The XX Factor

The Havoc Wreaking He-cession

In Foreign Policy , Reihan Salam is predicting that male dominance will be a casualty of the economic downturn (or the he-cession, as he calls it, since more men than women are being laid off). He writes:

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.

What will follow is not a femitopia, but rather “surly, lonely, and hard-drinking men, who feel as though they have been rendered historically obsolete,” and whose “massive psychic trauma will spread like an inkblot.” It’s possible that some of these men will adapt, by embracing what an expert Reihan quotes calls “consumption marriage.” This is an even worse name than companionate marriage for about the same thing: marriages in which both spouses make marketplace contributions, ie work, and also share domestic responsibilities, presumably. Reihan predicts that men in the West will tend to adapt along those lines, while men in the East resist-creating a new fault line between societies (or rather, reinforcing an existing one). Reihan also acknowledges that women still bear more than their share of the burden of poverty, lack of benefits, and unemployment. And here’s his closing, sweeping thesis:

As women start to gain more of the social, economic, and political power they have long been denied, it will be nothing less than a full-scale revolution the likes of which human civilization has never experienced.

This is not to say that women and men will fight each other across armed barricades. The conflict will take a subtler form, and the main battlefield will be hearts and minds. But make no mistake: The axis of global conflict in this century will not be warring ideologies, or competing geopolitics, or clashing civilizations. It won’t be race or ethnicity. It will be gender. We have no precedent for a world after the death of macho. But we can expect the transition to be wrenching, uneven, and possibly very violent.

This is the kind of deliberately provacative argument that we’re all trained to poke holes in. But at the moment, I’m still digesting. Could the recession really topple traditional sex roles to anything like this degree? My own reporting, all U.S. based, has made me skeptical. In the past , periods of unemployment have produced a lot of men who sit around the house rather than chip in with the dishes and the kids. On the other hand , there’s some suggestion, or at least hope, that this downturn could be different in that sense. But could the tradeoff for a more egalitarian West really be a more dangerous East teeming with surly ex-macho predators? Thoughts?

Photograph of Japanese men protesting automaker layoffs by Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images.