Monday, November 17, 2008

I Think She's Starting to Get It

Last February, columnist Kay S. Hymowitz at City Journal stepped in it.

She wrote a column about the delayed maturity that seems to be affecting men these days. That is, measuring by those traditional markers of maturity--marriage, fatherhood, employment in a profession--men are maturing at later and later ages, and adolescence is lasting longer and longer.

Kay was concerned about this trend. She is an advocate for the health of marriages in our society, and from that standpoint the immaturity of men is a real problem.

But as I said, Ms. Hymowitz stepped in it. In a very small nutshell:
  1. Women are often just as immature as the men are--but this fact isn't noticed quite as much, because the ways that women are immature are more socially accepted by both men and women.
  2. It isn't just immaturity that is driving men away from marriage and parenthood--it's the fact that there are huge risks that attend men who embrace these things, especially if they happen to do these things with the immature women I referred to in point one. In short, men are starting to choose intentionally to avoid marriage and fatherhood, out of rational self-defense.
Given the truth of these two points, there were a whole lot of guys out there who found Ms. Hymowitz's column to be both offensive and unfair. She wound up getting buried under unfriendly emails. And plenty of bloggers out there decided to sound off on her--mostly disapproving of her position.

I myself blogged about her column, twice. The first time my column was sympathetic to her main point, because I've been concerned about the infantilization of our society for some time. The second time I chose to explore the points that got everyone else riled up--the fact that she wasn't really understanding the motivations of the guys that are putting off serious relationships, marriage and parenthood until much later (if ever).

Well, after receiving this barrage of offended emails, a somewhat chastened Ms. Hymowitz decided to write a follow-up column that tries to do justice to this other viewpoint, which she hadn't really been familiar with when she wrote the first column. Her new offering is here.

How does she do this time around?

Well, I think she's starting to move in the right direction. She acknowledges some of the challenges that men face, and notes that women (collectively) are responsible for at least some of their man-problems. So I give her credit for that.

But I sense that in attempting to make sense of the anger, cynicism, and pain that was vented in her direction in the wake of her last column, she's still trying to make the data fit a pre-conceived theory:
The reason for all this anger, I submit, is that the dating and mating scene is in chaos. SYMs of the postfeminist era are moving around in a Babel of miscues, cross-purposes, and half-conscious, contradictory female expectations that are alternately proudly egalitarian and coyly traditional.

Today, though, there is no standard scenario for meeting and mating, or even relating. For one thing, men face a situation—and I’m not exaggerating here—new to human history. Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.

By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.

But then, when an SYM walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that. The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas.
This attraction to bad boys is by far guys’ biggest complaint about contemporary women. Young men grew up hearing from their mothers, their teachers, and Oprah that women wanted sensitive, kind, thoughtful, intelligent men who were in touch with their feminine sides, who shared their feelings.... Yeah, right, sneer a lot of veterans of the scene. Women don’t want Ashley Wilkes; they’re hot for Rhett Butler, for macho men with tight abs and an emotional range to match. One popular dating guru, David DeAngelo, ranks “Being Too Much of a Nice Guy” as Number One on his list of the “Ten Most Dangerous Mistakes Men Make with Women.”
Now, to be fair, the points she's given here are important ones. There truly is confusion about what our roles--men's and women's--are in the dating scene, with the partial (but not complete) demise of the traditional courtship. And the problem of women being attracted to jerks and ignoring the good men is not only one that causes good men to fume, but--listen up ladies--it actively breeds more jerks.


Even though there is some truth in these observations, I think Ms. Hymowitz is missing the real problem men face today, the real tradeoff that so many have to make when dealing with women.

As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, there are huge risks to men in modern society if they decide to marry a woman and/or have kids with her. The fact is, women are every bit as capable of being immature, selfish, insensitive, greedy, and scheming as men are. The trouble is, our society has still managed to retain the Victorian myth of Female Virtue. Women are supposed to be upright and noble and caring and forgiving! And we expect to see that. And when women aren't, we often don't notice, because it doesn't fit the template--it's just an abberation, we think to ourselves.

One example: when a woman is selfish, men have no real outlet to complain. It's considered unmanly; we're just expected to suck it up and move on. When a man is selfish, it's considered socially acceptible for the wife to commiserate with other women; but when the woman is selfish, it's considered boorish--a serious breach of respect toward his woman--for a man to complain to his friends.

There's a lot I could say here on this point, but I discovered as I was considering what to write that I already said it all, in last February's post. So if you want to read what I have to think on this post, go here, where I was a lot more coherent than I am tonight.

The bottom line is that given the very serious risks involved--and the loss of freedom that comes when one enters a relationship--a lot of guys are either swearing off women altogether, or avoiding any but the most superficial physical relationships with them. And the point is, from their standpoint it's an entirely rational decision. They are materially better off treating women as pawns in a mating game, rather than opening themselves up to the kinds of deep, intimate relationships that could one day land them in divorce court.

Now, at this point I'm reminded of the words of G. K. Chesterton, to the effect that the purely rational man will never marry. Their decisions are entirely rational, and they know it.

Speaking as someone who believes in the institution of marriage and its necessity for a healthy society, there are no quick fixes. Our societal values, our popular entertainment, and our legal system are all conspiring against restoring the kind of environment in which healthy marriages are encouraged and nurtured. We've somehow created a system in which men almost have to be foolish (by any rational measure) to subject themselves to it.

That, my friends, is what we're up against here. And lamenting that guys won't "grow up" just ignores the problem and won't solve a single blasted thing.

1 comment:

B. Durbin said...

I think it would help a lot of these people if they had clear roles of what true adult behavior is like. As an example, I have lots of friends who are in loving, supportive, and above all stable marriages... and guess what? One or both of the partners grew up with loving, committed parents.

My two brothers married girls from less-than-ideal home lives, and one of them mentioned that "guys from stable homes" are a huge attractor for girls from broken homes. I'd assume the reverse is also true. People know that improves the odds when one partner has an idea of what it takes.