The Hanna Rosin Interview

September 21, 2012

Today I interview Hanna Rosin, the author of the fascinating and provocative new book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, which explores the shift in power dynamics between men and women and what it means for the future. Rosin is also a senior editor at The Atlantic and a founder and editor at DoubleX, Slate's women's section. You can learn much more about her here.

After completing your book, did you consider changing your parenting tack in order to raise sons who not only do right by themselves but also do right by women (particularly after you worked on your "hookup culture" chapter)?

My concern about raising my sons has more to do with teaching them to meet whatever demands school places on them without making them frustrated or miserable or think they have to be just like girls. I try to be realistic — I can't make my sons into people they're not. I think the "William wants a doll" fantasy of the '70s is a proven failure. But I can't put my head in the sand and pretend that school does not demand a level of organization and verbal acuity that doesn't come 100 percent naturally to them. So I try and teach them to cultivate the skills they have — to nurture their inner secretary, as I put it. One example is I make a list for my son that he reads every morning of what he needs to do — put his lunch in his backpack, remember his PE shoes, etc. — in the hopes that eventually he'll internalize those organization skills.

As for the hook-up culture, I won't teach my sons and daughters differently on this front. Young people are aiming for different kinds of connections than I had, ones that aren't crude but aren't entirely settled, either. But at their best they are respectful. Here is what one woman I interviewed told me. As a guiding principle, I think it's not half bad:

"We want a relationship of freedom — the freedom to be there for each other and available sexually when it suits the both of us, and also emotionally when it suits the both of us. We want it to be fun and maybe involve some dates and long talks over coffee. But we certainly don't want these "relationships" to be entered into with an expectation of long-term, or to get in the way of the other important things in our lives. Compatibility isn't even all that important. Amusement, affection, affirming attention, sexual fulfillment, the ever-elusive "fun" — that's what we're after. We (both women and men) are putting ourselves first. Some might call that selfish; we call it smart and independent and secure."

You touch upon many pop culture references in the book. What are some of your personal favorite movies/TV shows/books that portray male/female relationships in a realistic yet progressive manner?

We seem to have thankfully passed through the era of the Judd Apatow irresponsible man-child who needs to be rescued by his shrill girlfriend. One positive example right now is the NBC sit-com Up All Night, where Will Arnett plays a very respectable stay-at-home dad. His character started out as your usual doltish sitcom dad, watching hockey or playing video games when he was supposed to be taking care of the baby. But over time they have developed the character so he is a model of parental wisdom without being emasculated. He continues to take care of the baby and his wife still finds him sexy. (One complicating factor here is that Will Arnett and Amy Poehler just separated and tabloids have speculated that its because she is more successful than he is!)

One issue that I find to be a stumbling block in terms of American women truly achieving their full potential is how much we actively buy into our own superficial deficiencies. Why do you think we have come so far in terms of earning more and demanding more rights yet we will still buy a magazine that promises us hope in a new outfit, product, diet or sex position?

Arianna Huffington calls this enduring phenomenon our "inner obnoxious roommate," the voice in our head always telling us our ankles are thick or our nose is too long or we're not smart enough or whatever. I don't think we will kill that voice off overnight. But here is one thing that gives me hope: Lately we've been seeing more examples of male vanity: men tweezing and waxing and wearing makeup and demanding their own boutiques. And I really think this helps even the playing field. I think most women are of two minds about, say, dressing up: We enjoy it but then sometimes we find it oppressive. But when men are doing it too maybe we can share the burden, and relax and enjoy it!

In your research and personal observations, do you believe competition between women (either on a higher, say, professional sense or in a more "catty" manner) is a bigger stumbling block than it is for men?

Studies show that women are often harder on each other than they are on other men in the workplace. But I think this is a function of still being somewhat the underdogs. Women pick on other women because they are often afraid to take on the men. But as women become more prevalent in positions of power, they will become equal opportunity saboteurs!

Your husband will be "interrogating" you as part of your book tour. How much preparation do the two of you do before these appearances? Or do you like to keep the discussion a surprise until you're in front of the microphone?

