Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do You Know What Is Women's Fault: Pre-Adult Men

This has been one of those periods when we are told how many things are the fault of uppity women. These periods come and go, quite regularly (though not every 28 days), and they mostly follow any advances in women's independence, and the usual plot is to show how that advance for women in fact makes them unhappy!

Thus, education has always made women unhappy, from the era when the womb would start wandering about because of the excess pressure on the feeble brain, to the era when no upstanding man would marry an educated woman (librarians!) to the current era when getting educated will let your eggs wither away (what with the apparent impossibility of using both ends of your body at the same time).

Greater sexual equality also makes women unhappy. The more women hook up in their twenties the unhappier they will get, I read. Women are simply not made that way and if women don't cross their legs men won't bother marrying them. Why buy the cow if you can get the milk free?

These stories NEVER ask if women should care for the pig when sausages are plentiful in the marketplace. This is because they are conservative anti-feminist views of how the world should be structured. In those views women don't matter except as providers of more soldiers and more workers, and women should do that job with the minimum hassle and cost to anyone else. Paradoxically, while women don't matter much at all, they are also extremely important: It is their job to uphold the civilization by domesticating men, by somehow gate-keeping sex outside the marriage and by providing the negative mirror in which masculinity is ultimately reflected: Men become men ONLY if women act like women: tending to children at home while being provided for and protected by men.

This is the argument of Kay Hymowitz in her new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Hers is the extreme definition of masculinity as subtractive: Men can only be men if women remain girls, ultimately. Or so I think, based on the piece Hymowitz has written based on her book.

It focuses on the idea of pre-adulthood, a period when a person is no longer an adolescent but for various reasons unable or unwilling to become fully adult. And what does adulthood mean for Hymowitz? Here's a hint
Sociologists use the term "life script" to describe a particular society's ordering of life's large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature. The invention of adolescence did not change the large Roman numerals of the American script. Adults continued to be those who took over the primary tasks of the economy and culture. For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise.


What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with "Star Wars" posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn't be surprised.
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.
Bolds are mine.

There you have it! No-one needs men, and that is women's fault. Women haven't stuck to their proper biological role as nurturers of the next generation so that men can provide for them and protect them. Protect from what? Could it possibly be...from men? Hmm. Note also that women have always worked on the farms, all day long. The nurturing of the next generation has been but one of their many tasks.

Hymowitz replaces real history with her ideological summaries. Doing that makes writing real easy but gets you into all sorts of other problems. For instance, if women who do well in labor markets are to blame for the pre-adulthood of men, isn't Kay Hymowitz herself one of the guilty ones?

There's something utterly sexist about all of this, and in a bizarre way it is men who get the roughest deal. They are portrayed as pretty much imbeciles who must be forced to let go of their toys, forced into marriage and the role of a provider, forced into acting like adults in the conservative worldview.

What is the solution Hymowitz offers for this new "man-crisis"? The article gives us no hints, though I bet it has something to do with women not getting so educated or so pushy or doing so well at school. Because men's problems are women's fault, caused by women stepping out of line.

Hymowitz's piece is really quite silly. The age at first marriage in the United States has varied widely over time (and what once was registered as marriage may today consist of cohabitation), and her anecdotal evidence is all about men and women with college degrees and parents who are affluent enough to let them continue living at home after college, say.

This doesn't mean that the whole topic would be as silly, however. There are valid reasons (other than uppity women's perfidy) for the reasons why young adults cannot leave home and set up their own households very easily, but those are largely about economics, about outsourcing, about the recession and about the fact that we may now live in an era when the next generation is not automatically better off than the previous one.

While thinking about Hymowitz's piece my brain ran on the usual squirrel wheel about how women-bashing women get published so very easily, about what it is that might make a woman hate her own sex so very much and how she reconciles her beliefs about the proper biological place for women (the kitchen) with her own life and so on. But mostly I was thinking about the way the conservatives hate gender equality so much that they cannot see the other solutions to the problems they bemoan.

All their writing aims at women changing their behavior. Whatever bad-boy behavior they ascribe to men is also the women's fault. Men cannot change, cannot be asked to change and should not change. Only women are expected to do the changing and always in the direction of what might benefit the conservative society on the whole. That many men are eminently marriageable, not because of their earning power or their ability to fight saber-toothed tigers with their own tiny teeth, but because they are going to be good husbands and good hands-on fathers and great mates altogether is simply not something a conservative writer ever considers.

That's why I think the contempt of women they demonstrate is matched by their more hidden contempt for men.