Friday, February 8, 2008

Well, Maybe There's Another Explanation

I recently wrote this post that linked to an article by Kay Hymowitz in City Journal, about how societal changes are causing males to mature into men at later and later ages. The author specifically focused on marriage, and described the fact that men are choosing to get married later and later in life (if at all) as one of the signs of immaturity.

Boy, that article set off an absolute firestorm of protest, and I think the critics have some legitimate points--ones that we need to think about long and hard.

As part of the online response to Hymowitz, Dr. Helen Smith (whom I've linked to on several occasions before) wrote this column, in which she argues that one reason men aren't getting married as much--and the reason that they're pushing marriage off to later and later ages--is that our society has turned the institution of marriage into an absolutely lousy deal for men. She writes:
What Hymowitz misses is that men are on a marriage strike, not necessarily because they are perpetual adolescents or avoiding deep attachments to others but because the reward for being an adult in our society is so low, especially for men.

It’s really simple Psychology 101 (or Economics 101) — make something negative enough and people will avoid it, make it positive, and more people will engage in that particular behavior.

Nowadays, for many men, the negatives of marriage for men often outweigh the positives. Therefore, they engage in it less often. Not because they are bad, not because they are perpetual adolescents, but because they have weighed the pros and cons of marriage in a rational manner and found the institution to be lacking for them. It’s a sensible choice for some and the video games, magazines, and humor websites that Hymowitz disses are a way to fill one’s time with fun activities that don’t tell you that you suck, are an “unfinished person,” emotionally detached or on your way to jail for fake domestic violence charges. People used to treat men better than this.

Now, Atlas is shrugging...
Emphasis added by me.

This argument is followed by hundreds upon hundreds of comments, both at the linked article and at Dr. Helen's personal site. Reading these comments is quite eye-opening. In a very small nutshell, this is a summary of what many of them are saying:
  • Half of all marriages fail, and of the other half, you know that they're not all happy. The odds that a bride and groom at a randomly selected wedding will find long-term wedded bliss is less than half--perhaps significantly so.
  • Several of them cited statistics that 70% of all divorces are instituted by the women.
  • With the way family law and the family courts are constituted, men often wind up at the short end of any divorce proceeding. Kids go to the mother 90% of the time, even when the divorce happens because of her infidelity. Men also wind up paying alimony and child support quite frequently, at levels that literally reduce them to poverty.
  • Men are assigned the "irrefutable presumption of paternity" for any children born to their wives, even if the child was conceived by a different father. Even after a divorce--and even if the mother then marries the real father--the jilted husband winds up responsible for supporting the child up through adulthood.
  • If a woman makes a claim of abuse, the man will usually be required to stay away from her--and the house, kids, etc.--without any formal charges even being filed, let alone a trial held. Many commenters complained that this had happened to them or to close friends and relatives. They further claimed this has actually become a well-worn tactic by women to get extra leverage in the divorce courts.
  • Regarding the "immaturity" of (stereotypically) men's pastimes, the point was made that women's pastimes are often just as immature. After all, is watching TV for three hours a night any more mature than playing video games for three hours a night? At least with video games, the case can be made that they require some strategic thought. And they undeniably require more interaction than television.
  • And while one might make the case that scantily clad women, cyborgs, and exploding toilets are immature, a whole lot of the entertainment aimed at women--daytime TV, and women's magazines like Cosmopolitan, just to name a few--are every bit as immature. Scantily clad buxom women may fill the fantasies of men, but chick-flick dramas are filled with female fantasies about relationships that are no more realistic than men's fantasies. And in fact the female fantasies may be more damaging to relationships, since many women don't always realize that they are in fact unrealistic.
  • Women may say that they prefer sensitive, polite men--but the sensitive, polite men will tell you that they have a hard time getting women to notice them. Bad boys and jerks have no problem getting women to sleep with them; deferential, solicitous men get ignored. Several commenters mentioned that they intentionally turned themselves into jerks, treating women like dirt, so they could score--and that it worked.
  • Feminism holds as one of its core precepts that gender is purely a social construct--that males and females are psychologically the same at birth, and would remain the same were they to be raised in identical settings. The fact that men and women are different is seen as entirely due to environmental and social reasons. Furthermore, the traits normally associated with "maleness" are seen as defective and destructive abnormalities, rather than inherent (even beneficial) parts of men's personnae. This leads directly to the belief that men and maleness is bad, and men who like who they are are the worst of men; it also leads to women trying to remake men into something they aren't (and resenting it when their men won't change).
  • Men--especially husbands and fathers--are routinely lampooned in popular entertainment as being idiots, as being clueless, as being "emasculated" and unmanly. And this lampooning has seeped its way into popular culture. It is considered perfectly OK in some circles for women to run down men, in ways that would be considered chauvinistic or misogynistic if men were to do it to women.
  • The ways in which men relate to other men--which include, but are not limited to, sports and other shared struggles--are at best dismissed snarkily as "male bonding" by unsympathetic females, and at worst are derided as signs of residual immaturity that the men need to get over before the women will respect them as "grown ups". No thought is given to the possibility that men need this kind of interaction with each other, and that they benefit mightily from it.
  • Women change after marriage. Many commenters described how they married smart, principled, sexy, playful, libidinous, interesting young women who then turned utterly cold, shrewish, and cruel after a few years of marriage. These commenters concluded that it isn't really possible to determine how well a marriage will go by evaluating the dating period with one; even if a woman is good now, there's no guarantee she will be in ten years.
Now, at one level on can argue the truth of the above accusations. After all, Dr. Helen's commenters are obviously a self-selected group, and have a high percentage of people who've had some very bad experiences with women. They're not all objective. There may be some embellishment.

