That women are now the majority of the workforce is not a terrible thing. So how come, with every new achievement of women, there is a corresponding outcry about the “end of men!”? When did anyone ever cry “The end of women!” throughout all the previous centuries during which men were the majority of the workforce?
I know men aren’t thriving right now, for a host of reasons beginning with the economy and including a dramatic sea change in social structure. But when coverlines (and here I mean like the Atlantic’s) undermines one gender’s success by linking it to the other’s failure, they’re playing an old power game that women have no interest in: The If–you’re- not- one- up, you’re-one-down idea of power. For one thing, women are not at the top of their game just yet: It’s worth remembering how very few women are really at the top (for more about this, see Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg’s wonderful TED talk on YouTube). And while women may be outnumbering men in the workforce, they aren’t being paid the same salaries as men. As it stands, women will reach the age of sixty and have accumulated a million dollars less than men of sixty who have had exactly the same job.
So we may be getting jobs, but without pay parity, we’re hardly knocking men out of the water financially.
But the main reason I hate equating women’s success with men’s downfall is that we can take little joy in claiming what we’ve won—the ability to make a living and send kids to school; the capacity to get by without a man’s putting a roof over our heads; the thrill of autonomy and independence–if it’s at the expense of men. The equation pits us against one another, as though we’re taking men’s jobs, gleefully triumphing over our lovers and husbands. We’re not. Yes, we’re competing in the workplace, but competition isn’t sex war. Framing it this way means we have to hide our pleasure or, worse, not get any, from our achievement. So we have to ignore those old, frightened inner voices telling us, “Don’t change the old ways. Don’t beat him at tennis or anything else. Don’t do well. If you do, you’ll be punishing men.” That’s the formula for a backlash, as well as a way of thinking that, because it punishes both genders at once, we’re just going to have to exorcise.