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Are Men Finished? Intelligence Squared Asks The Wrong Question

Posted in Editorials on September 23rd, 2011

Tuesday night I attended Intelligence Squared’s debate “Men Are Finished” based on Hannah Rosin’s article of “The End of Men.” I remember my reaction to the initial article was along the lines of “What about Globalization? Isn’t this just the end of manufacturing? How much of the ‘man-cession’ is due to the wage gap?” These issues were touched on in the debate, but not in the depth I was hoping for.

This was my third Intelligence Squared debate, having attended “California is the First Failed State” and “The Two Party System is Making America Ungovernable” the first of which was even a bit wonky for my tastes and the second was extremely entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

I was prepared for a bit of silliness because debates about feminism can bring out total lunacy in some, but the mood was generally jovial and the debate was engaging and the best I’ve been to yet.

Initially, I was unsure as to why Rosin and Abrahms, the more feminist of the teams were arguing that Men Are Finished and that Hoff Summers and Zinczenko were saying they are not. I expected that the feminist position would be “Patriarchy has taken a blow, but men are just fine” and the converse to be that “Librul feminists have destroyed men.” I tweeted that this question is a little odd, because Feminism is not a zero sum game.

At the opening of the debate, the topic was clarified – Have we reached a tipping point where women can now expect to achieve the same accomplishments that traditionally have only been open to men? Have the changes of feminism been fundamental to society? If the answer is yes, then “Men are finished.” I think this is an oddly inflammatory way of stating a proposition.

Hoff Summers and Zinczenko argued that men and women are approaching equality because of feminism, and so men are not finished, they are simply equal. They did this with a heavy dose of “What about the menz?” David Zinczenko said that while there still is oppression in the world, “Male omnipotence ended in 1962.” Christina Hoff Summers argued that “If men are finished, we all are finished.”

Rosin and Abrahams built their case on all of the accomplishments women have made in the past half century and that traditionally female qualities are now just as valued or even in higher demand than traditionally male ones. Dan Abrahams cited many statistics about an alleged superiority of women – in legislating, in managing hedge fund portfolios even in diffusing potentially violent situations. I do not know if women who are in Congress and Wall Street are genuinely more talented than their male counterparts – I would argue that because of institutional sexism, only the best get to the top and that they must work much harder and achieve more to be taken as seriously.

The pro side was asked directly if feminism was a zero sum game, and they said no, of course not, but felt that the future looks brighter for women than men.

I did not get called on to ask a question, but there were two I was thinking of asking. First and most obviously I would have asked if the panelists thought that masculinity is finished – because I think a better case can be made for that. The other question I kept returning to was “Is Feminism over? Is there anything left for it to accomplish?” I had a feeling that the panelists might have said that it was over but for different reasons – Rosin and Abrahams because women are ascendant and Hoff Summers and Zinczenko because women are equal. However, they all did acknowledge remaining barriers to women’s success especially outside of the United States, so they might not have agreed so neatly.

I wasn’t exactly comfortable voting at the end of the debate that “Men Are Finished” but Rosin and Abrahams were miles ahead of their opponents in framing the debate. The argued that the decline of traditional gender roles has created a space where women can thrive and they are doing so when men – because of the decline of manufacturing and an increasing sigma against sexism are floundering. In world where brawn does not count for as much as it used to and where men are no longer automatically given deference, women have a chance to compete on more equal footing.

Hoff Summers and Zinczenko were not as grating as I expected them to be, but they came close. Their argument was convoluted – they were arguing that the proposition was preposterous, that men are disadvantaged by women’s recent gains, that society is too feminized now and it hurts boys, that men and women are equal AND that feminism has a long way to go. The frequent contradictions were did nothing to bolster their “separate-but-equal” “complementarianism” brand of feminism.

Patriarchy is not over, and even if it was, men, thankfully would not be. This debate, while it had its silly moments, was illuminating and made me feel hopeful about the future of feminism. The less feminist side of the panel frequently and strongly praised the gains women have made in years past and looked forward to a time without sexism. That we can all agree on these points is a great place to start.

Future Intelligence Squared Debate Topics Include “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion” and “Too Many Kids Go To College.”

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5 Responses to “Are Men Finished? Intelligence Squared Asks The Wrong Question”

  1. Sigil Says:

    Unfortunately, many feminists see equality as a zero sum game and view advocacy for men as some sort of threat.

    If there is some sort of advocacy for men’s equality in feminism however, I would glad to take a look at it.

  2. Ebonmuse Says:

    Brief summary of the previous comment: “I’m willing to help feminists as long as they want to preserve male privilege.”

  3. Philip Meissner Says:

    Your question “Is masculinity finished?” would have been a much better topic to debate. “Men are finished” does not equal “Have we reached a tipping point where women can now expect to achieve the same accomplishments that traditionally have only been open to men? Have the changes of feminism been fundamental to society?”

  4. DouglasG Says:

    Thank you for this post, the first I’ve seen about this debate. I’m curious about why you thought the manner of stating the proposition to be “oddly” inflammatory. From what little I’ve seen of Ms Rosin’s work, this sort of thing would seem to be her usual modus operandi, and it seems to suit Ms Hoff Summers as well.

    I’m curious about how sincere or thoughtful the “of course not” response to the zero-sum question was. On the whole, though, there does seem to be some cause for encouragement in the baseline of agreement. Thank you again for the post.

  5. MissCherryPi Says:

    Hi Douglas,

    Rosin and Hoff Summers can be as bombastic as they like, but I expect a little more from an organization that continually reminds me that the New York Times called, “A salon for movers and shakers, writers and thinkers.”

    I think that all the panelists really did believe that feminism is not a zero sum game. They didn’t explain how that didn’t conflict with their positions, however.

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