Extra reading: Vagina and the End of Men

What to read in that rare “downtime”…

As a PhD researcher, I spend a lot of time reading. Whether it is news reports, policy documents, journal articles, academic books, it all adds up to a lot of time following words along a page or screen. While this probably is a main reason for the frighteningly rapid deterioration in my eyesight over the last few years, it can’t be helped. It’s one of the major parts of the job!

But reading is also a leisure activity. Over the years of this PhD journey I have gone through ups and downs with leisure-time reading. Sometimes I pick up a novel and hide away for three days just to finish it (which means three days without head space to think about the PhD). Sometimes I go for months and months without reading anything unrelated to my PhD, but then I begin to feel somewhat out of touch with the social conversations going on around me.

So I’ve found a new middle-ground. I now read nonfiction that is unrelated to my PhD! That way I don’t get so engrossed in the book that I have to physically take holidays to get it finished (30 minutes before bed is sufficient to get through it!), and I also don’t get the feeling that I’m totally disconnected from the world around me.

My latest nonfiction reading was Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina”. You may have noticed from some earlier posts of mine (e.g. on Street Harassment or on Women at the Top?) that I have strong feelings about equality of all sorts, but especially between men and women. It’s a tricky topic.

I had originally thought that Wolf’s book would be a bit of feminist manifesto, but I was wrong! It is in fact an easy-to-read history of the role of the vagina (or the “feminine”) in history, and how this has developed from an attitude of reverence towards it to one of shame or debasement over the centuries. It’s an interesting discussion of Western/modern attitudes to women and to sex in general and how it has become distorted over the years. (As an aside, pornography is probably one of the major examples of disrespecting women and/or the feminine. An article in the BBC magazine even asks the question: should we educate our children about pornography? More young people today are confused about the difference between pornography and reality…)

Wolf draws on plenty of emerging scientific evidence about the nerval connections between the vagina and brain to argue her point that a happy vagina = a happy, creative woman. But, it’s not a feminist call to ditch men. In fact, Wolf  does state that a healthy relationship between a man and a woman is an excellent way to achieve a healthy vagina. Conclusion? (Heterosexual) Women need men.

But don’t stop there.

I’ve now moved onto reading a book by Hanna Rosin called The End of Men and the Rise of Women, and I’ve gotten through about half of this book already. This is a fascinating book to move onto immediately after finishing Wolf’s book. Rosin’s argument focuses on the US and how the economic recession there has affected the balance of women and men in employment. As the traditional manufacturing economy has collapsed in the US, more men than women lost their jobs, and the balance is that more women are now working than men. However, this doesn’t mean that men are competing with women for jobs – no, they are rather sitting around being depressed! Her stories tell of women who have higher education, higher drive to find work, more transferable skills, but men who are still not interested in retraining in what have been seen as traditionally women’s professions. Teaching training and nursing schools still struggle to recruit male students, while these health, education and service industries are where jobs are to be found in the recession!

But that’s not all. Not only are women making more money than men, and more women are employed than men, but the women are also STILL doing the lion’s share of the housework and childcare. What are the men doing? It’s a good question. Several of the cases in Rosin’s book point out that women have decided they are better off taking care of the house and children by themselves. A man is seen by several of these women as “just another mouth to feed”.

So – do women need men, do men need women, should we just stop these sorts of conversations?

I am looking forward to Rosin following up with a new book in about fifteen years that I hope will describe how the women currently in the lower levels of the economy (albeit in greater numbers than men), rise to the top. Will our working lives look different with women in command? That still remains to be seen.

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Filed under downtime, women, Work/life balance

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