The night of my book launch my husband interrogated me at an event in D.C. We did not prepare at all, because he'd been away on a work retreat and life and three kids, etc., and we just didn't have time. That night unfolded in a more goofy, spontaneous way. We repeated that event the following night in New York, and because we'd had the dress rehearsal we were much more prepared and serious. Not sure which one was better.

As a mother, how did you respond to the heavy emphasis placed on moms in both the Democratic and Republican conventions? Did it speak to you or did you find it pandering (or somewhere in-between)?

I don't mind when women claim "mom" as their most important role but I really don't like Michelle Obama's term "Mom-in-Chief." It's a little cheesy and condescending. In her spoken autobiography she never even mentioned her job! I find it all too retro, like a reaction against Hillary Clinton. Just because Ann Romney never did paid work it does not mean paid work is something to be embarrassed about!

I read that you did not choose the title of the book. What alternates did you consider before The End of Men was selected?

I didn't choose the title of the original Atlantic story on which the book is based. That title was chosen by the editors and I never saw it until it was on the newsstand. But over time that title came to be so closely associated with my argument that by the time the book was being published I wasn't considering another one. The title is obviously a blessing and a curse; it's provocative but it alienates many people and does not quite accurately represent the argument.

In reading some of the reviews of the book and comments on your interviews, it's clear there is a wide segment of people who not only reject the concept of the book but even gender dialog in general. How do you try to engage readers who don't typically engage in this type of thinking?

As I wrote, the title alone is enough to alienate people. And it is, frankly, quite off-putting, as it seems to be launching head on into phase next of the gender war. But I don't think the content of the book is all that inflammatory. Look, these shifts in gender dynamics are obviously underway. They affect our decisions on so many aspects of life — how we work, marry, have sex, go to school, raise our children. So I think it's really important to take stock of that. And the book is designed to help you navigate all those changes.

Do you attempt to overcome gender stereotypes at home or let them fall into place where it's easiest? (There was one day, for instance, when I decided I needed to learn to hang a picture as well as my husband does, but eventually decided that if I hate doing that and he loves it, then so be it.)

Well, my youngest son plays almost exclusively with cars and trucks. My older son is a born computer programmer. And my daughter sits and reads most of the day. So I haven't done a good job of upending gender stereotypes there. As for me and my husband, we both work, we both love to cook, we both play on soccer teams. He does most of the picture hanging but I've painted a few walls. Does that count?

I saw that there is an upcoming conference at the Boston University Law Center debunking your book. What are the most intriguing rebuttals to your book that you've seen thus far?

The Boston Law conference is not about debunking but about "evaluating." That was actually set up before the book came out and I am greatly looking forward to it, as some of the academics I respect the most are speaking there. I think the most intriguing rebuttals push me on the tone of the book. People are not clear whether I feel triumphant about this change or not. The truth is that I feel hopeful about some things and despairing about others. It's obviously not great that many men are having trouble adjusting the post manufacturing era and that many more women are raising children alone. It is positive, however, that both men and women can choose from a greater array of gender roles.

Between crime, politics and gender, you cover some serious material. What do you read, write or otherwise partake in, pop-culture wise, when you need to rest your brain?

I read a lot of novels. I just finished Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and am looking forward to reading Junot Diaz' new novel, This is How You Lose Her, next. I'm back into Project Runway this season because my daughter loves it and am looking forward to Homeland starting up again in the fall.

From your years on the debate team, what were some of the most difficult topics you found yourself defending/attacking?

Funny, I just visited my old debate partner recently after he got married, and we were remembering old times. The hardest thing was that the debate circuit did not take women all that seriously and a lot of our judges were often Southern so I had to walk a fine line between being the NY killer I wanted to be and not putting off the judges.

Your dad was a New York cabbie. How much is appropriate to tip a cab driver?

Always tip A LOT, like at least 25 percent. And don't pay with a credit card. The cabbies hate that.

How does it feel to be the 327th person interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ.org?

Probably much like it feels to be the 328th person.