But regardless of whether the accusations are true (and for the record, I do think there's a good deal of truth on that list), it is important to note that a whole lot of men believe it. Many of the older commenters, citing the above list and giving the reasons that lead to their many divorces, declared that they are through looking for love. Women are just too much trouble. Many of the married ones said that they're doing OK, but that if something happened to their wives, they'd think long and hard before they started up again. Many of the younger men said that they had no problem dating women, but would consider it utterly foolish to wed one; that a woman as a whole might be fun now but the risks (especially the financial) were way too high to justify marrying.

There was just this resignation that men give up a whole lot of rights when they choose to marry, and they take on huge risks; that, given the dismal chances of the marriage succeeding, the theoretical benefits that might come from marriage simply aren't enough to justify it.

Thus, a marriage strike on the part of men. And from all accounts I've seen, this strike is growing pretty rapidly in our society.


Now, I'm a Christian who believes that God wanted for us to be celibate until marriage, and then faithful to our spouses until death. And I also believe that a healthy marriage is the best environment in which to raise children, which are of course a society's next generation. I believe that a society's mores regarding sex, marriage, and childrearing have a huge impact on the future trajectory of that society; and when a society gets these things wrong, it can self-destruct. This has happened periodically to other societies throughout history.

Given all this, I have two observations:
  • The marriage strike appears to me a rational response to a very unhealthy set of circumstances in our society.
  • If it's true, this is bad, bad news for American civilization. I don't think it's possible to read through the comments Dr. Helen got without becoming really concerned about the future our children will inherit.
I've got three kids; I want them to find good mates, should they desire that when they get to be the right age. I'm not sure those mates will be there. And the odd thing is, I'm at least as worried about the Happy Boy finding a good mate as I am about the girls--if not more so. In a few decades women may have a hard time finding good men; but I'm acutely aware of the fact that we men have a hard time judging the good character of a woman when our hormones are running amok. The most attractive women are not necessarily the ones that are best for us. A pretty face, a sweet smile, and a pleasant demeanor may make us think a girl is innocent and upright--even when her heart is utterly black. And if the Happy Boy grows up to be a handsome, self-confident young man in the time of a marriage strike, he's going to have lots of opportunities to make some very bad decisions.

Every day, I consider myself more and more thankful that God put Tonya in my life--and that I didn't marry some of the other beautiful young ladies I dated. Geez, it gives me a shudder just thinking about it. But I suspect that if something horrible were to happen to her, and I wound up alone or as a single father, I'd seriously consider keeping myself off the market--at least until the kids were grown. The chances of making a mistake are too high, and the consequences of such mistakes are too severe.


Ken said...

Excellent overview of the issues at hand. I have been following the online discussions on this piece, and your summary is one of the best if not the best.

I am a Christian husband and father, just so you know where I am coming from.

Oh, and there's NOTHING wrong with a man enjoying video games, as long as the time and money spent on them in reasonable. Some generations associate video games with children, because they were already adults when home video game systems hit the market and children were the first to adapt to the new technology.

Anyway, I have a little girl. I'd love to see her grow up and decide to be a wife and mother. But if that's not what she wants to do, but she'd rather agressively pursue a career that wouldn't leave enough time for that, then I'm glad she will have that as a realistic choice. If she want the "mommy" thing, then I hope she'll be able to find a man who wants to be a good husband and father.

I hope to have a son. I would prefer he grow up to be a godly man and not "fornicate". But either way, I will teach him to avoid women who will use him as just a paycheck, or women who live like little girls until they're bored with sex and too far in debt and so they find a man to "rescue" them by marrying him.

Feminism has been good in giving women real choices and legal protections in their lives. It has been bad in many other respects. I suggest that the best feminism is the kind that affirms and celebrates the differences with men instead of ignoring them or telling men they are wrong for not being women, and sees men as complimentary partners, not the enemy.

Timothy Power said...

Ken, thanks for dropping by my humble blog! And I'm honored that you think my "summary is one of the best...."

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with video games either. In fact, my wife just got off the computer; she played Civilization IV for at least three hours today. Hey, it's a weekend; mommies need breaks too. In fact, I rather enjoy sitting on the sofa watching her game, and giving her much good advice on what she should do.