Single young males: A defense
By Bernard Chapin
I've been a fan of City Journal since my interest in Harry Stein led me to the website back in 2000. The quarterly's masthead features the names of numerous esteemed and intelligent social commentators. Looking back over the last eight years I can honestly say that there has not been one essay they've published that was not worthwhile. Kay Hymowitz's recent endeavor, "Child-Man in the Promised Land: Today's single young men hang out in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood," is no exception to this rule—if only due to the way that responding to it sharpens the mind.
As an overview, I'll first mention that "Child-Man in the Promised Land" is a critique of single young males (SYM's) within our culture. There is nothing wrong with that and I only mention it as a means to illustrate that critiquing the behaviors of one sex does not, in itself, suggest that an author hates that sex or has designs "to bash" them. There is no pathology to be found in critical analysis, but there is much to be found in the practice of showering isms—such as misogynist, sexist or misandrist—upon those who document the, occasionally unflattering, characteristics of the opposite sex. Just as there is nothing misandric about highlighting male deficiencies there is nothing misogynistic about outlining the flaws of women [assuming both sets of observations are true]. All are human and none are gods. Recall the words of Kant, "From the crooked timber of humanity nothing straight can be made."
I thank Ms. Hymowitz specifically for calling to our attention the booming fascination with video games on the part of SYM's. I have not been a member of that particular marketing niche (18 to 34) since 2004 but I have always regarding gaming as a habit of the young. I can see here though that my assumption was incorrect. One of the statistics was particularly discombobulating: "according to Nielsen Media, almost half—48.2 percent—of American males in that age bracket had used a console during the last quarter of 2006, and did so, on average, two hours and 43 minutes per day." While I can safely say that none of my friends or associates is enmeshed in Nintendo-mania, there's no question that three hours a day chasing Sonic the Hedgehog around does not make for a productive life.
I was less enthusiastic about Ms. Hymowitz's other conclusions. Her definition of adulthood I found tenuous. The idea that owning a home is integral to the maturation process is accurate [although perhaps unwise at the present time], but I have not seen any data suggesting that a larger percentage of young homeowners are women rather than men. It seems rather unlikely even within the parameters of a world the author dubs the "New Girl Order."
With marriage, termed another aspect of adulthood, I believe Ms. Hymowitz's propositions are misguided. This may be due to her making the mistake of analyzing men in isolation. This is a precarious method by which to reach a conclusion regarding the sexes. Males and females are symbiotic and their behaviors have a direct effect on one another. She states:
This data is highly believable. Yet, for what reason do fewer men wish to get married nowadays? Ms. Hymowitz's answer, immaturity, is spurious. Relying on group pathology is not legitimate. Indeed, these young fellows appear to be perfectly happy and fulfilled. The author errs here by failing to take into account the changed nature of the modern woman.
Let us contemplate the essence of this "New Girl Order." Yes, the phenomenon is new, certainly it is female, but unquestionably it is disordered. The transcendence of women is nothing I will deny, however. In fact, I believe that America is a land imbued with female privilege. Affirmative action promises them the best jobs, placement at the best schools, and ensures that, should they be incompetent for the positions they are granted, it may not be held against them as firing them is not easy. The rise in the size of the government promises more and more competition-free jobs. In these settings, efficiency and productivity are not requirements; oftentimes, such traits will even be frowned upon. Should the vagaries of life become too apparent then the notion of "discrimination" will sooth them and become a purifier for any personal inadequacies they may possess.
The system will continue to be termed "anti-woman" even when that same system is led by a female president which may transpire in less than a year's time [no doubt, in February of 2009, we will hear claims that the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House are just "figureheads" and "tokens" within the larger patriarchy]. The end result of the transformation wherein women reign supreme is the creation of individuals who are empowered, less feminine, and highly unconcerned about the way males perceive them. In light of this eventuality, why would any men want to marry them? Alas, this is a question Ms. Hymowitz does not pose.
Perhaps the "Odyssey Years" are not an odyssey at all but an end in themselves. Is a permanent "new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance" preferable to being an indentured servant to a headmistress of the New Girl Order? To ask the question is to answer it. The author states that "Women complain about the ‘Peter Pan syndrome'—the phrase has been around since the early 1980s but it is resurgent—the ‘Mr. Not Readys,' and the ‘Mr. Maybes.'" Given the nature of the present crisis how could it be any other way? Submission is not a state most of us wish to enter.
Ms. Hymowitz equates becoming a husband and a father with growing up but this is no longer the case. Government has taken sides in regards to the sexes and it has summarily abandoned the sex that urinates from the standing position. With its abuse of males in divorce and custody court [for example, consider a legal doctrine like "equitable paternity" for a moment] the Leviathan has effectively turned marriage into a juridical charnel house. It is the immature, as opposed to the mature, who fail to take public affairs into account before saying "I do." Avoiding the manage et trios which is the union of man, woman, and law is advisable and indisputably a decision made by a sober mind.
That "marriage and children" used to "turn boys into men" is granted, but I'd argue that it does no such thing today. Becoming a juridical offering, morphing into an ATM which dispenses "empowerment" for decades, and being held up as a neutered display that embodies the victory of our social engineers over biology are not outcomes in keeping with manhood. The situation illustrates the way in which boys are turned into serfs.
I do not know whether Tucker Max was right about female insecurity being "a gift that keeps on giving," but I do know that male ignorance about the social injustice of marriage in our new millennium is a gift upon which millions of women rely.
