The first author transcribed the recordings and translated them into English before analysis and discussions with the research team. Data were analysed both manually and by using Open Code 3. The first step was the repeated reading of interview transcripts and listening to the interview recordings. This allowed the first author's immersion into the data. Secondly, a detailed line-by-line open coding was done to elicit important information from the interviews. The authors met regularly to review, discuss and reach agreement on similarities and differences in the meaning of codes.
The third step was to identify important, relevant and emerging codes, to find axes between codes and to group them into categories. This process involved moving back and forward through the transcripts to analyse them iteratively as individual accounts and as a coherent whole. The fourth step attempted to find axes between the categories, and the final step was to identify pertinent discourses. An example of the analytical process is illustrated in Figure 1.
The five main discourses that emerged from the analysis were: We are aware of the church message on sex Figure 1 ; Young men need sex; Young women need money; To use or not to use condoms and We trust in the church message. The different discourses are described below, and quotations are presented in italics.
All participants said that they knew and listened to their church's message on sex based on the ideal morality of forbidden premarital sex, abstinence prescribed in the Bible, sex allowed in marriage and the banning of condoms. Young people were aware that premarital sex was perceived in the churches as harmful since it might entail the loss of virginity, unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions.
Sexual pleasure through premarital sex was considered dangerous because of the risk of HIV infection. Consequently, young people were taught to abstain from sex until marriage and, more importantly, to fear God by resisting sexual pleasure. Also, interviewees stressed that church leaders expected older church youths to remain sexually abstinent until marriage, and thus serve as role models for younger peers.
In this way, some participants stated that sexual abstinence was possible, and a good and realistic option that would spare youths from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Young women perceived boys to be knowledgeable about sex though they insisted that premarital sex was proscribed by the Bible. Participants reported that their pastors prayed for and expected them to get married in the churches.
That is why they have been taught to avoid casual sexual partners. Hence, sexual intercourse was perceived as sacred, good, accepted, blessed and legitimised, as long as it took place exclusively in marriage. Interviewees noted that certain churches were silent over the issues of sex and sexuality probably because they lacked time to explore such complexities. In addition, pastors were said to be timid, ashamed and uncomfortable when talking about sex the actual act and sexuality the cultural, social and psychological feelings related to sex , possibly because these deal with intimacy.
Some participants said that a good pastor was not even expected to talk about sex and sexuality since such topics were perceived as inappropriate issues for the churches to handle. They don't want to talk with us deeply about sexuality. They simply keep telling us to delay sex without showing us how sexual abstinence works in this broken world we live in … year-old woman. In spite of the existing ideal church-approved sexual morality that participants were aware of, some young men confirmed being sexually active and stated that sex was good and pleasurable.
They desired sex, they initiated sex and determined its duration. Similarly, they heard but disobeyed the church message on abstinence since this was perceived as an old-fashioned message, and even seen as detrimental to their health:. It would really destroy me. I don't know who would bear sexual abstinence. Even Catholic priests can't cope with it and not even the nuns … year-old man. Many informants used metaphors for their sexual appetites such as young men are hungry, in a hurry and in need for premarital sex since their strong sexual needs would be uncontrollable.
Young men also felt pressurised by their friends and older adults within their communities to start having sex before marriage to gain experience and to avoid being belittled by young women. In addition, they claimed that young women's provocative and sexy ways of dressing made young men unable to refrain from sex before marriage. Similar issues about what they perceived as sexual activities were also stressed among some young women:.
This is what young men say … keeping sperm will hurt my back, I have to release my sperm … year-old woman. According to the interviews, young male sexual behaviour was linked with their capacity to show sexual prowess and potency in sexual encounters, especially when they drink. They also reported that alcohol gave them energy to have sex with increased performance, which was also measured in terms of multiple ejaculations.
They highlighted that the more a young man ejaculates, the stronger man he is sexually:. Some other men when they have sex with a woman … the woman should cry … in the meantime the man's sexual potency is still there and he is ready to have sex … year-old man. Exploring virgin girls and changing sexual tastes were raised as the main reasons for young men's engagement with multiple partners.
Some young men said that sex with virgin girls was better than sex with sexually active girls, and in certain provinces the bride price for virgin girls was high. However, according to some participants, virginity was no longer of particular value in Kinshasa. Though young men were unemployed and lacked money, they reported that having sex with one partner was monotonous. These many female partners are provided with money in order to meet their needs.
