Post-manufacturing = post-macho?

August 10, 2009

In Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam posits “The Death of Macho.” Salam’s point, boiled down to its essence, seems to be that the decline of the American manufacturing sector, the crisis discrediting the financial sector (which Salam glibly calls the “he-cession”), and the rise of a service-dominated economy all mean that the lofty power of men is about to come crashing down.

My initial reaction was: what a bunch of nonsense. But the whole article is worth reading. I haven’t quite figured out what I think about it.

Flying Whale



  1. I don’t buy it. On several fronts.

    Lucky for me, Matthew Yglesias already wrote most of my answer for me, complete with compelling graph.

    While I agree that there are real shifts in gender roles afoot and that we need to be thoughtful and proactive about helping both men and women make the transition, scrunching the timeline to claim that the financial is the primary catalyst is absurd. This is a decades-long process.

    Plus, timeline aside, Salam’s causations are just wrong. He writes:

    “More than 80 percent of job losses in the United States since November have fallen on men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the numbers are broadly similar in Europe, adding up to about 7 million more out-of-work men than before the recession just in the United States and Europe as economic sectors traditionally dominated by men (construction and heavy manufacturing) decline further and faster than those traditionally dominated by women (public-sector employment, healthcare, and education).”

    The drop in construction is most certainly linked to the recession. But far from being the “death of macho,” that sector will come back and will, likely, again be dominated by men. But heavy manufacturing doesn’t belong in that list at all. While the drop in available credit pushed many manufacturing companies into crisis faster, our trade policies have been draining that sector for years.

    Additionally, it’s presumptuous to assume that the transition of many men into previously female-dominated sectors will lead to gender equality in the work place. In fact, I’d argue that it’s more likely to look like men holding a disproportionate number of the higher-paying, administrative positions. While certainly related, labor transition and gender equity aren’t necessarily in a causal relationship.

    Finally, he categorizes North American and Western European men as more or less “happily adapt[ing] to the new egalitarian order” and East and South Asia as places where “women often still face brutal domestic oppression.” This over-simplification is just not helpful or, for my money, accurate.

  2. Yeah. I had the same thoughts about the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, and about the uncomfortable cultural characterizations about men sucking less in Western societies.

    I do think it is probably important to think about how, if indeed most of the people losing their jobs in this recession are men, how a new class of un- or under-employed males will shift gender roles. I suppose that’s what Yglesias is talking about.

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