By Jay Reding
Has the rise of powerful women turned men into boys? This is the question author Kay Hymowitz asks in her provocative new book, Manning Up. Hymowitz argues that men today are free from the traditional tests of manhood—marrying and providing for children—and this freedom comes at a price: an increasing number of men are stuck in a state of permanent adolescence.
The statistics are shocking. Colleges are reducing the standards for male applicants to balance out the majority of incoming women. Among Americans 25 to 34, 34 percent of women have bachelor’s degrees compared to 27 percent of men. Young women in major cities earn more than fifteen times more than their male peers. And before you think this is good news for women, it also means that the field of eligible bachelors is dwindling.
So, why are men failing to grow up? Is it the fault of radical feminists? Is it the fault of the media? …Should we blame Canada?
Hymowitz argues that the real problem is our changing culture, which has become detrimental to men. Fifty years ago, men in their mid-to-late twenties were expected to be financially independent, married, and well on their way to starting families. Society expected men to grow up—so they did.
The “knowledge economy” has changed all that. The modern world encourages people to stay in school well into their twenties, all the while accumulating debt that makes it even harder to become financially independent and start a family. Plus, the skills required by a knowledge economy are skills that come more naturally to women. Jobs like those in the design and communication fields emphasize traditionally feminine skill sets. Even the traditional male bastions of law and management are becoming increasingly dominated by women.
It’s easy for women to say that the turnabout is fair play, but the fact is this: our economy and our culture are not well-served by a lost generation of American men. A healthy society needs a mix of masculine and feminine values. It was stereotypically masculine daring that invented the Internet and landed men on the moon, and women have reasons of self-interest to want a change in affairs, not the least being the desire for a responsible, dependable romantic partner.
Hymowitz observes how many women are finding the dating scene filled with men who are far from marriageable material. Biology and culture have conspired to make women naturally want to seek higher-status males—a natural biological imperative to find mates that can take care of future offspring. In other words, women don’t usually want to “marry down”. But what happens when the supply of marriageable men is incredibly low? We are about to find out.
Instead, today’s men are tending to live lives free of most responsibility. Hymowitz criticizes the empty male culture of Maxim magazine, Spike TV, and lives lived with frat-boy abandon. Instead of shouldering responsibility, many American males have become experts at shirking it.
What may well happen is a vicious cycle: as the supply of marriageable college-educated men dwindles, more and more women will decide that they just don’t need men in their lives. This is already starting to happen. There is an increasing trend of women choosing to become single mothers. And the more women who opt out of marriage, the more it encourages men to do the same.
What can we do to arrest these trends? Firstly, we need to fix our educational system. Right now, 60 percent of new college entrants are women, and men are falling further and further behind. This is not a tolerable outcome. Our education system is failing American men in the same way that it once failed women. Secondly, we need a cultural shift. Popular culture may not be the driving reason men are falling behind, but it certainly doesn’t help. Culture needs to put more value on men as husbands and fathers rather than man-children.
People in today’s society are marrying and having children later than ever before, and we don’t really understand the effect that has on society as a whole. Hymowitz’s warnings may be overblown, but leaving an entire generation of American males in a state of semi-adolescence serves neither men nor women.