The Macho Man Eats Nachos in His Poncho With The Head Honcho

Reihan Salam has an article in Foreign Policy titled “The Death Of Macho:”

As the crisis unfolds, it will increasingly play out in the realm of power politics. Consider the electoral responses to this global catastrophe that are starting to take shape. When Iceland’s economy imploded, the country’s voters did what no country has done before: Not only did they throw out the all-male elite who oversaw the making of the crisis, they named the world’s first openly lesbian leader as their prime minister. It was, said Halla Tomasdottir, the female head of one of Iceland’s few remaining solvent banks, a perfectly reasonable response to the “penis competition” of male-dominated investment banking. “Ninety-nine percent went to the same school, they drive the same cars, they wear the same suits and they have the same attitudes. They got us into this situation—and they had a lot of fun doing it,” Tomasdottir complained to Der Spiegel. Soon after, tiny, debt-ridden Lithuania took a similar course, electing its first woman president: an experienced economist with a black belt in karate named Dalia Grybauskaite. On the day she won, Vilnius’s leading newspaper bannered this headline: “Lithuania has decided: The country is to be saved by a woman.”

Although not all countries will respond by throwing the male bums out, the backlash is real—and it is global. The great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, as more people realize that the aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power—the cult of macho—has now proven destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world.

Indeed, it’s now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.

Salam on NPR. Also covered in the Ideas blog at NYT.

Amanda Fortini in Salon:

Let’s assume his premise is correct, that we are witnessing an unprecedented shift in power, from men to women. “As women start to start to gain more of the social, economic, and political power they have long been denied, it will be nothing les than a full-scale revolution the likes of which human civilization has never experienced,” Salam writes. While I’m certainly in favor of the advancement of women, Salam’s assumptions, and the ideas about gender in which they’re rooted, are essentialist and problematic. Men are aggressive, seeking and taking risks, and women are … what? The domesticated opposite? Salam doesn’t say. But his article assumes that women (and the mysterious qualities they possess) will nevertheless reign supreme.

Are we to believe that in this forthcoming female-run world, where women form, say, the majority of the U.S. Senate, the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and the partner class at law firms and on Wall Street, they will behave the same as when they filled the ranks of the service industries? Does it make sense to predict that women with power will act the same as women without? Or that men, shorn of their power, must either get with the revolution by neutering themselves, or roam around pissed-off and drunk? Isn’t this —  to charge Salam with the crime often committed by feminist scholars —  reductive and overly “gendered”? Perhaps it’s not men who are innately aggressive risk-takers; perhaps the institutions themselves engender these qualities. There have certainly been plenty of female leaders who have exhibited aggression and swagger; think of Margaret Thatcher, or Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir. If women do eventually run the world, as Salam suggests, will the world change, or will running the world change women?

If the recent mistakes of certain men at the highest levels of finance and government have altered our beliefs and opened our minds toward the possibility of more women in power, that’s progress. But to conclude that the mistakes of a handful of men say anything conclusive about the entire gender is wrongheaded. And as for Salaam’s assumption that women aren’t aggressive or daring, well there’s only one word for it, isn’t there? Macho.

Dana Goldstein in Tapped:

Of course, it’s true that 80 percent of all American jobs lost during this recession were held by men. But that is due to occupational segregation; blue-collar men have always had access to better, higher-paying jobs than blue-collar women. The collapse of the American manufacturing sector is ending that stable lifestyle for non-college-educated men and the families they support. But it isn’t clear at all that blue-collar women, who’ve been stuck in service-sector jobs, are benefiting from their husbands’ and brothers’ misfortunes. Instead, the result could be continued rising class inequality, as both working-class women and men get stuck in the service economy with irregular hours, poor pay, and no benefits.

Meanwhile, in many parts of the non-Western world, women remain radically underrepresented in the labor force. In Iran, for example, where feminist frustration is a key driver of the reform movement, only 13 percent of women have paid work outside the home. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi actually had campaign advertisements promising to help women gain access to the job market. But during times of high male unemployment, women typically have more trouble, not less, finding work. This is doubly true in traditional societies that still have not fully accepted women in public roles.

Courtney Martin in Feministing:

Claiming that sexism is over just because we’re finally paying attention to these issues is like claiming that racism is over just because Barack Obama is president. Sexism has way deeper roots than Zincenko or Salam realize.

I don’t think anyone can herald the “death of macho,” or that men are an “endangered species” (Zincenko), until things actually change. Women still aren’t making equal pay for equal work and still are disproportionately targeted with subprime mortgages. As Dana Goldstein reports in “Pink Collar Blues,” sixty percent of impoverished children are living in female-headed households. The poverty rate is still higher among women than it is among men of any race. One out of six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

As I wrote in my column last week, this sort of men vs. women thinking is all a bunch of unproductive nonsense. Why does it have to be a man’s world OR a woman’s world? Why can’t it be both. This either/or thinking doesn’t acknowledge our interdependence. It just makes for shocking headlines.

Salam in American Scene:

But I think there’s a too-appealing narrative here: right-wing mini-pundit claims that sexism is dead and that men are the new victims. The fact that I don’t believe that sexism is dead — I think it’s alive and well, but that it is actually an increasingly economically destructive force and that the least sexist societies are the ones that will flourish — or that men are the new victims — I tried to argue that men continue to be powerfully advantaged by state economic policies in most of the world, though this is tentatively and encouragingly changing in a few advanced market democracies — is basically immaterial.

You can’t win ‘em all.

UPDATE: Reihan Salam and Chris Hayes on Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Now we’ve got people calling the man-cession a myth. Christopher Swann

Free Exchange at The Economist

Felix Salmon



Filed under Feminism, Go Meta, The Crisis

2 responses to “The Macho Man Eats Nachos in His Poncho With The Head Honcho

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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