It’s a woman’s world, now

October 21, 2010


It hasn’t been a good week to be a fella.

The lights of Monday and another work day were just blinking on, and our national press was already bringing news that maledom itself was losing its way.

The Globe and Mail called the male elementary school teacher the rare spotted owl of the education system. Without male role models in early schooling, boys are learning to think of school as a “girl thing” and are tuning out for the rest of their education, they said.

Then Macleans magazine trumpeted its own story, asking “Are we raising our boys to be underachieving men?” The story said women dominate university campuses, are less likely to drop out of high school and are generally more driven than men in their 20s.

On Tuesday, the news got worse – on word that of the two million prescriptions written in Canada for children with attention deficit disorder last year, three quarters went to boys. The suggestion is we’re medicating boyhood itself as if it were some kind of disease.

If you haven’t been paying attention, the world is changing. In the workplace and in the home, the ground is shifting. Has been for a long time.

No surprise, men have had the roughest shake in this recession. Some have even called it a he-cession, pointing out that more than 70 per cent of the jobs lost in Canada during the downturn belonged to men. And new studies are showing young, childless urban women are finally earning more than men – overshooting the wage parity that feminists have been pushing for decades.

Now we live on nostalgia – we have whisky makers running ads reminding us how to be a man again. And one of the most popular shows on television, Mad Men, watched by millions of men who long for the 1950s when the business world really did run on scotch and pretty young secretaries.

To cope, we have to build man caves and manctuaries, places where we can escape from a world where women are increasingly calling the shots.

We’ve lost our way so much we don’t even know how to dress like men anymore. We look at old black-and-white photos of well-dressed crowds at hockey games, complete in shirts and ties and fedoras, and think, how quaint. Then we walk around like grown-up boys, draped in saggy jogging pants and oversized hoodies.

We used to be hewers of wood and forgers of steel, jobs that rewarded brawny shoulders and strong backs. Now we’re telemarketers and computer programmers, which reward subtle wrists and delicate fingers.

So how can it be a man’s world, as James Brown sang, if women are working harder in it and getting a better education and generally showing us up?

The hardships suffered by men in this recession have more to do with the changing nature of work in North America than any gender bias in schools.

The industries hardest hit have been traditionally macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance.

Still, of the job categories most likely to grow in the next decade, almost all of them are dominated by women. Simply put, women are better suited to thrive in our new economy.

But don’t feel too much sympathy for us – if women are becoming the dominant sex, it’s because they’ve earned it. They’ve worked harder than we have.

Besides, we’ve had a good run, us men. And before your pride coughs up some angry, sullen response, remember – we can still stand up to go pee. We’ll always have that.

Guelph Mercer, 10/20/10

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