In 2009, a new word entered the lexicon: mancession. That the coinage was too precious by half only made it more apt. As is now well documented, men lost 71 percent of the jobs that disappeared between 2007 and the recession’s official end in June 2009, even as the outlook was sunnier in pink-collar jobs like nursing and teaching, and women for the first time made up more than 50 percent of the workforce. But even those guys still employed were confronting the broader feminization of society, apparently down to and including the cuteness quotient of our vocabulary.
Add to that mix the higher college-attendance rates for women, and throw in stories about women ascending to positions of power and “cleaning house” of their hapless male predecessors, and the pump was primed for the splashy think-pieces and books that followed, from Reihan Salam declaring “The Death of Macho” in Foreign Policy to Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic feature turned upcoming Riverhead tome, The End of Men, to Dan Abrams’s vigorously subtitled Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge-Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.
But then the narrative took an abrupt turn: Men returned from the abyss. Guys seem to have begun their comeback, in fact, just as the idea of a mancession took hold. Somewhere between 2009 and 2010—smack between the publication of Salam’s and Rosin’s essays—the numbers of unemployed men and women in American became, once again, roughly equal. Since ’09, when the economy began its official bounce-back, American men have grabbed 768,000 jobs, while women have lost a total of 218,000, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
And though women still have a lower overall rate of unemployment—8.5 percent compared with 9.5 percent—there are signs that men are finding ways around the employment market’s structural changes. Those pink-collar jobs? Whether because men are applying for positions they would not have considered before, or because of some ad-hoc affirmative action on behalf of guys who just can’t catch a break, or some other factor, such jobs are now going to men. The Pew report shows that retail, education, and health services all hired more men than women during the past few years.
And yet the idea of men as society’s new victims has become a tough one to shake. (This is too bad: He-covery, the blogs’ coinage of choice for the male comeback, is kind of fun to say.) And even as the employment trends for guys have improved, the deeper fears they brought to the surface keep bobbing along. You will see them this fall across your TV dial as networks join publishers in exploring the worry that it is now a woman’s world: How to Be a Gentleman, Last Man Standing, and Man Up are all new sitcoms that feature men relearning how to be men in an era of fast-evolving gender roles. That is a lesser concern than not having a job, of course. But it is proving a challenge all the same.