an editorial by “The Answer Man”, SF writer and futurist Thaddeus Howze
The recent Hulu streaming series, Y, the Last Man showcases a work world dominated by men. The series speculates on an infection which kills anything with a Y chromosome and with the loss of all men, the world begins to slowly collapses as the intellectual capital of the world is unfortunately (and intentionally) embodied solely by men.
I had no intention of watching Y, the Last Man for a variety of reasons which I am not in the mood to go into, but if you know me, you already know some of those reasons. Let’s just say there were things about the comic series, which I don’t want to reveal but left me frustrated with comic media, again.
The comic series upon which this streaming event is based on won three Eisner Awards (the comic equivalent of an Oscar). The series postulated the complete and total demise of the Human species as all male organisms including embryo and sperm inexplicably die.
Like Marvel’s Avengers Endgame where 50% of humanity disappears, there is a catastrophic loss of life as men died piloting planes, driving cars, fighting wars, and any of a hundred other dangerous careers, with the dystopian end result being the end of all life on Earth, since sexual dimorphism isn’t limited to humanity.
But one of the reasons I had considered watching it was to see if they would deal with the issue of insufficient women in any number of careers in the world where men, due to inequities in society, make upwards of 90 of all the people in that field.
Y, the Last Man was originally a comic series written by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra for Vertigo Comics back in 2002 until 2008. The series premise is the world’s men have all died of an unknown pathogen leaving every male on the planet dead, except for a single ne’er-do-well Yorick, a down on his luck magician and his pet monkey, Ampersand, as the sole Y chromosome bearers on Earth.
While the demise of the male half of the species was a problem of considerable import, the real challenge comes when the loss of this intellectual capital places the whole of the remaining members of society in deadly peril. The world suddenly became dependent upon a social phenomenon we are currently in denial about:
The Only Woman In The Room.
Every industry suffers from this except teaching, nursing, hospitality and childcare. Women are over-represented in these industries. With only one woman being in the room in the bulk of the world’s most complex jobs, this paucity of knowledge leave society struggling to keep the lights on.
Remember that in the United States, women make up fifty percent of the population but are disproportionately underemployed in a host of fields in the United States.
Here are just a few examples:
• Nuclear energy: 20% of the workers are women.
• Nuclear engineers: 14% are women.
• Police Officers: 12% are women.
• Military Personnel: 17.9% are women.
• Military Officers: Ratio is almost four men to one woman.
• Power Infrastructure Workers: 2% are women.
• Power Plant Workers: 7% are women.
• Construction Workers: Approximately only 3% are women.
It is estimated workers in several occupations were more than 99 percent men — including oil and gas roustabouts, mining-excavator operators and brick and stone masons — as of 2019. 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.
While I don’t suspect a black swan event like the one destroying all men in Y to be a real possibility, the very question it poses is worthy of real consideration — especially in the light of our current pandemic which has cost the United States nearly seven trillion dollars to stabilize the economy after the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. Even this is only a fraction as devastating as the Y pandemic appeared to be.
What kind of economic costs would the death of all men on Earth raise and how long before the world could being to recover?
More importantly, how do we start spreading the intellectual capacity, how do we start putting women in equal numbers in every career field in the United States? Why are there socialized inequities in women’s pay, work where women are forced to work harder, get paid less, and suffer from social stigmas and harassment on the job?
I don’t expect Y, the Last Man to answer any of these questions, but if it forces people to begin to consider them, then it will be worth the effort of converting this comic series into a television series by FX.
Y, the Last Man is being shown on Hulu and features, Diane Lane as Senator Jennifer Brown, Yorick’s mom who is a beleaguered Congressional Representative, Ben Schnetzer as Yorick Brown, unfortunate survivor, Quincy Kirkwood as Mackenzie Brady, Rona-Lee Shim’on as Alter Tse’elon, the new chief of the general staff of Israel, and Ashley Romans as Agent 355, an operative of Culper Ring who is hired as a bodyguard for Yorick by his mother.
The series writing credits include the original writers Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, working with Eliza Clark, Olivia Purnell, Tian Jun Gu and Donneta Lavinia Greys. The series directors include, Destiny Ekaragha, Louise Friedburg and Daisy Von Scherler.
Despite the fact I started this article saying I refuse to watch this series, having read the comic I will probably watch it, if for no other reason to see if they managed to capture the comic’s dark and sinister tone, as well as the hope that the coronavirus has revealed how we need to start taking the intellectual capital of our nation as a serious resource, worthy of being protected and shared equally with women.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.