research and reporting. A reading of the book-length End of Men reveals Rosin as inquisitive, attuned to the story-beneath-the-story, and open to having her presumptions challenged. The End of Men may be making a very large argument – that, in terms of male-female relations, we’ve “reached the end of 200,000 years of human history” – but the book is not gratuitously provocative. Rosin suggests that workplaces, despite talk of women still not having it all, will continue to change in female-friendly ways, because women are gaining the power to make them do so. With more financial security, women are increasingly setting the ground rules when it comes to dating and marriage, holding off suitors (but not sex) until they are sure that commitment won't interfere with a secure place in the workforce. Here are hard facts that cannot help but change The Conversation. What does it mean that women now hold 51.4 percent of all managerial jobs? That within the next couple of decades they will contribute more than 50 percent of the income in the majority of married households? That the most successful U.S. companies are those that have women in top positions? That the majority of women and men, given the opportunity to control the sex of their child, would choose to have a girl rather than a boy? Rosin writes cleanly and with nuance and style, making this book likely both to get a lot of attention and to sharpen our understanding.

Kate Bolick’s “All the Single Ladies” uses Rosin’s findings to inform a more personal story about the reasons that, at 39, she had not (yet, at least) chosen to marry. It’s a wide-ranging piece, bouncing from history to demographics to anthropology, from an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh to an Amsterdam single-women-only apartment complex. Bolick’s reporting illuminates her autobiography, and her autobiography illuminates her reporting. She describes breaking up, in her late twenties, with her boyfriend of three years, a decision informed by “a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else.” Nothing was particularly wrong with her boyfriend or with the relationship; there was simply the feeling that “something was missing,” Bolick “wasn’t ready to settle down.” At the time, she was sure that there would be plenty of time to choose another mate. A decade later, she’s discovered that this isn’t the case. But “All the Single Ladies” is devoid of the hand wringing and obsessive second-guessing that often accompany pieces on singlehood. Bolick is comfortable with the idea that she may never have children, and while she still expresses an abstract interest in marrying one day, it doesn’t seem as if she’ll be especially rattled if that doesn’t come to pass. That her article sparked so much interest, and led to book and network TV deals suggests that many single women today are either equally sanguine, or ready for a model for becoming so.