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An admittedly weird vision struck me yesterday. But it’s lingered through to this morning, so consider :

The US recession has opened up the biggest gap between male and female unemployment rates since records began in 1948, as men bear the brunt of the economy’s contraction.

[ . . . ] This is a dramatic reversal of the trend over the past few years, where the rates of male and female unemployment barely differed, at about 5 per cent. It also means that women could soon overtake men as the majority of the US labour force.

“It’s almost like a snow globe, the economy’s been turned over and we’re watching it settle in different ways,” said Gary Field, founder of Career Gear, a non-profit organisation that helps low-income men apply for jobs. He has seen referrals rise 35 per cent.

Men have been disproportionately hurt because they dominate those industries that have been crushed: nine in every 10 construction workers are male, as are seven in every 10 manufacturing workers. These two sectors alone have lost almost 2.5m jobs. Women, in contrast, tend to hold more cyclically stable jobs and make up 75 per cent of the most insulated sectors of all: education and healthcare.

Emanating from this news, the weird vision tossed up two figures — one a recently fired average man, the other an average woman who recently survived a round of job cuts. Call them Chuck and Charli. Chuck had a very manly job in construction. He has very characteristically manly spending habits — a few big-ticket items every once in a while (new oversize tires for his truck, a new plasma-screen TV). And he has characteristically manly tastes (white t-shirts, Wrangler jeans, one or two suits). When he goes out, he drinks High Life, because he likes the taste. But he usually stays in, to watch the game with a few friends or to play foosball. Now that he’s unemployed, he figured that finding a girlfriend would be pretty far from his list of priorities. Even last year, when he was thinking about maybe looking for a mate, he felt unsure about exactly what he was supposed to do to find one. He was cajoled by his younger cousin into putting up a profile on eHarmony. But he ignored the thing ever since.

Until now. Up late one night on the internet, he discovered that someone had found him to be of interest. Chuck wasn’t sure about Charli, however. She was cute enough — for a girl older than he was — and his cousin assured him that eHarmony matches were statistically certain to be the best for you. She simply had a different lifestyle. One with a lot more money flowing in and out. She sold pharmaceuticals to local hospitals and doctors. For this job she needed five or six different suits, plus twice that number of expensive-looking heels. She got her hair trimmed and retouched every two weeks. She had two dogs, both of whom had a sitter when she was out of town on business, which was about once a month. She had family, but they were scattered across the country. (Her mom, now single, lived in Hawaii.) She loved going out to eat — like Chuck, she didn’t really cook (never learned), but unlike him she could hardly stand the idea of mac and cheese or cup ‘o noodles for dinner. And for every beer Chuck drained, Charli seemed to put away two pomegranate cosmos.

After a few dates, prompted by the huge tabs she had racked up and he had insisted on at least splitting, Chuck finally broke down and admitted that he had recently been fired. Charli was unfazed and hardly seemed to care — indeed, that night, back at her place, she got more assertive than ever. And wow, was her place ever interior-decorated. There was a piece of furniture he had never even heard of, some kind of high stool, at the foot of the bed, that Charli draped all her clothes on. Chuck felt like he was at a hotel. It was much more awkward than he expected to reveal that he had a condom on hand: Charli laughed that she’d been on birth control for fifteen years. In the bathroom, taking a moment to collect himself while Charli lit a dozen aromatherapy candles in the bedroom, Chuck could hardly find a square inch of bare countertop. Fragrances, cremes, products, serums, pregnancy kits (that was odd), pills, and lotions crowded around the sink in a hodgepodge. He resisted the urge to open the medicine cabinet. Chuck walked back into the bedroom like he was walking into a heavy rainstorm, and that’s when the photo of the cute little kid on the nightstand caught his eye. “Oh, Jaden!” Charli laughed. “Don’t worry — I adopted. He’s from eastern Ruritania. OMG — if you feel bad about losing your job, just read about his family. Jaden’s bio’s in the top drawer. I mean, his birth name is like Xerxes McPlatypus or something, but he loves his new name. He’s gotta fit in, you know? But come on. First things first . . . ”

It was what Chuck and his friends referred to as a no-go situation. He apologized, put on his shoes, and went home.

* * *

Such was my vision. Somehow there’s no shock in the news that men are disproportionately impacted by this recession depression crisis downturn contraction. Conceptually speaking, women are simply bigger, better drivers of the contemporary economy. Cosmetics, confections, children, and birth control are big business. Stuff for and about guys? Not so much. Not when they’re not supporting families. Conceptually speaking, men are more expendable consumers than women. It would appear that they tend to be more expendable producers now too. Even without assigning praise or blame for this state of affairs — and my little vignette, though something of a stacked deck, is simply an updated intensification of the themes to be found in the latest string of schlub/princess movies a la Knocked Up — this state of affairs seems worth reflecting upon. And all this without a peep about emotional capitalism, and all the consumption and production we’re doing in the therapy, retreat , and HR business.

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