A new sci-fi FX on Hulu series “Y: The Last Man” proves this is indeed a man’s world — and why that’s a big problem.
An adaptation of thecomic-book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, “Y: The Last Man” depicts an apocalyptic world in which every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly and with no explanation dies. One subplot of this show is how gender inequality contributes to the chaos. The women are left to rebuild but aren’t equipped to handle the mayhem, because so many vital job fields were dominated by men.
Naturally, the song featured in the show’s trailer was James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” It’s one of the signature songs by “the Godfather of Soul” — co-written by a woman, Betty Jean Newsome, who had to sueto get credit for it.
There’s one cisgender male survivor, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer). Yorick is a man-child who relies on his parents to pay his rent because he can’t earn enough working as a self-employed escape artist. He’s not worried at all about figuring out why he was spared, yet he’s the key to the world’s future.
I realize this is a drama — fiction — but it’s also reality.
Fiction: Yorick’s mother is a high-ranking congresswoman, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), who, through the line of succession, becomes president. But governing is difficult. The women struggle to manage the power grid. Police numbers are insufficient to keep the peace.
Fact: In the United States, women represent just 16 percent of the enlisted armed forces and 19 percent of the officer corps, according to a Backgrounders report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
In 2019, only 12.8 percent of full-time law enforcement officers were female, according to an analysis by Statista.
Fiction: With so few women in political leadership roles, governments around the world are in disarray.
Fact: “Data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, and achieving gender parity in political life is far off,” according to U.N. Women, a U.N. organization that focuses on gender equality. The group says that as of Sept. 1, “there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.”
Fiction: One scene in the third episode of the series was so heartbreakingly close to reality. Brown, looking exhausted, is pleading with a mother, who is grieving for her two sons, to get a nuclear power plant back up. This accomplished nuclear engineer is literally their only hope. There isn’t anyone else.
“We need people like you,” Brown says, “people who went to work every day where they were the only woman in the room.”
Fact:Of course, there are some jobs where women dominate — health-related occupations and education — and these jobs are also critically important to the functioning of society. But women are needed in other fields, too, especially in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
When he heard I was writing about “Y,” Andrew Van Dam, a Washington Post reporter who focuses on economic data, pointed out the following statistics from the Census Bureau on the most male occupations in the country:
The workers who install and maintain power lines are 98 percent male, and the ones who operate power plants are 93 percent male, according to Census Bureau data.
Van Dam found that workers in severaloccupations were more than 99 percent men — including oil and gas roustabouts, mining-excavator operators and brick and stone masons — as of 2019, the most recent year for which Census Bureau data is available. Dozens more occupations are more than 97 percent male, including HVAC workers, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, electricians, wind turbine technicians, solar-panel installers, auto mechanics and loggers.
In addition to the Census Bureau statistics, a report earlier this year from the Pew Research Center highlights the underrepresentation of women in STEM.
Women account for 25 percent of those working in computer occupations, according to the report. Women are vastly underrepresented in the ranks of engineers and architects, at 15 percent. Representation is better in health-related STEM jobs, where women represent 38 percent of physicians and surgeons, up two percentage points from 2016. And they represent 33 percent of emergency medical technicians and paramedics, also up two percentage points from 2016.
The Pew report also pointed out that while STEM workers often earn more than others, there’s a substantial pay gap for women. In 2019, the median earnings of women in STEM occupations was $66,200, compared with men’s median earnings of $90,000.
Even when they are hired, it can be torturous for women in those jobs where they are a minority. “Women in STEM and non-STEM jobs are equally likely to say they have experienced sexual harassment at work, and both groups of women are less inclined than men to think that women are ‘usually treated fairly’ when it comes to promotions,” a 2018 Pew report found.
“Discrimination and sexual harassment are seen as more frequent, and gender is perceived as more of an impediment than an advantage to career success,” the report said.
The events of “Y” don’t seem so preposterous as the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Watching the women in this fictionalized drama struggle was infuriating — because the fact is, in the real world, women are still fighting decades of inequities.