Last week I had a number of friends forward me Kay Hymowitz’s article in the Wall Street Journal (and I enjoyed Elizabeth’s blog post on it). Entitled “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?”, the article discusses the prevalence of pre-adulthood – particularly in America’s 20-something men. Seen as an gray area located somewhere between the teenage carefree years and adult responsibility, Ms. Hymowitz describes it as a “hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.” Because of the increasing demand for more degrees and an extremely specialized labor market, 20-somethings – both men and women – are essentially wait-listed for adulthood, putting off the responsibilities of marriage, family, and complete financial independence until an unspecified future.
As a 20-something female living in New York City, I must say that none of this comes as a surprise. My friends and I often talk, in both a serious and joking manner, about the state of arrested development that we all find ourselves. As Kay notes, this area is completely uncharted, and as such we are left with making up what we’re supposed to do next as we go along.
Kay then explores what this phenomenon of pre-adulthood means for gender relationships, a topic she explores more deeply in the book from which this article originates, Manning Up. 20-something men who are in this stage of life find themselves increasingly able to do what they want with whomever they want, yet at the same time struggling to find an identity in a culture that no longer takes them seriously. Women are left wondering where all the men have gone, seeing only guys copying the actions and approaches to life seen on Comedy Central and in Judd Apatow films. Kay sees a “radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy…women are the first sex.” As women graduate from institutes of higher learning in greater numbers, and come to dominate the work places that have typically been men only, this tension between the sexes is bound to grow.
Clearly, Kay isn’t advocating for women to enter a subservient role or reverse the gains they have made over the past century. Rather, she is calling for the men to step up into a new role as well. Men should not allow culture and trends to define this pre-adulthood and use this as an excuse to shy away from responsibility. Instead, men should face the new role of women with a new role of their own, one that allows them to navigate the constantly shifting labor market, educational field and society with stability and a sense of accountability for their place in their own world. Essentially, they should man up.
Unbeknown to my friends, I had actually acquired a copy of Manning Up that afternoon. I have started reading it, and am interested in seeing what the general response will be. If it’s anything like the article, it’s going to be big.