What Men?: The Essentialist Error of the 'End of Men'
32 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2015
Date Written: 2013
Many aspects of The End of Men are debatable. Among them is the critical issue of essentialism: do Rosin's claims about women withstand scrutiny when we ask, “Is this representative of all women?” While women as a group may have progressed in some domains, they have remained the same or worse in others, and some women have not progressed at all.
An even more significant shortcoming of The End of Men, however, is its essentialism about men. Rosin assumes a beginning, namely, men's prior place of power and privilege in the domains she addresses. To assume that is true of all or most men ignores significant differences among men; it makes the argument one that predominantly focuses upon white middle- and upper-class men and women. Further, it ignores a fundamental aspect of male dominance: it is not only about the relationship of all men to all women, but just as important, it is about the relationship of men to each other. By rendering this male hierarchy invisible, Rosin excludes those men at the bottom of the hierarchy, suggesting a false, or at least limited, perspective on men's position as a whole. Indeed, her argument reinforces male hierarchy by ignoring persistent subordination that benefits only those men at the top of the patriarchal heap. The end-of-men argument, then, recasts hegemony.
To illustrate this point, I focus on one group of males excluded by this essentialism: black boys. Although Rosin's argument implicitly is about adult males, the basis for some of her argument of decline in position or change in status is grounded in differentials between girls and boys. That argument assumes a historic and contemporary position of power, privilege, and dominance by men in critical domains. The subordinated position of many adult black men, grounded in a history of oppression and violent victimization, belies that claim. My argument here is that the contemporary position of adult black men is grounded in the undermining of opportunity and harsh repression of black boys.
For most black boys, privilege and dominance in the sense Rosin assumes have almost never been present in their lives. Part I explores the context of the lives of black boys. I include in this description the systems that subordinate rather than support them. Although in theory these are “helping” systems, designed to assist children and families or to foster development, they actually function to collectively funnel children, and black boys in particular, toward outcomes that undermine opportunity. Part II considers where this context leads us and what is needed. I identify the levels of inequalities present in the lives of black boys. In addition, I suggest that the criminalization and stigmatization of black boys and men as “dangerous” serves continued white male hegemony. This conclusion challenges at a deep level the assumptions and arguments Rosin makes in The End of Men. Part III explores several theoretical frameworks that I believe could be helpful in ensuring social justice and individual opportunity for black boys. These include masculinities theory, critical race theory, and vulnerabilities theory. In addition to raising questions critical to the analysis of boys and men, these frameworks also suggest we should ask who benefits from the argument made in, and the attention given to, The End of Men.
Keywords: The End of Men, black boys, essentialism, gender, men, feminism
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