Wonder Woman got a makeover, but she's still behind the curves. Her designers seem not to realize that for decades women have been in the ascendancy in the marketplace, and it's male action heroes who require a makeover, literally and figuratively. Exceptions still rule the imaginations of children, but in the world which most grown-ups inhabit, the male sex seems to need a Wonder Man to idealize possibilities.
Or to put it bluntly, woman is the new man.
For the first time, women make up the majority of the work force. Women dominate the numbers in undergraduate education and in professional schools. Three women to every two men will earn a B.A. this year. More women than men are studying to become doctors and lawyers. More women than men are managers. Women who were furious when a talking Barbie said, "Math is hard," now have the chance to disprove that. Women now make up 54 percent of the accountants and they're running about even in banking and insurance jobs.
Women are accelerating their rise in politics, too, though so far there's no proof that they'll be different from their male counterparts in effectiveness even though conventional biological wisdom suggests they bring a different way of looking at legislation as well as life. The female speaker of the house hasn't balanced the budget (and shows little interest in doing so), but traditionally "soft," feminine qualities of empathy and cooperation are in demand in the marketplace. The familiar aggressive male approaches characterized in the drama "Mad Men," about cut-throat ad men in the 1950s, are out. Hierarchical structures that governed positions of leadership a half century ago are rapidly being replaced by horizontal models. The hard edges of the table, with a CEO at the head, have been sanded and rounded for oval-shaped seminars.
"Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer," writes Hanna Rosin in an essay entitled "The End of Men" in Atlantic magazine. "Women have everything else - nursing home health assistance, child care, food preparation." Obviously these are traditional women's domains, but what's at work here is that women are now getting paid for work for which there is an increasing demand in a service economy. The nanny, in fact, can demand a high salary as her specialty becomes professionalized, and more upper-middle class women seek educated women to be the substitute mommy as they leave the home to enter the work force.
Women haven't made breakthroughs in science like their male counterparts, but it's not politically correct (or socially acceptable) for men to say out loud what they think of distaff abilities in the lab. When Larry Summers as president of Harvard did that, he had to give up the academic life in Cambridge for a political one in Washington. (Not necessarily a bad trade.) Although chauvinist attitudes remain, male scientists are becoming more supportive of women. "They've come around," cellular biologist Elaine Fuchs tells the New York Times. Scientists, like other male professionals, are witnessing changing times and learning how to take advantage of female wallet power. (Who do you think is buying those expensive designer pocketbooks?)
Increasing numbers of wives earn more than their husbands. Automobile salesman who used to ignore women in the showroom now cater to the ladies, consulting their wishes not only on color and comfort but horsepower and miles per gallon. Automobile ads, however, are still aimed at men. The much-remarked on Super Bowl commercial for the Dodge Charger challenged the dominatrix-dominated, macho-challenged, pectoral-deficient males, who in the female view need an aggressive car to rev up their own motors. This car was described in capital letters: "MAN'S LAST STAND."
Fashion, always quick to reflect a change in power relations between the sexes, shows costumes for men who suffer from premature emasculation. In last week's Paris shows for spring, male models walked down the runway showing off skinny legs in high waist shorts, with a feminine dickey peeking out from the neckline of their sweaters. Especially eye-catching were shorts that looked like skirts with a flap of material inserted between the legs.
Nobody expects a man to wear such things, but lurking beneath frivolous skirmishes in the war between the sexes are the children who suffer because they are raised without fathers and have no masculine model. Increasing numbers of unmarried women prefer sperm from the deep freeze rather than the warm-blooded male in the bed. With men in such apparent retreat, you wonder why women still plot, scheme and sometimes play dirty just to get one. Even Wonder Woman hasn't fixed that.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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