If they need something, the real man should buy it for them … year-old man. In many cases, sex with multiple partners was a survival strategy in a context of economic hardship where parents were poor and uncaring. Certain female students were reported to have sex with multiple partners in order to pay school fees, obtain good grades in schools and acquire luxuries such as mobile phones and artificial hair. Participants also argued that even economically better-off women had many partners, not to exchange sex for money, but probably to maintain their socioeconomic status.
However, women's financial dependency towards men was identified as the main reason for multiple partnerships:. One partner is not sufficient to give you all you need, not even parents … one guy will be responsible for providing body lotion and soap, and another will take care of transportation fees.
Another one will care for clothes and shoes, and this is the way many young women behave year-old woman. Participants reported cases of girls who have sex with older men because young men are not capable of providing for them financially. In both ways, adults provided financial support in exchange for sex.
Participants said that older people were caring, kind and respectful towards their young partners.
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However, young women reported that older men requested unprotected sex because they paid for sex and were probably dissatisfied with sex while using condoms. Participants viewed age-disparate sex as unacceptable, and asserted that it could increase youth vulnerability to HIV and eventually lead to deadly sex. A couple of young women raised concerns about being in an unequal, age-disparate sexual relationship:.
I am using the two verbs because I have been dated by two married men. With both of them, when I consider their wives, I ask the question why these men can think of dating me, you see. When I see his wife I tell myself that she is a role model for me when I get married. But this man comes to me … and tells me the negative side of his wife … year-old woman. Informants reported that some church leaders opposed both the health messages about condoms and the practice of condom use among churchgoers because this would motivate youths to have sex indiscriminately:.
This is a church … Indeed, the pastor said that you should not say this here because we are in the church. If you start saying things like that in the church, this would promote sexual promiscuity. Indeed, young people would play with sex; therefore it is good if young people can abstain from sex … year-old man. In their sexual encounters, several respondents reported that youths did not seem to have much time for condom use; condoms were thought to be poorly manufactured and were sometimes unavailable. Overall, condoms were viewed as too tight, painful, delaying orgasm and having holes in them.
Instead, they say if I have sex with my girlfriend, I would like to feel it … year-old man. By contrast, only a few youths mentioned using condoms in sexual encounters because they believed that condoms saved lives. Hence, they wished that church leaders would allow them to use condoms when necessary.
Several participants reported that church leaders refusing the use of condoms could be suspected of being responsible for the spread of HIV among the youth. For these respondents, using condoms in this particular context of HIV was viewed as a sign of wisdom. Therefore, they disagreed with girls who refused to use condoms during sex. Such girls were viewed as untrustworthy, suspected to be pregnant or deemed to be already infected with HIV:. I will refuse … Oh, pregnancy! I will be afraid of it during fertile days. Similarly, some girls also showed agency in refusing unprotected sex in cases where partners did not use a condom.
In such cases, boyfriends would be requested to buy one; otherwise sex would not take place. According to these girls, unprotected sex would only be appropriate with a sexual partner who had tested negative for HIV. A small group of church followers demonstrated their Christian values in two ways. Firstly, they recognised the church's moral ideal for sex as a viable option for themselves. Gender equality and mutual respect were mentioned as a prerequisite in order to build a gender-equitable society. Instead, the respondents said that boys and girls should live together and share advice in order to seek true love.
In sexual encounters, girls should be considered as equal decision-makers in initiating sex and enjoying sexual pleasure since girls have the same sexual desire as boys. These church followers were aware that sexual abstinence was not an easy option and consequently used their prayers and faith in God to make sexual abstinence a reality. They insisted on continued adherence to church teaching to raise HIV awareness, and they trusted pastors who were telling them what they perceived to be the truth on sex, sexuality and HIV.
Church followers also mentioned the increased risk of HIV that young people face in Kinshasa. This included peer pressure for an early sexual debut, intergenerational sex that can lead to death and people living with HIV who have unprotected sex. This group of young people perceived transactional sex and sex with a partner of unknown HIV status and the unwillingness of men to use condoms as potential HIV threats. They were fully aware of the existence of HIV in their midst and had therefore committed themselves to undergo voluntary HIV testing and counselling before marriage:.
You always go to marry a young girl and you start sleeping with her. It is not worth it … You should finish your studies … you are responsible … once you see a woman, the first thing: HIV test. Both of you should take the test … year-old man. The churchgoers were heterogeneous in attitudes and sexual experiences. The majority were already sexually active given the gender norms coupled with the socioeconomic hardships of Kinshasa. While young men's discourses reflected sexual conquests to demonstrate their masculinities, young women's discourses referred to money and status acquired through transactional and intergenerational sex.