Ms. Hymowitz's discussion of Judd Apatow's Knocked Up seems to me a poor choice. The depiction of the marriage between the characters of Pete and Debbie in the movie is nothing but horrific. Pete made a dreadful decision by marrying her and when we meet him he is chained to a woman who regards him with the contempt most of us reserve for con artists who prey on the elderly. Pete is criticized at every turn. He is a sensitive father, a good provider, and puts up with a maelstrom of abuse, but none of these traits placate Debbie's need for domination.
Ms. Hymowitz appears oblivious to this dynamic. Indeed, she even has the audacity to blame Pete saying that he "…frequently disappears to play fantasy baseball, get high in Las Vegas, or just go to the movies on his own, chronically wields irony to distance himself from his family." What a strange depiction of this film's events. Pete went to Las Vegas after his wife told him to get lost. His fantasy baseball session with his buddies was yet another attempt to escape her domination. He fled to an all-male environment where he might be criticized…but only for things he actually said or did. Pete is so thoroughly emasculated that he must go to great lengths just to fit a few vivisection-free hours into his day.
His wife caught him in the act of playing fantasy baseball after following him to an unknown house with the other couple in tow. She was convinced that he was having an affair. The discovery that he is merely trying to get a few moments of peace infuriates her far more. She does not apologize for breaking into another citizen's home, for spying on her husband or for causing a scene. Instead, she maintains that his playing fantasy football is a crime worse than adultery [!]. This is the height of irrationality, but, astoundingly, her sister agrees with her.
Compared to living with the likes of Debbie, Nick Hornby's protagonist, Will, in About a Boy [mentioned by Ms. Hymowitz] is experiencing heaven on earth via his relations with women which are a "fantastic carnal alternative to drink, drugs, and a great night out, but nothing much more than that." I will not defend Will. In my view, neither hedonism nor slavery are acceptable lifestyle choices, but certainly the former is preferable to the latter.
Ms. Hymowitz concludes that Knocked Up is "a fairy tale for guys" but this is simply preposterous. To most guys the fairy tale would have ended indelibly the moment Alison reappeared in the main character's [Ben Stone's] life and announced that she was pregnant. The real fable here is that Ben failed to learn from the toxic, festering example of his bride-to-be's sister and got married to Allison anyway. Now that's an ending straight out of the Brothers Grimm!
Ms. Hymowitz goes on to compare young take-charge females with underperforming males, saying that they pack their "leisure hours with shopping, traveling, and dining with friends…Single Young Males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3, and, in many cases, underachieving. With them, adulthood looks as though it's receding."
This is a conclusion reached by illogical premise. First, who exactly does Ms. Hymowitz believe these young men are hooking up with? Martians? Xboxes? Polar bears? If you said female age-mate peers then chances are you'd be right. As for the heavy drinking it is a very real problem for both sexes, and the internet is awash with websites devoted to the results of women frolicking in the pleasuredomes of our modern era.
Again, I concede the video game argument as it seems to be an attraction for males alone, but what does one make of shopping? Membership in the cult of materialism is not illustrative of maturity, but is a prime indicator of one being self-obsessed and oblivious to the spiritual aspects of life. With Maxim magazine I can offer no defense. It offers little that is intellectually redeeming, but once again Ms. Hymowitz has neglected to compare it to popular female equivalents like Lucky, Cosmopolitan, People or Marie Claire. Assuredly, none of these offerings is The New Criterion. Frankly, from what I recall, apart from the lack of visual imagery, I'm not sure Cosmo is less devoted to sex than Maxim.
This sentence was confounding as well: "Sex and the City chronicled the frustrations of four thirtysomething women with immature, loutish, and uncommitted men for six popular seasons." I recall that program somewhat differently. In fact, its run documented the self-injurious meanderings and proclivities of four immature, loutish, and uncommitted females. The men in the story were largely peripheral. City Journal's Wendy Shalit described the drama fittingly in "Sex, Sadness, and the City" with the following passage:
Their example underscores the deleterious impact the sexual revolution has had on male/female relations since the sixties. Apart from a need to cure those diseases which necessitate a trip to a state of the art medical facility, what civilizing influence could these women have upon the men who marry them?
Regarding television, that so few Single Young Males watch it is a boon for their future. Is there anything redeeming about most network sit-coms, talk shows, reality TV and soap operas? Nothing at all. It is far better to watch sports and be invigorated by legitimate competition than to be subjected to politically correct plot themes and time slots so drenched in emotion that one feels the need for a shower by the time the credits roll. Unlike the real world, sports remains one of the few areas in which talent and effort are consistently rewarded. Indulging in them is both a joy while serving to remind us of nobler things.
The impeccable South Park is also mentioned here. That there is a great deal of bathroom humor on the program is regrettable but the show remains indispensable due to its persistent slaughter of leftist sacred cows. Ms. Hymowitz is wrong to suggest that South Park was "like a dog whistle that only SYMs could hear." It is a clarion call that inspires anyone disgusted by the self-righteous, smug, PC manikins who patrol our cultural Konigsplatz. The satires of celebrities are absolutely exquisite, and, if one gets past the 4th grade bodily function stuff, they'll soon discover that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are comedic geniuses.
Certainly men are not "unfinished as people," [Ms. Hymowitz is quoting another writer here] but this essay does suggest that the process of morphing males into beasts of burden may not be proceeding at the recommended pace. This is fortunate because the rank-and-file of the New Girl Order will not view us as being finished…until we're finished. If being an adult mandates the discontinuation of men believing that their needs and desires should shape the course of their lives then I think we should redefine the meaning of adulthood. Free will is not something God bestowed upon women alone. Should the new brew of the New Girl Order return to the state of being "worthy aspirations" then the definitions of the past may once again become applicable.