Hanna Rosin recently wrote a provocative article entitled “The End of Men” for the Atlantic. Being a philosopher and a man, I thought it would be interesting to critique the essay. Hence, the following critique.
Rosin begins her article discussing Ronald Ericsson, the biologist who developed a means to increase the likelihood that a specific sex could be selected by parents when using artificial means of reproduction.
Not surprisingly, some feminists were rather concerned about this method. As Rosin notes, Roberta Steinbacher expressed worries that this method would be used to ensure male dominance. However, this did not turn out to be the case. The data is that parents now select girls to boys at a 2 to 1 ratio. A newer method, called MicroSort, apparently is used to select girls 75% of the time, at least in clinical trials (which might conceivably influence the results).
Interesting enough, the feminists who were so concerned when they thought Ericsson’s methods would be used to perpetuate male dominance seem to be rather silent. Perhaps this is because they are less worried about such methods in general. Or perhaps it is because the current situation favors females over males. However, speculation about motives is not my primary concern here. Rather, it seems more important to consider if the earlier feminist arguments against using the methods to produce more males can be used today to argue against these methods being used to produce more females. If so and if the arguments from then are strong, then they could be pressed into service today. In any case, it does seem reasonable to be concerned when one sex seems to be getting a leg up over the other. Of even greater concern is the future social implications if the ratio of women to men changes significantly. While this might be beneficial in some ways, there could also be negative consequences that should be considered.
That said, the available selection methods do not work in “natural” reproduction-the ratio of males to females remains the same. Since most reproduction is “natural”, the impact on the population as a whole should be fairly minimal. However, the preferences for females is an interesting change. As Rosin points out, sons have been generally preferred over daughters throughout history.
However, as the title of her essay suggests, this has changed. As she points out, the world is less male dominated now and the preference for sons has diminished. In fact, she claims that the situation is now reversed: there is a preference now for daughters over sons.
Like other thinkers before her, she then turns to considering factors that might be contributing to this change. One option she considers is that women have an advantage in the current economic system.
As I have discussed in earlier blogs of my own, one reason for the change is that the economic meltdown damaged male-dominated industries more heavily than those dominated by women. This, of course, does not entail that women will thus continue to do better than men. After all, these industries might recover and thus swing things back towards the way they were. However, Rosin contends that this shift is not merely a a matter of a temporary economic disaster. Rather, she contends that there is a real and lasting change in the economy and one that is very much in favor of women. This is, of course, an empirical matter and will be settled by the passage of time.
In any case, Rosin is correct to point out that women have become the majority in higher education. For example, for every two men who earn a B.A. or B.S. there are three women. This, obviously enough, will translate into greater employment and economic opportunities for women. After all, education is generally key to getting a job and also a significant factor in the salary of jobs.
As I have pointed out in previous blogs and my book, it is interesting that the feminists who were concerned when men dominated education seem to be rather silent now that men are the minority. Of course, as I have argued before, the same arguments that feminists used in the past in this context can be dusted off and modified a bit to argue that we are in a situation of unjust inequality.
Interestingly, when Rosin was being interviewed on the Colbert Report, Colbert asked her if the affirmative action programs for women would be discontinued. I think this is an excellent question. After all, if women are dominated education and so on, there hardly seems to be any need to maintain programs that were intended (in theory)to bring about equality. After all, they have done that and, in fact, have helped swing the inequality the other way.
While it might be argued that the programs are still needed to keep things from sliding back, that would seem to be more of an excuse to keep a system that favors women in place. While closing these programs would probably result in some shift back towards men, women seem to have taken a commanding enough lead to make such programs unnecessary. In fact, there seems to now be a need for programs for men. If an argument is needed, it is easy enough to go back to when men dominated education and dig up the arguments the feminists used to argue for these very successful programs for women.