These sexual relationships interfered with the church message related to forbidden premarital sex. A small number of youth committed themselves to believe in abstinence and to promote gender equality. The youths acknowledged the church teachings of sexual abstinence and faithfulness, which conflicted with premarital sexual activities that run counter to the teachings of sexuality in most Congolese churches. However, church leaders would probably gain a great deal by listening to the lived realities of young people's lives. Research has shown that HIV programmes involving young people and respecting their life patterns have a greater chance to succeed than programmes that do not prioritise such a holistic approach UNAIDS Paradoxically, some respondents reported that many church leaders were reluctant to talk about sex and sexuality openly and truthfully.
The lack of appropriate language regarding sexuality could partly explain the difficulties for church leaders to deliver effective messages about HIV prevention Schmid Churches that view sex and sexuality negatively could be detrimental to young people, as this may encourage them to instead seek guidance from unqualified sources such as pornography Paterson We also found that condoms were banned on the grounds that they would legitimise young people's sexual promiscuity.
By contrast, studies have shown that people exposed to appropriate information about sexuality tend to postpone their sexual activities Boonstra The church anti-condom position could enable the spread of HIV among young people who have unprotected sex, thus rendering the church leadership a part of the HIV problem rather than a partner in its solution. While the use of condoms might not be a perfect solution for all youths, the consistent and regular use of condoms might prevent HIV and save lives.
In this way, the church leadership might make sure that sexually active youths willing to use condoms access them in order to protect themselves and others from HIV.
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Sexual strength was valued both as an indicator to sexually satisfy older women and a measure of sexual potency in relations with young women. Research has shown that young men may perceive sexual experience as a rite of passage into manhood. In our study, some young men were hardly concerned about the risks taken during unprotected sexual encounters. This type of widespread sexual stereotyping encourages pretence and should not go unchallenged Clark .
Also, young men sought multiple and concurrent partners to showcase their masculinities. However, to maintain such a sexual network, they were expected to have money to distribute to young women. Most of the informants, however, were either students or unemployed Table 1 , as are the majority of youths in Kinshasa. Understanding these contradictions is crucial in order to ascertain what young men feel regarding the construction of masculine sexual behaviours and what it means to be a man. Young men need to learn that masculinity does not depend on sexual conquest and potency, but rather on the ability to behave responsibly and respectfully towards their partners Barker, Verma, Crownover, Segundo, Fonseca, Contreras, et al.
We found that certain young women perceived sex as a commodity to trade for food. The same finding has been reported in another study where an association was found between women from poor family backgrounds and risk-taking behaviours to get money or food Weiser, Leiter, Bangsberg, Buttler, Percy-de Korte, Hlanze, et al. Ignoring down-to-earth issues such as food could undermine effective HIV prevention strategies Rollins The informants reported also that young women have many financial needs to be satisfied by multiple partners and interventions for HIV prevention have focused on females UNFPA However, our study has revealed that young men also are involved in exchanging sex for money with older women.
Thus, interventions need to be adapted to address their respective specific needs. Participants stressed that young women and men received kindness, care and luxury goods in age-disparate sex that they might miss with youths of their own age. Similarly, Masvawure stated that young women boosted their socioeconomic status through intergenerational relationships. However, in our study, young women felt bad about having sex with older men and probably thought that when they would get married, their husbands might also be having sex with young women.
In a study where age and economic asymmetries were the norm between partners, Luke reported that older men were perceived to like sex while they hate to use condom because they pay young women for sex. Consequently, intergenerational relationships resulting into unsafe sex practices could partly explain the increased HIV prevalence among young women in the country Leclerc-Madlala Our finding is consistent with the coexistence of gender-equitable and inequitable attitudes which has also been reported by Pulerwitz, Michaelis, Verma and Weiss In their study, some young men showed more gender-equitable attitudes than others because of the support they received from significant others regarding the ongoing change; this was interpreted as a key strategy to challenge the rigid masculinity norms in the society.
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Church followers who viewed themselves as agents of change to promote mutual respect and gender equality asserted, for instance, that young woman are also driven by the same feelings for sex as do young men Oriel Therefore, church followers might represent the voices of resistance that challenge traditional norms of masculinities equating sexuality with masculinities Barker In addition, church followers who chose to undergo HIV premarital test to know their HIV status and that of their partners might be considered as responsible people to be trained as peer educators to prevent HIV in their respective communities.
