Reading a book with the title Are Men Obsolete? with Camille Paglia as one of the authors, I was prepared for a weighty, academic, and complicated analysis of gender politics: the kind of read that you get through in order to learn something new and then show off to your friends of how up-to-date you are on current social issues.
To my surprise, the book was neither weighty nor complicated, and while there was some academic analysis, it was also witty, entertaining and thought provoking. The book is the result of the 2013 “Munk debate on gender”, which managed to get Camille Paglia, Caitlin Moran, Hanna Rosin and Maureen Dowd – all writers, critics and commentators on gender politics – in one room to argue the pros and cons of the very contentious question “Are men obsolete?”
The book features an introduction and interviews with the four debaters – conducted by Rudyard Griffiths, a Canadian writer and TV broadcaster – and the debate, as well as post-debate commentaries. The debate itself allocated six minutes each for an opening statement (Rosin and Dowd being for the notion that men are obsolete, and Paglia and Moran against) and then launched into the debate across the teams.
The idea that men could be obsolete is put forward by Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, who argues that as the global economy is changing women are adjusting to these changes rapidly, while men have remained less flexible and are ending up the losers in the multitudes of economic and social transformations across the globe. She argues that “it’s the end of men because men are failing in the workplace…It’s the end of men because men are failing in schools and women are succeeding…It’s the end of men because they have lost their monopoly on violence and aggression.”
Likewise arguing for the notion that men are obsolete, Maureen Dowd, author of Are Men Necessary?, states that “politically, biologically and chromosomally, men have basically stopped evolving.” Dowd raises the point that compared to the X chromosome, the Y has been literally “shrinking”, and that evolutionary biologists are predicting that “in the next 100,000 to 10 million years men could disappear, taking video games, Game of Thrones on continuous loop, and cold pizza in the morning with them.”
Countering the idea that men are obsolete, author and academic Camille Paglia – notorious for her “anti-feminist” feminist views – also uses biology to make the point that “the modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network is a male epic, in which women have a productive role.” Paglia denounces the “peevish, grudging rancour against men [which] has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second – and third-wave feminism.”
Caitlin Moran, author of How To Be A Woman, joins Paglia in the argument that men are in no way obsolete, and that to pitch “men versus women” is an unconstructive way of looking at social problems. “We need to phrase everything in terms of common humanity – we’re in it together.” Moran observes that she would personally aspire to the level of men’s supposed obsolescence, seeing they hold ninety-nine percent of the world’s wealth, hold sixty-six of the seventy two spots on Forbes’s “Most Powerful People in the World” list, and have been “every single pope, American president, and secretary-general of the UN.”
What I liked about this book is the representation of a good mix of viewpoints and personalities, and that I could find bits of truth in all of the debaters’ takes on the issue. And so, for me, the jury is still out on whether men are, in fact, obsolete. Read for yourself and decide. What is for sure is that if men are obsolete then women better start cloning themselves as, otherwise, we will become busier than ever before. As Caitlin Moran states “Think about it. Do women gain anything from men becoming obsolete? Because if that happens then we will be doing everything! And I don’t know about you, but I’m quite knackered.”