The age of men has ended, apparently. Hanna Rosin’s article, “The End of Men“, is the kind of thing that would make most women’s hearts cheer, I suspect. No matter how conservative you are, surely you’ll do a little hurrah when you read sentences like these:
Now the centuries-old preference for sons is eroding—or even reversing. “Women of our generation want daughters precisely because we like who we are,” breezes one woman in Cookie magazine. Even Ericsson, the stubborn old goat, can sigh and mark the passing of an era. “Did male dominance exist? Of course it existed. But it seems to be gone now. And the era of the firstborn son is totally gone.”
“Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”
American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind’s eye.
Male preference in South Korea “is over,” says Monica Das Gupta, a demographer and Asia expert at the World Bank. “It happened so fast. It’s hard to believe it, but it is.” The same shift is now beginning in other rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China.
Rosin’s article is very much about America with only a few glances elsewhere but it’s a heartening read for all of us who have grown up reading about how women are paid less, how much more they have to struggle, how many biases they have to battle at home and at work. In India, most of these issues still exist but Rosin’s decision to use the word “beginning” for India perhaps isn’t off the mark. When I was born, most of my parents’ North Indian friends were taken aback by the fact that my dad was celebrating and bringing sweets for his colleagues. Few believed that both my parents had hoped for a daughter rather than a son and to this day, despite all the crap that I’ve made them go through, they haven’t wished for a son. But while they’re not alone in their generation, their attitudes aren’t commonplace either. Today, in my circle of friends and acquaintances, there are many who have opted to adopt baby girls and who have desperately prayed for daughters. There’s a little extra gush of gooey warmth when we see a happy little girl with adoring parents. Of course, this isn’t a general trend yet but maybe we really are getting there. According to Rosin and Emily Sohn of Discovery News, America is already there. So much so that Sohn’s article has this paragraph in an effort to provide a balanced perspective:
Meanwhile, men remain essential to society, argue some experts. Men still apply for 90 percent of patents, for example. And they continue to earn more money during childbearing years and beyond. In one recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of working moms said they’d prefer a part-time schedule compared to 21 percent of dads.
Who’d have thunk you’d read an article, from any country, in which a writer would need experts to articulate men are essential to society? Add to this the success of Bridesmaids, boy toys like Ashton Kutcher and the rise of Lady Gaga, and it seems all that’s left for American men to do is to weep gently into their cowboy hats.
Then I read about Lana Del Rey, a singer whose success seems to be connected to the puffiness of her lips rather than her songs. Not that I’m any index of what is cool — quite to the contrary, really — but I quite liked “Video Games” in particular. Del Rey does sound like a smokier Nancy Sinatra in both the songs. I must admit, I turned on the YouTube clip but I didn’t watch the video. The song played while I read Rosin’s article. Halfway through song no.2, “Blue Jeans“, I wondered whether Del Rey’s sound is a little monotonous. But the problem that music writer Amy Klein has with Del Rey has nothing to do with sonic textures.
Lana Del Ray is exactly as real as the past, for the past is exactly what she recalls. She takes the days when women wore floral skirts and orange lipstick and waited at home for their husbands to come home from work so they (the women) could bring them (the men) martinis with olives and makes them real again (the men, the women, the martinis, and the olives.)
Rosin briefly mentions American’s society’s fear about the alpha female in her article, the woman who will dominate men, take the jobs, dismiss marriage and generally pack a punch into patriarchy’s paunch. Among women, though, it’s the retro chick that seems to be causing anxiety. Lana Del Rey, with her cosmetically-enhanced lips and her sad, needy lyrics, doesn’t fit with the image of the contemporary woman that people like Rosin and Sohn construct. That’s not the problem. The scary part is that Del Rey’s retro vibe is popular and this is scary because it makes the current rah-rah about women’s lib seem like a balloon that could be popped. Who knows how little it would take for society to rewind? This isn’t retro like Amy Winehouse used to be. There’s something more fragile and needy about Del Rey’s songs (well, 3 of them anyway). They don’t have Winehouse’s robustness and belligerence.
Blame it on “Mad Men” or marketing or whatever else you’d like to, the unnerving truth is that when Lana Del Rey didn’t look like one of the models from the misogynist advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s, she went entirely unnoticed. Her voice was the same, the songs sounded like her new stuff, the videos had a similar aesthetic, and nobody paid any attention to her. The moment she appeared looking like one of Don Draper’s one-night stands, everyone from Pitchfork to Hipster Runoff is writing about her. Whether you like her or otherwise, Del Rey is a rising indie star, and not just because her songs are good.
Is it because she’s pretty? Because those anti-feminist decades are far enough in the past to have a romantic aura now? Because the age of women is already feeling uncomfortable? Or perhaps it’s because the age of men hasn’t really ended and we all like a little objectification.