While Messerschmidt stated that women may cultivate hegemonic masculinities in romantic relationships, we found that young women advised their boyfriends to use condoms during sex. Otherwise sex would not take place. This is self-explanatory that young women may also help to re construct alternative masculinities. The first author has been living and working in Kinshasa as a HIV church coordinator for some years and his pre-understanding of the local context might have affected his judgements and somehow influenced the answers he received from the participants.
However, this was counteracted by having an open-mind attitude during the fieldwork and by the use of a prepared topic guide to keep the pre-understanding acknowledged and under control. Additionally, the first author informally discussed certain issues with young people to gain further clarification. The interviews were rewarding because the first author had access to overlooked churchgoing young men and women whose sexuality is a topic that is both sensitive and reluctantly discussed in church settings in cross-gender and cross-age groups.
However, care was taken not to be judgmental about young people's opinions during interviews. Moreover, the participants may have been influenced by social desirability since the first author was and is still working with churches to make them more competent regarding HIV. Some participants seemed to lack the language to address issues of sexuality. The results of our study are based on 3 specific communities out of 24 in Kinshasa, and the results may not reflect the discourse of all young churchgoers in this setting Denscombe While the findings of this study should not be generalised to all churchgoers in the DRC, they provide invaluable insights on how church-going youths construct contradictory notions of gender and sexuality in this particular context of HIV.
In the present study, we have identified five discourses and develop an image of their influence, affects and consequences on church youths. We found that young churchgoers are fully aware of the ideal sexual morality preached by their churches. However, this church teaching is not necessarily translated into expected actions. Instead, young churchgoers who are sexually active take risks by engaging in multiple relationships, which can include transactional and intergenerational sex. As a result, their sexual encounters are often unprotected, with sexual conquest being a key characteristic of masculinities for some participants.
However, a few church followers made references to alternative masculinities, particularly with regard to some elements of church teachings such as gender equality and mutual respect between young women and young men. Although the process of changing gender identity is complex, alternative masculinities might promote gender-equitable attitudes especially among young men, and may open doors to young women and men to promote their respective well-being. Author contribution : H.
Published online Jul 7. PMID: Edin g. Kerstin E. The moral rights of the named author s have been asserted. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Masculinity studies are fairly new and young churchgoers are an under-researched group in the current Congolese church context. Method Conceptual framework Given the interest to understand men and masculinity in recent years, research has found that there are multiple ways of being a man.
Recruitment of participants To be recruited to the study, participants had to be unmarried, attend church services and agree to be interviewed. Interview topic guide To explore the topic in depth and bring together the multiple views of the informants, we decided to use qualitative in-depth interviews Kvale Table 1. Basic demographics of the informants. Open in a separate window. Data collection For the interview, participants were given the freedom to choose to speak either Lingala, the vernacular language spoken in Kinshasa, or French.
Data analysis Data were analysed both manually and by using Open Code 3. Results The five main discourses that emerged from the analysis were: We are aware of the church message on sex Figure 1 ; Young men need sex; Young women need money; To use or not to use condoms and We trust in the church message. We are aware of the church message on sex All participants said that they knew and listened to their church's message on sex based on the ideal morality of forbidden premarital sex, abstinence prescribed in the Bible, sex allowed in marriage and the banning of condoms.
Young men need sex In spite of the existing ideal church-approved sexual morality that participants were aware of, some young men confirmed being sexually active and stated that sex was good and pleasurable. Similarly, they heard but disobeyed the church message on abstinence since this was perceived as an old-fashioned message, and even seen as detrimental to their health: … Laughing … they want to ruin me.
Even Catholic priests can't cope with it and not even the nuns … year-old man Many informants used metaphors for their sexual appetites such as young men are hungry, in a hurry and in need for premarital sex since their strong sexual needs would be uncontrollable. Similar issues about what they perceived as sexual activities were also stressed among some young women: … Young men are thirsty for sex and are willing to do that … for them, they say that keeping … keeping sperm, it will hurt their back ….
They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts. It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge.
Perhaps most important—for better or worse—it increasingly requires formal education credentials, which women are more prone to acquire, particularly early in adulthood. Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background, and even in those areas, women have made strong gains since the s.
Office work has been steadily adapting to women—and in turn being reshaped by them—for 30 years or more. Joel Garreau picks up on this phenomenon in his book, Edge City , which explores the rise of suburbs that are home to giant swaths of office space along with the usual houses and malls. When brawn was off the list of job requirements, women often measured up better than men.
