That is what Kay Hymowitz wants to know in her latest at WSJ. Her argument, which appears to be based largely on Judd Apatow movies and a (good) book about one woman’s dating life, is that the increasing success of women has let men off the hook when it comes to responsibility of any kind. She doesn’t go as far as to blame women explicitly, but Hymowitz is a well-known conservative writer whose work I’ve followed for some time — she’s particularly talented at not actually blaming women or people of color or whoever else for society’s ills, while still making an argument that requires that conclusion (see, for example, her piece on “the Negro problem” and how black mothers are the worst). So I’m not sure I totally trust her to address this issue in good faith.
And really, she doesn’t seem to know what she’s talking about. Living and dating in New York, I’ve certainly come across a few man-children who don’t seem to have any goals or interests beyond video games and beer (though none with Star Wars posters in their bedrooms). I’ve also come across girl-women whose parents pay their credit card bills and who are looking for a nice man to marry them so they can live out their princess fantasies. But those people, men and women, have been few and far between. Maybe I’m hanging out at the wrong bars, but far more common is the twenty- or thirty-something dude (or lady) who has a wide variety of interests, a job he’s ok with but an eye for something better, a wide social network and few external pressures to settle for less than what he really wants, in love or family or career. He might also watch Comedy Central and enjoy a good dick joke and a beer every now and again. And you know, that describes me too. It’s actually pretty great. Dick jokes are funny. Good beer tastes good. I’m also a lawyer and a writer and I’m pretty self-sufficient and in no hurry to achieve any other traditional markers of “adulthood,” insofar as those markers are a husband and babies and a mortgage.
Taking time to come into yourself, and to figure out what you really want, isn’t “extended adolescence.” It’s an intelligent and fair reaction to a new economy and new gender models. For the most part, young people in big cities no longer get their first job at 21 and move up the company ranks until they retire. We’re more mobile, less loyal to a particular employer, and more focused on finding a path that suits us — not one that we take because of lack of other options. We also don’t have the same pressure to get settle down and get married at 25 — and without that external pressure, a lot of us are choosing to delay or even forgo marriage entirely (which should tell you something about the way our culture has constructed marriage, not about our maturity). Those of us who do marry later have stronger marriages — marriages that are reportedly happier and longer-lasting.
Also? I’m not sure if Hymowitz is aware of our country’s current economic condition, but a lot of people are unemployed. And a lot of people (I would venture to guess especially men-people) don’t want to get married without the financial security that a job brings. So if dudes are living in multi-resident proto-frat-houses playing video games all weekend instead of taking a lady out for cocktails, maybe it’s at least in part because jobs are hard to come by and playing video games is free.
Of course, there are no doubt man-children across the country who are just lazy, and who aren’t trying to do much of anything despite the opportunities they have. Maybe there are even more men than women who fit into that category — I certainly know more than a few men who expect good things to come to them simply for existing. But to the extent that it is happening, is it new? And is it really the fault of female success, or is it because of life-long coddling of certain men?
Hymowitz voices concern for women because there are no good men and we’re all apparently deciding to turkey-baster ourselves into motherhood. Our decision to go to school and get jobs have “allowed” men to languish as perpetual 14-year-olds, she says, because no one needs them to be responsible and head households. So, you see, women being responsible and smart leads to men being immature pigs.
Thankfully, most of us don’t actually live the plotline of Knocked Up, and we can recognize that men (and women) delaying marriage until they’re in a position where they feel ready and until they meet someone they actually want to marry is a sign of maturity, and is a privilege that more of us should have. Hymowitz isn’t actually able to make the point that any of these changing social norms yield bad results — all she can do is point to the fact that fewer 25-year-olds are married today than were married in the 1970s. Which I think is probably a good thing? Of course there are people who, at 25, are both mature enough to negotiate a life-long commitment and lucky enough to find the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with (and are emotionally competent enough to know the difference between “a person I love” and “a person I can be with forever”), but I was not there at 25. I’m not there at 27. That’s not a moral failing; it’s a realistic assessment, and a recognition that, for me and many people in my demographic, marriage isn’t about settling. It’s not about hitting a certain age and deciding that It’s Time. Of course, that’s far from universal — I’d wager that more people settle into marriage because It’s Time than not — but for some number of people, it’s a good model. And even if people are going to get married because It’s Time, isn’t it better to set that Time back a little bit?
I also don’t know many people who want to get married before they’re gainfully employed, and that takes longer these days. More people generally — not just more women — are going to college. One’s first job (or one’s second or third or fourth job) is very rarely one’s life-long career. People without higher education face new hurdles now that manufacturing jobs are drying up and well-paying blue-collar work is increasingly difficult to find. That’s a very different economy from the one my grandparents and parents faced. Toss an economic recession into the mix and it’s not hard to see why people aren’t chomping at the bit to make life-long financial commitments to another person when they can barely support themselves — especially in a culture where conservative views on marriage demand that the man is the breadwinner, and that he can support a wife and children.
At the end of things, I’m not sure what Hymowitz’s point is. People aren’t getting married early enough, and that, in conjunction with Judd Apatow, is proof of men’s immaturity? Which is a bad thing because it means that they aren’t getting married early enough, even though everyone involved appears to be perfectly fine?
Eh, not buying it. Hymowitz is a social conservative who thinks that the best model, for everyone always, is early heterosexual marriage and then babies. She has no problem with teen pregnancy, as long as teens are married (and white). She favors marriage, but only “traditional” marriages that cast the husband as the financial center of the family — a system that is increasingly untenable. She’s not particularly interested in helping women or men; she’s interested in holding up a particular social structure.
Why? No idea. It’s an easy position to take? It doesn’t require a lot of thought? Perhaps it pays well, so that she won’t need to be dependent on an immature, emasculated man? Mystery.
- Wait, I thought feminists were supposed to hate men by Jill February 3, 2008
- Proving Dorothy Parker Wrong by Jill October 19, 2006
- File Under “Feminism is Good for Families” by Jill February 9, 2009
- Dear Yuppie Elementary School, by Lauren August 5, 2006
- The Plight of the Successful Woman by Jill November 30, 2010