At a time when British women are feeling the pain of the recession more than men, American feminist author Hanna Rosin has provided a much needed shot of positivity.
In her latest book The End Of Men, published in the UK this week, Rosin points out that women have fundamentally reorganised the world's economy in just half a century.
From virtually a standing start, more than a third of mothers in the UK are now the main household breadwinners and half of our nation’s jobs are filled by women -- with statistical trends indicating that they will come to dominate the home and workplace in coming decades.
Of course, such seismic shifts can be difficult to appreciate on the ground. Women continue to do the bulk of domestic chores and Britain is ranked 16th in the Global Gender Gap report -- behind Lesotho.
But says Rosin, if you look at executives in America -- a third are women.
"That's the number that sociological studies used to call a tipping point - so the moment of change doesn't feel as far away as one might think it is," the author told HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
While the author accedes that a more accurate title for her book might have been The End Of Macho or The End Of Testosterone, as much of her analysis focuses on gender behaviour rather than power shifts -- the narrative still provides a fascinating analysis of how social norms can change in a lifetime.
Hanna Rosin answer questions on The End Of Men...
Why do you characterise modern women as ‘plastic’ and men as ‘cardboard’?
I had this idea that women were more flexible in their behaviour, partly because they were marginalised -- the marginalised do tend to have to be more flexible. While men seemed to be responding in a more rigid way.
Economies have shifted away from dependence on manufacturing in the last 100 years – employers don't need brawn – they need intelligence and communication, qualities available to both men and women. But women’s willingness to be flexible with traditional gender roles is now allowing them to pull ahead.
Plastic Women has gone from barely working to working with children. She grabs any opportunity to be educated and make more money. Meanwhile, Cardboard Man hesitates.
Why are the top positions in business and the boardroom still predominantly held by men?
There hasn’t been a complete turnover at the top, but women working has only been a 50-year phenomenon so I don’t think one would expect women to take over every law firm and company.
The trends are in place for women to become executives, or to change workplace structures.
Why are women still doing the the majority of housework?
What my reporting reveals is that, even in progressive towns, there’s a resistance among men to taking on roles they perceive as feminine -- or domestic roles.
We still maintain a discomfort over men and domesticity.
I would like my son to feel that it was okay for his wife to earn more money, or be more ambitious than him, if that’s how he ends up. And if he wants to work four day a week, and pick up kids on a Friday... that should be perfectly socially acceptable.
Are we still afraid of women being in power?
Culturally, we’ve made the psychic transition about women in power -- just look at films like The Hunger Games. This makes workplace barriers seem more artificial.
When Hillary Clinton ran for President, America worked out a lot of our tensions about women being too powerful, or too bitchy. If she ran again, she would be judged on the same level as a man. We’re just behind you guys in terms of working out our feelings on female leaders.
What do rising levels of violent behaviour in women tells us about shifting male/female roles?
I do think we have a fixed notion in our heads that men are destined for dominance because they are more naturally aggressive and fueled by testosterone.
I wanted to complicate that picture by pointing out that expressions of violence are to some extent culturally determined. The psychological studies show that when women are anonymous, for example, they tend to express more aggression. And as social norms change, women begin to express more aggression in the public space. The implicit conclusion is that as social norms really start to change, women too can be dominant.
I also wanted to complicate this notion that when women take over the world will be a happy more peaceful place. The research so far shows that women, when in power, make decisions somewhat differently. But not necessarily that they are straightforwardly nicer. I think that line of reasoning is somewhat condescending. Power changes/corrupts everyone.
Tell us more about ‘The Twitch’..
The twitch refers to our instinctive reaction when we see women behave in ways that are straightforwardly aggressive or self serving.
Psychological studies repeatedly bear out that women are punished for, say, advocating for themselves in a workplace and directly asking for a raise.
Specific strategies can help women get through this period of transition.
The gist of it is, women seem to have more success if they present their own interests as aligned with the interests of the institution.
An example I give is, if a woman is negotiating for a higher salary, she is better off saying something like: You hired me in order to negotiate for this company. So I am going to show you that I can do that by negotiating for myself.
This seems to both present the woman as a strong figure, but also a strong figure who keeps the communal interests at heart. I realize this advice is annoying, and the researchers said the same. But it does seem to work while we are in this upheaval over gender roles.
Why hasn't responsibility for childcare become more equally shared?
There is a sense that there have been no burdens released from women, at the same time that there has been huge increase of work on women.
That’s the heartbreaking part about upper-class women. In some sense they have many more opportunities, but in another, they take on more hours of childcare as they take on more hours of work. And that situation seems untenable.
Are you still happy with the title of your book?
It’s true that a more accurate title might have been The End Of Macho or the end of testosterone - I’ve since thought of substitutes that might be less catchy, but more accurate.
It genuinely is a blessing and a curse. It’s not a title chosen by me - it was the title of my original newspaper story of 2010 and we don’t see those till they go on the newsstands.
But in our culture we do get attached to the shorthand for certain arguments, and this one’s stuck
I decided to keep it for the book, as it continues to be provocative and I’m sure will instantly stop certain segments of the populations from opening the book - but I feel I can claim it and defend it.