Belfast Telegraph

Modern workplaces demand more brain and less brawn

By Mary Kenny

I have been asked to preside over a debate on whether feminism has now definitively triumphed: the event is some time away, but I am sure it will be spirited and lively.

Yet current studies on the victory of feminism are tending to put the conquest in ambivalent terms: is this, as Hanna Rosin asks in a best-selling and influential American study, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women?

She paints a concerning, even alarming, picture of the trends in Western (and some Eastern) societies. Women are advancing on all fronts, and men, in general, are retreating. Not only retreating, but failing, underachieving, becoming redundant and "useless".

Women in their 20s, in the US, now out-earn men. And, if they remain childless, they will continue to keep parity with male incomes. The workplace is increasingly growing more "feminised". Not political demands, but development in technology has been a major game-changer. Modern workplaces demand more brain, more adaptability, and less brawn.

For example, 100 years ago, being a pharmacist was hard work; robots do that stuff now. What pharmacists require today are knowledge-based skills, and, sometimes, people-skills. Women are considered more adept in this area. This is occurring in many professions. An interesting example is in the medical field of gastro-enterology: among doctors aged 55 to 65, just 5% are women. But among doctors under 35, 30% of these specialist consultants are now female.

Women today have the 'soft skills' that are more in demand in the workplace.

Richard Whitmore, the author of another key book in this field, called, significantly, Why Boys Fail, simply explains that: "The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven't."

Since the 1990s, more and more jobs have required a sophisticated level of writing and communications: modern police officers need advanced degrees in communication; factory workers have to fill out order forms online.

Old-fashioned males from 'Guyland', who were all brawn and hefting strength, can't be bothered with that kind of palaver.

Men don't take easily to this defeat by women; they seek refuge in laddishness, or throw in the towel altogether.

So is all this a wonderful triumph for women? Not always. The authors of these social studies enter some serious caveats about the situation.

Christina Hoff Sommers, whose seminal book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men is reissued next month, claims that the acceleration of male academic failure will bring more social dysfunction and more crime committed by young males.

Hanna Rosin notes the increased prevalence of neighbourhoods that are now 'matriarchies' – where single mothers raise families alone. Out-of-wedlock births are the 'new norm' and will soon become, in many Western societies, the majority practice. Male wages have been stagnant since 2009 and few average men can now step into the role of sole provider.

At the top of the social tree, there still remain the 'alpha' males – successful, dominant men who retain their commanding patriarchal status, even in a world that requires soft, female skills.

From the Forbes Rich List, to the top CEOs and most powerful political figures, the alpha male remains as successful among homo sapiens as he is among the silver-backed apes. Is this really a triumph – average men labelled as losers, while a few alpha males are still in control?

If it is a triumph, it is surely a mixed one – maybe even a Pyrrhic victory.

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