How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys
Kay S. Hymowitz
Basic Books, 2011,240 pp. ISBN 978-0-465-01842-0
Look at the lifestyles of the single 20- and 30-somethings of America. I found it unsatisfying, disturbing, and often disgusting. Personal morality is not evident. Hymowitz is a contributing editor of City Journal where she writes on American childhood, family, and culture.
"Not so long ago, average mid-twentysomethings, both male and female, had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: high school diploma, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, they hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. The limbo--I'll be calling it preadulthood--has much to recommend it. … [but] it doesn't tend to bring out the best in men." (2)
"Among preadults, women are the first sex. Women graduate from college in greater numbers than men, with higher grade point averages; more extracurricular experiences, including study abroad; and as most professors tell it, more confidence, drive, and plans for the future. They are aggressively independent; they don't need to rely on any man, that's for sure." (4)
Women are put-together, smart, and ambitious. Men are lazy, crude, and immature, like the characters Bart and Lisa Simpson. Men are not thriving in today's cultural and economic environment. (5) They are not sure what the gender scripts are, if there are any. (9)
"Globalization, improved productivity, and a digital revolution propelled a massive shift in the economy, away from manufacturing to knowledge and services--to women's great advantage." (12) "But there is a large and prominent group of men who hit their twenties and seem unsure what's expected of them." (14) With the juvenile magazines (Maxim), movies (eg. With Adam Sandler), and cable channels (Comedy Central) men seem not just youthful but, quite literally, retarded." (15)
"Between his lack of familial responsibilities, his relative affluence, and an entertainment media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig's heaven--and he often does." "Why should he grow up? No one needs him anyway." (19)
"As a mass phenomenon, a largely open-ended what-should-I-do-with-my-life question is a cultural novelty, one that has fundamentally transformed the life script for a good chunk of the American population." Among other things it takes a lot longer to grow up. A whole new lifestyle has been invented for these preadults.
Preadults are looking for something much bigger than a way of earning a living. They are looking for meaning for themselves in the shape of a career. Employers complain that younger workers expect far too much entertainment and head-patting. Career dominates future planning. Spouses and children are a ball-0and-chain on the mobility required. Work, career, and independence are th e primary sources of identity.
The new rule is "Girls rule." Today's young college-educated women dominate the social and economic scene. In college they work harder and outperform men. After graduating, they stay on the fast track. Preadult women now earn more than men. They are more likely to own real estate. They feel liberated and capable to make their own decisions on how they want to live.
"Now that technologically based mass affluence made it feasible, they also wanted power and independence, including, if they so chose, independence from husbands. And so they did choose." (66) "Descendants of girl power want it known that they are first and foremost capable, self-contained units. Career and independence required. Love, marriage, husbands, and children entirely optional." (72)
TV frequently reminds us of men's genetic stupidity, insensitivity, and general cluelessness.
Female careerism is closely linked to the growth of consumption because working women make and spend a lot of money and they can find many satisfying careers related to products women like to buy. Women are often better at the kinds of skills required by the knowledge economy.
There is a large demographic group hanging out mostly in metropolitan areas and in no hurry to change their status, single young males. Reasons for the man-child? Demographic, economic, technological, cultural, and hormonal. A lot of men blissfully free of mortgages, wives, child-care bills.
The last vestiges of bourgeois reticence in entertainment have given way. There is a whole new entertainment genre for the arrested development males, comedy for child-men. Adam Sandler is the prototype. "The child-man prides himself on his lack of pretense, his slovenly gayness, not to mention his fascination with bodily fluids and noises." (114) The lead stars of the dumb and dumber moves have a talent for crude physical comedy, gleeful juvenility, self-humiliation, and gross-out humor. Online gaming is the next big thing. "Indeed, the child-man's home sweet media home is the Internet, where no meddling censor or nervous advertiser can come between him and his desires." (118) Crudity is part of the personal. Pop culture is the oxygen they breathe. The media executives didn't produce this audience, they discovered it. As you can imagine, this young man is not known for serious self-reflection. And even if he had an impulse to invest in something that matters, he wouldn't know how. Culture tells him that not much is expected of him.
The child-man is different from his forefathers in that they knew they were going to be responsible for a family. He does not. Adult manhood has almost universally been equated with marriage and fatherhood. Men were meant to provide for and protect their wives and children. This required strength, courage, and resolve. "With a limited number of respectable women…and fairly strict rules against sex unless you put a ring on a finger, the vast majority of men--90 percent--would soon enough become husbands." (129)
Many of today's young men grew up without a father. They have also noticed the male-bashing in advertising and situation comedy. The whole culture has become a cheerleading section for girls. "The child-man, then, is the lost son of a host of economic and cultural changes: the demographic shift…, the Playboy philosophy, feminism, …our new media, and a shrugging iffiness on the subject of husbands and fathers. He has no life script, no special reason to grow up." (135) "He has grown up in a culture with no wisdom to offer about being a grown-up man…." (139)
"Financially and sexually independent, both men and women have e3scaped dating rituals, rules, and gender roles. They're free to do whatever they want…." (143) They become familiar with disposable relationships. (178)
[The author has almost nothing to say about morality. And she misses or ignores the obvious fact that traditional morality limits sex to marriage - which very quickly turns many boys into mostly responsible married men. Dlm]