Recently in the news, we saw several major articles on the rosy future of women in the marketplace. The cover story for The Atlantic predicted "The End of Men" and suggested that "females are going to leave males in the dust."
The main tenants of the argument are that women hold more jobs, earn more B.A.s and are more present in industries like nursing that are earmarked for growth. New York Magazine asked "Are boys the second sex?" as they examined "The Genius Gap" that separates the superior performance of girls from the dragging performance of boys in academics.
This type of warning call is as old as the war against feminism, and is perhaps best exemplified by Christina Hoff Sommers of the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). A decade ago, she published The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men; the subtitle is telling of her agenda.
Years before the most recent batch of articles, Barbara Ehrenreich's article "Guys Just Want to Have Fun" put a powerful damper on the female empowerment line of thinking. Yes, she acknowledged, women outnumber men in college. And yes, she admitted," it's the girls who achieve and the boys who coast along on gut courses congenial to hangovers." Even so, she argued, the labor market was reshaping itself to be more amenable to the slacker boys than the brainiac girls. The hiring process put a new emphasis on "elusive qualities as 'personality,' 'attitude' and 'likability,'" a trend that anyone who's played the recruiting game with Big Law in the last five years can attest to. "Fit" can be a way of including compatibility with the boy's club into a company's bona fide occupational qualifications, and if the boy's club is made of likable non-strivers, there may be some wisdom to Ehrenreich's advice to forget traditional metrics of achievement and just "go where the boys are." It's no wonder that every school has its own version of the saying where "C" students, and not their GPA superiors, make money.
The achievements of women in the last few decades have been truly remarkable, and there is good cause to be concerned about the trajectory of certain populations of boys and men (especially minority and working class men). Still, the larger picture reveals that traditional dynamics or gender and power are resilient enough to absorb many of the changes that are being breathlessly hailed as the harbingers of a new age. A quick look at the partnership numbers in law firms anywhere in the country will confirm that fact. http://www.betterlegalprofession.org/
Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School. BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.