They were smart, dutiful, and, as long as employers could make the jobs more convenient for them, more reliable. The movie Office Space was maybe the first to capture how alien and dispiriting the office park can be for men. Disgusted by their jobs and their boss, Peter and his two friends embezzle money and start sleeping through their alarm clocks. Near the top of the jobs pyramid, of course, the upward march of women stalls. Prominent female CEOs, past and present, are so rare that they count as minor celebrities, and most of us can tick off their names just from occasionally reading the business pages: Meg Whitman at eBay, Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard, Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns at Xerox, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo; the accomplishment is considered so extraordinary that Whitman and Fiorina are using it as the basis for political campaigns.
Only 3 percent of Fortune CEOs are women, and the number has never risen much above that. Even around the delicate question of working mothers, the terms of the conversation are shifting. Last year, in a story about breast-feeding, I complained about how the early years of child rearing keep women out of power positions. But the term mommy track is slowly morphing into the gender-neutral flex time , reflecting changes in the workforce. For recent college graduates of both sexes, flexible arrangements are at the top of the list of workplace demands, according to a study published last year in the Harvard Business Review.
And companies eager to attract and retain talented workers and managers are responding. What are these talents? Once it was thought that leaders should be aggressive and competitive, and that men are naturally more of both. But psychological research has complicated this picture. In lab studies that simulate negotiations, men and women are just about equally assertive and competitive, with slight variations. Men tend to assert themselves in a controlling manner, while women tend to take into account the rights of others, but both styles are equally effective, write the psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their book, Through the Labyrinth.
Over the years, researchers have sometimes exaggerated these differences and described the particular talents of women in crude gender stereotypes: women as more empathetic, as better consensus-seekers and better lateral thinkers; women as bringing a superior moral sensibility to bear on a cutthroat business world. But after the latest financial crisis, these ideas have more resonance. Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions.
The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative.
The model is not explicitly defined as feminist, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. A study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style.
It could be that women boost corporate performance, or it could be that better-performing firms have the luxury of recruiting and keeping high-potential women. But the association is clear: innovative, successful firms are the ones that promote women. If you really want to see where the world is headed, of course, looking at the current workforce can get you only so far. More than ever, college is the gateway to economic success, a necessary precondition for moving into the upper-middle class—and increasingly even the middle class.
And demographically, we can see with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women. But the implications of that gap have not yet been fully digested. In a stark reversal since the s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma. This spring, I visited a few schools around Kansas City to get a feel for the gender dynamics of higher education. I started at the downtown campus of Metropolitan Community College. Metropolitan is the kind of place where people go to learn practical job skills and keep current with the changing economy, and as in most community colleges these days, men were conspicuously absent.
One afternoon, in the basement cafeteria of a nearly windowless brick building, several women were trying to keep their eyes on their biology textbook and ignore the text messages from their babysitters. One woman, still in her medical-assistant scrubs, looked like she was about to fall asleep in the elevator between the first and fourth floors. Yet, a few years later, the tidal wave of women continues to wash through the school—they now make up about 70 percent of its students.
They come to train to be nurses and teachers—African American women, usually a few years older than traditional college students, and lately, working-class white women from the suburbs seeking a cheap way to earn a credential. As for the men? Well, little has changed. He had to hide his books from his friends, who would tease him when he studied. Then came the excuses. It makes some economic sense that women attend community colleges—and in fact, all colleges—in greater numbers than men.
But it makes sense only up to a point. The well-paid lifetime union job has been disappearing for at least 30 years. Kansas City, for example, has shifted from steel manufacturing to pharmaceuticals and information technologies. Men, it turned out, had a harder time committing to school, even when they desperately needed to retool. They tended to start out behind academically, and many felt intimidated by the schoolwork.
They reported feeling isolated and were much worse at seeking out fellow students, study groups, or counselors to help them adjust. Mothers going back to school described themselves as good role models for their children. Fathers worried that they were abrogating their responsibilities as breadwinner. The student gender gap started to feel like a crisis to some people in higher-education circles in the mids, when it began showing up not just in community and liberal-arts colleges but in the flagship public universities—the UCs and the SUNY s and the UNCs.
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Like many of those schools, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a full research university with more than 13, students, is now tipping toward 60 percent women, a level many admissions officers worry could permanently shift the atmosphere and reputation of a school. The other three student-government officers this school year were also women. Burress, a cute, short, African American year-old grad student who is getting a doctor-of-pharmacy degree, had many of the same complaints I heard from other young women. Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus.
