Reihan Salam has an interesting article in Foreign Policy titled The Death of Macho. “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.”
I’m not actually sure what Reihan means when he says “macho.” He refers to both “aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power” and “mostly male-dominated, industries [of the housing bubble], such as real estate, cement production, truck transport, and architecture.” So is macho simply (a) wherever men happen to be in charge? or (b) institutions that display male characteristics of overt aggression, broadly defined? If so, how are we defining aggressive?
The aggression part is important because Reihan assumes a common macho culture to both the trading floor and the union hall, to the symbolic cultural worker and to someone in jail. The habitus of masculinity that is constructed in each of these cases is quite varied, even moreso when it comes to how people push back against the constructions. I think Reihan wants to work at a broad biological level, but I would assume that the 21st century, the century of algorithms, computerized logic, the non-presence of the internets, and the ice-cold economic rationality – the century of the google employee – is double macho, in terms of strictly stereotypically male behavior, than a group of public works projects. Will the future be even more macho?
I don’t mean to sound like I’m nit-picking, but setting up those terms is important for the next question Reihan is interested in, adaptation. Are men being asked to share power within already-existing institutions, say at a top firm where there will be more women law partners? Or are they losing substantial access in-and-of-itself, and women are better positions for what comes next, as when the union closes but nurses are very much in demand? Is his implication that women have some sort of biological advantage in the 21st century, say due to cognitive structures or a lack of testosterone? Since this is all being projected against a background of industrial decline and a rise of “knowledge work” in the First World, you may see women being better off strictly simply because men are being made worse off in some cases. Reihan I think is working under a frame worker of convergence between men and women in the labor force, but there’s an underlying divergence in the labor pool itself; whether or not gender norms as a catalyst or reflection of these changes I am not sure.
How much women will actually transform the institutions they gain access to, or how much they’ll be absorbed into the “macho” culture? Carly Fiorina was a notable female CEO of H-P, and the board had to give her $20m in a golden parachute to leave the company after running it into the ground. She also started the series of investigations that continued under her successor (also female) where phone companies were lied to and computers were hacked to see who was leaking information to the press. (Carly was a likely choice to be Treasury Secretary under McCain). Rent-seeking and bullying. Is this less macho? Is it extra-macho, because it shows how invulnerable the ideology of the New Capitalism is to the chromosomes of the people at the helm?
There’s a lot of talk about a study that showed, under self-selected home investment portfolio managers, women traded less frequently than men and thus had more patience and less-risk seeking. On a trading floor, the general rule is if a women is trading there (and there are a few here or there) they are double-badass, because they’ve been able to take the heat. Reihan is worried about the cultural distress, but part of that in his argument (I think!) is predicted on genuine social transformation of the institutions that are going to assimilate many women. But this assumes what needs to be proven.
Anyway, exciting times to be alive!