A few days ago, I posted in my blog about a book titled The Richer Sex by Lisa Mundy. The book explains why women will become the dominant breadwinner in most families and then describes how families will be affected by having a female as the dominant breadwinner.
This weekend, the New York Times Magazine is publishing an extensive 8-page article, titled “Who Wears the Pants in this Family?,” that adapts a book titled The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin. Apparently, brilliant minds think alike. Mundy’s book and Rosin’s article are incredibly similar. The following are examples of Rosin’s verbiage that mirrors concepts described in Mundy’s book:
- As the usual path to the middle class disappears, what’s emerging in its place is a nascent middle-class matriarchy, in which women like Patsy pay the mortgage and the cable bills while the men try to find their place.
- The former Russell men are sometimes categorized by people in town as one of three types: the “transients,” who drive as far as three hours to Montgomery for work and never make it home for dinner; the “domestics,” who idle at the house during the day, looking for work; and the “gophers,” who drive their wives to and from work, spending the hours in between hunting or fishing. [Rosin’s article focuses on a small town in Alabama whose major employer, Russell sportswear, has been decimated by outsourcing.]
- Reuben has a college degree and doesn’t seem especially preoccupied with machismo, so I asked him why, given how many different kinds of jobs he has held, he couldn’t train for one of the jobs that he knew was available: something related to schools, nursing or retail, for example. One reason was obvious — those jobs don’t pay as much as he was accustomed to making — but he said there was another. “We’re in the South,” he told me. “A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.”
- Charles has more time on his hands but not necessarily fewer worries. “Probably no one has had their wife move up the ladder as far as I’ve moved down,” he told me the first night we talked, in his blunt and wry way. “For years I was the major breadwinner, and this has flipped the family around. Now she is the major breadwinner.” [Mundy’s book used the term “The Big Flip” to describe this major transformation to families.]
- He told me: “It used to bug me, but now I’ve gotten used to it.” What helped was realizing that he wasn’t alone in this upside down world he was living in. Shortly after he left Russell, Charles called the unemployment office in Montgomery to ask a question. The voice on the phone sounded familiar, and after a few minutes he realized he was talking to a woman who had worked with him at Russell. She transferred him to her supervisor, who turned out to be another woman who had worked with him. “You’re gonna laugh at this,” Charles told me, “but it was harder on the men than the women. It seems like their skills were more, what’s the word, transferable? I was born in the South, where the men take care of their women. Suddenly, it’s us who are relying on the women. Suddenly, we got the women in control.”
Both Mundy and Rosin talk a lot about trying to reconcile “The Big Flip” with the biblical command for women to be submissive to their men. Rosin made the following interesting insights:
- About two years ago, Gerald Hallmark, then the pastor of First Baptist, saw a man, who had been a plant manager, selling shirts at J. C. Penney. The man tried to avoid him, but Hallmark did his best to make him feel comfortable, by walking up and asking him how the new job was working out. After that, Hallmark had to make slight adjustments in what he had preached for nearly 20 years. Instead of reminding the men that the Bible instructs them to be the head of the household, he tells them, “Your manhood shows in your reaction to hard times.”
- Like everyone of their generation I spoke to, Charles and Sarah Beth Gettys both insisted that Charles was still the “head of the household.” I often asked couples why the men got to retain the title if they weren’t fulfilling most of the attending duties. Sometimes they answered by redefining “head” as “spiritual head,” meaning biblically ordained as the leader. Often it came down to the man as the ultimate protector, the domestic superhero: if someone broke into the house, if the children were in trouble or out of control, if the roof caved in, if there was a tornado, if we needed him, he would rescue us. One man I met, Rob Pridgen, even discussed this in vaguely apocalyptic terms. If the country was self-destructing, and if we could no longer import food or rely on our government to protect us, then we would all remember what men were for.
- Sarah Beth told me that she now asks her Sunday-school group of high-school girls to reflect on what being “submissive” means in today’s world. Theoretically, as head of the household, Charles could decide that he and Sarah Beth should move somewhere else, and Sarah Beth would follow. They both insist that’s how it would unfold. But given Sarah Beth’s success at her work, that scenario seems very theoretical.
- Rob Pridgen’s wife, Connie, sometimes used the word “submissive” but usually put it in air quotes.
A major difference between Mundy’s book and Rosin’s article is that the Mundy book explains why “The Big Flip” is occurring and is more of a sociological treatment whereas the Rosin article focuses real individuals from a psychological perspective. The Rosin article serves as an excellent supplement to Mundy’s book. Together, they strongly support the proposition that millions of men and women in America are going to be experiencing unsettled times in the coming years.