Girls get their degrees with no drama, while guys seem always in danger of drifting away. UMKC is a working- and middle-class school—the kind of place where traditional sex roles might not be anathema. Yet as I talked to students this spring, I realized how much the basic expectations for men and women had shifted.
They would be a campus of Tracy Flicks, except that they seemed neither especially brittle nor secretly falling apart. Victoria, Michelle, and Erin are sorority sisters. After college, she will apply to grad school and look for internships. She is well aware of the career-counseling resources on campus. Among traditional college students from the highest-income families, the gender gap pretty much disappears. But the story is not so simple. Wealthier students tend to go to elite private schools, and elite private schools live by their own rules. In , a study by the economists Sandy Baum and Eban Goodstein found that among selective liberal-arts schools, being male raises the chance of college acceptance by 6.
Now the U. Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, in Ohio, let this secret out in a New York Times op-ed. Gender balance, she wrote back then, is the elephant in the room. A typical female applicant, she said, manages the process herself—lines up the interviews, sets up a campus visit, requests a visit with faculty members. Clearly, some percentage of boys are just temperamentally unsuited to college, at least at age 18 or 20, but without it, they have a harder time finding their place these days.
There were good industrial jobs, so you could have a good industrial, blue-collar career. Now those jobs are gone. Since the s, as women have flooded colleges, male enrollment has grown far more slowly. And the disparities start before college. Researchers have suggested any number of solutions. A movement is growing for more all-boys schools and classes, and for respecting the individual learning styles of boys. Some people think that boys should be able to walk around in class, or take more time on tests, or have tests and books that cater to their interests.
In their desperation to reach out to boys, some colleges have formed football teams and started engineering programs. Most of these special accommodations sound very much like the kind of affirmative action proposed for women over the years—which in itself is an alarming flip. Whether boys have changed or not, we are well past the time to start trying some experiments.
It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future. Marriages fall apart or never happen at all, and children are raised with no fathers. What would a society in which women are on top look like? We already have an inkling. This is the first time that the cohort of Americans ages 30 to 44 has more college-educated women than college-educated men, and the effects are upsetting the traditional Cleaver-family dynamics. In , women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income.
Now the typical working wife brings home This idealized family—he works, she stays home—hardly exists anymore. The terms of marriage have changed radically since And increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with a similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether.
In , 84 percent of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are. In , among American women without a high-school diploma, 43 percent were married. And yet, for all the hand-wringing over the lonely spinster, the real loser in society—the only one to have made just slight financial gains since the s—is the single man, whether poor or rich, college-educated or not. The sociologist Kathryn Edin spent five years talking with low-income mothers in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia.
Many of these neighborhoods, she found, had turned into matriarchies, with women making all the decisions and dictating what the men should and should not do. So what do they have? After staying steady for a while, the portion of American children born to unmarried parents jumped to 40 percent in the past few years. Many of their mothers are struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children, and then falling asleep in the elevator of the community college.
Still, they are in charge. Over the years, researchers have proposed different theories to explain the erosion of marriage in the lower classes: the rise of welfare, or the disappearance of work and thus of marriageable men. But Edin thinks the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are setting the terms—and setting them too high for the men around them to reach. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.
As the traditional order has been upended, signs of the profound disruption have popped up in odd places. American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. At the same time, a new kind of alpha female has appeared, stirring up anxiety and, occasionally, fear. The cougar trope started out as a joke about desperate older women. Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore have boy toys, and Aaron Johnson, the year-old star of Kick-Ass, is a proud boy toy for a woman 24 years his senior.
A character played by George Clooney is called too old to be attractive by his younger female colleague and is later rejected by an older woman whom he falls in love with after she sleeps with him—and who turns out to be married. George Clooney! If the sexiest man alive can get twice rejected and sexually played in a movie, what hope is there for anyone else?
In fact, the more women dominate, the more they behave, fittingly, like the dominant sex. Rates of violence committed by middle-aged women have skyrocketed since the s, and no one knows why. High-profile female killers have been showing up regularly in the news: Amy Bishop, the homicidal Alabama professor; Jihad Jane and her sidekick, Jihad Jamie; the latest generation of Black Widows, responsible for suicide bombings in Russia.
In her recent video Telephone , Lady Gaga, with her infallible radar for the cultural edge, rewrites Thelma and Louise as a story not about elusive female empowerment but about sheer, ruthless power. The Marlboro Man, meanwhile, master of wild beast and wild country, seems too far-fetched and preposterous even for advertising.