Gender Inequality, ‘The Richer Sex,’ and Science Fiction

I tend to be suspicious of studies or articles that proclaim the end of men, or of the gender gap—after all, the hecession turned into the hecovery, and sexism looks relatively entrenched to me. But I’m kind of intrigued by Liza Mundy’s The Richer Sex. That book notes that 40 percent of married women now outearn their husbands, and starts thinking about how our sense of masculinity might evolve if men and women switched their roles.

There’s already a fair bit of pop culture that explores the lives of stay-at-home dads, of which the best, I think, is Up All Night. But a lot of those depictions are still rooted in the idea that fathers taking on primary responsibility for their children or women supporting their husbands and families as the sole breadwinner is a strange and new thing. And in these worlds, what we understand to be masculine and feminine is pretty much the same thing, with a dose of daddy grooming rituals to keep things hot at home.

This goes hand in hand with our conversation from a couple of weeks ago about world-building. But I’d love to see someone take a book like The Richer Sex and use that as a basis for thinking about a science fictional world. We’ve had some good science fiction, like The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men that’s come out of a rethinking of the value of women’s fertility: when it goes up, women tend to be in even more danger of finding themselves under men’s control. But I wonder if we can imagine a future where women are more economically powerful men that is culturally different but not inherently antagonistic. What does masculinity look like when it’s divorced from the exercise of power? And what does femininity mean when it’s divorced from domesticity. I’d imagine different in the short-term and long-term, but that’s a thought experiment worth doing.