Kristof, “Don’t Write Off Men Just Yet”

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Earlier this summer, author Nicholas Kristof responded powerfully to the Atlantic’s cover story, “The End of Men.”  In this July 2010 column for the NYT, Kristof wrote:

[C]ount me a skeptic. My hunch is that we’re moving into greater gender balance, not a fundamentally new imbalance in the other direction. Don’t hold your breath for “the end of men.”

One reason is that women’s gains still have a catch-up quality to them. Catch-up is easier than forging ahead. * * * 

I think we exaggerate the degree to which the sexes are mired in conflict. As Henry Kissinger once said, “Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.” We men want our wives and daughters to encounter opportunity in the workplace, not sexual harassment; women want their husbands and sons to be in the executive suite, not jail. Nearly all of us root for fairness, not for our own sex.

The truth is that we men have typically benefited as women have gained greater equality. Those men who have lost their jobs in the recession are now more likely to have a wife who still has a job and can keep up the mortgage payments. And women have been particularly prominent in the social sector, devising new programs for the mostly male ranks of the jobless or homeless.

So forget about gender war and zero-sum games. Odds are that we men will find a way to hold our own, with the help of women. And we’ll benefit as smart and talented women belatedly have the opportunity to deploy their skills on behalf of all of humanity — including those of us with Y chromosomes.

The notion that all people — not just women — benefit from women’s equality deserves further consideration.  Some feminists are skeptical of shifting focus from “women’s rights” to “gender justice,” because women’s historic experience of justice (unmodified) has not been one of equal treatment.  Some men are skeptical of feminists’ claims, fearing — perhaps — that feminists want more rights than men have, not equal rights.  [Side note: "equality" and "equal rights" are contested and contestable feminist goals.]

Kristof’s column invites us to rethink justice as expansive terrain instead of limited territory.  I like that.

-Bridget Crawford

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