The 20-something man-child: do today’s young men deserve all the hyphens?

Thanks to the release of Kay Hymowitz’s new book “Manning Up,” everyone from NPR to Salon to your local bloggers seems to have an opinion on the current “pre-adulthood” state of young men. Hymowtiz’s hypothesis, which is based heavily on pop culture references, suggests that unlike previous generations, young men today are unwilling to grow up, give up the playstation and become a flourishing part of society… and all because young women are growing up faster and more successfully.

It is hard to tell if Hymowitz’s argument is trying to blame the victim (damn those over-aggressive young feminists scaring young men away from success, they deserve to deal with the pathetic outcome) or be the voice of a disapproving, guilt-inducing mother (time to straighten up young men and produce some grand babies). Either way it seems less than convicing to most because of its over-generalizations and reliance on hit movies to support her argument instead of facts. (Read NPR’s review and exerts here.)

As Salon writer Tracy Clark-Flory says “there is certainly some truth here — but, unfortunately, she relies on oblique statistics and pop culture observations instead of talking to the men she’s writing about. ” Read her full response plus the response of some real young men here.

And yet when I was reading exerts from Hymowitz’s book, I couldn’t help but feel some twinges of familiarity when reading the descriptions of child-men: “It’s looking pretty clear that ten or fifteen years of party-on single life are a good formula for producing navel-gazing, wisecracking childmen rather than unhyphenated, unironic men.” Despite not having the facts and figures to back it up, I feel myself agreeing with Hymowtiz’s hypotheis, even if it is only based on my own small experience in the world.

No one would deny the past few years have been rough particularly on young people just starting out in the world, trying to make their path in society and finding more dead ends than promising roads. And yet when I talk to my female friends, I find we have found a way to adapt; we have put our pride aside, taken positions for less money with less than appealing titles and worked to make our way even if that way was not on the previously drawn map. We are looking at going back for master’s degrees, taking on bigger projects at work, and moving up in our fields despite the recession. We may not be looking to get married, have babies and enter that “adulthood” but we are looking to better ourselves and create our own place in society.

And yet the guys we are dating are routinely disappointing (of course with delightlful exceptions). It is not that they don’t call, don’t open doors, don’t pay for dates (although they routinely don’t); it is that they are lacking any ambition or plan for their futures but seem filled to the brim with excuses for their stagnant lives: the economy, their stupid boss, their parents, society’s unrealistic expectations. They are not just navelgazers but navel-buriers; they have buried themselves and their futures in their own unrealistic world and expectations.

I have no facts to support these claims other than my occasionally humorous and often painful personal history. Yet despite my personal experience, I do not think today’s young men deserve the hyphens. Although I suspect Hymowitz’s observations are true because they resonate in my own life, I am beginning to believe her man-child conclusion is flawed.

Young men today just like young women are struggling to find their place in a changing society. The majority of young men and women of today do not get married at 21 and have babies, they do not have the obvious, visible entrance into adulthood. Instead they often have a decade of creating their own identities, of finding their place in society and of negotiating their hyphens. It seems that young women seem to accomplish this task in a more socially acceptable way, by getting jobs, supporting themselves and creating an independent life. Young men seem to be taking a different more frustrating route to self-discovery.

This can be baffling for older generations used to a certain formula. And yet there is not much to be done except maybe write more books about “preadulthood” and lament the good ole days. As for the frustrated young women out there, all I can say is some young men find themselves earlier and in less infuriating ways. So stop making excuses for the child-men who are still trying to start a band living off food stamps and their parent’s naive generosity and dump them. This 20-somethings decade is way too short to spend it writing angry blog posts about the disappointing men in life.

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Filed under Feminist Rant, Low Brow, Magazine, Radio, Sex

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