Kay Hymowitz has a problem with today's young men, and she's willing to say so in the bluntest terms. But because she blames solely men for the dating difficulties of young women, I'd like to propose a better and fairer remedy for the plight of the unmarried Average American Woman.
Hymowitz is the author of the forthcoming book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. She penned a provocative essay in the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition, contending that "most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo" marked by video games, beer pong and ceaseless childishness.
She now declares, on behalf of "legions of frustrated young women" that this state of affairs "doesn't bring out the best in men." These frustrated ladies, she writes, find their male peers to be "aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers."
And she believes the stakes are cosmically dire, for both yin and yang, if men do not grow up fast.
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.
Sperm banks for disgusted single women? Who expected we'd see the day when a fellow of a conservative think tank such as the Manhattan Institute would call that a "rational choice"?
How did marital matters turn so sour? Hymowitz comes armed with solid data and some genuine facts before she starts shooting like an angered Mama Grizzly at the male species:
In 1970, to cite just one of many numbers proving the point, nearly seven in 10 25-year-olds were married; by 2000, only one-third had reached that milestone... It's no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience.
And she mainly or solely blames men for the resulting complexities, because of men's increasingly "puerile shallowness."
"Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors," she writes; "they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers."
Before outraged (and troubled and unsuccessful) single men jump off their couch to rash conclusions, I should note that Hymowitz is married with grown sons.
Her Journal essay is accompanied by a video segment in which she confesses that her own progeny helped inspire her tirades. She adds that she kept them in the dark about her forthcoming book on the subject. And who could blame her? Any self-respecting son would disown a mother who takes such positions more publicly than at the dinner table at Thanksgiving.
Hymowitz says young men should wake up and realize that "marriage is a financial arrangement, not just about finding a soulmate." Certainly. But evolutionary psychology tells us this is a colder splash of reality for women's faces than for men's.
As near as I can tell, 1965 was the last year in which the Average American Woman thought, "Joe is kind of dorky and he's a little overweight, but he's really sweet and he cares about me. I think he'd be a good provider for a family. And I'm 23 already and I certainly don't want to be the last single girl in my circle."
1965 was also the last year that Joe, the Average American Male, figured he needed to put on a clean shirt and buy a wedding ring in order to get laid.
Once a woman didn't need a man to provide for her and once a man didn't need marriage to get sex, everything inexorably changed. But are any unpleasant side-effects for women truly the fault of men?
Rather, I suspect that many single women haven't yet faced up to the trade-offs necessary to be successfully married for a lifetime within our social and economic environment.
Hymowitz approvingly cites the comedian Julie Klausner, author of I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters and Other Guys I've Dated.
Klausner would seem the symbol of the neurotic single woman, dating felons and pornographers--and worst of all, indie rockers--as if she has no other choice. Yet the sensible-shoed Hymowitz finds Klausner's lament to be"touchingly funny," especially when Klausner writes that women are "sick of hooking up with guys," with guys referring to boys who won't become men.
Hymowitz hammers at the idea that the success of women in school and at work has confused males. But it seems to have confused women even more.
Straight males, throughout history, have been partial to breasts and a pretty face that won't nag too much. That form of "puerile shallowness" existed from the beginning and will endure till the end.
Meanwhile, economic independence resurrects schoolgirl fantasies of the Average American Woman that economic dependence used to drive into exile. She has ratcheted up her expectations for a mate--he should have dear old dad's reliability but not his emotional distance, Jon Stewart's wit but not his lack of height, Brad Pitt's looks but not his atrocious hygiene, and/or Bono's idealism but not his outfit.
Both sexes know the drill: After the Average American Woman searches in vain for her modern prince, she and her "girls" will go out Friday to blow off steam by dancing at a club, usually in one of those bizarre and impenetrable Circles of Five Women; hapless and tipsy men will queue up and attack the Dancing Circle like sperm; she will coolly dispatch the responsible, career-minded ones with mixed signals and a caution that she's "still getting over a real jerk"; she will hook up with a felonious, faux-sensitive pornographer who is starting his own rock band; she will take a long, hot shower; and she will write a bestselling memoir titled, All Men Are Douchebags, whose royalties will fund her trip to the sperm bank.
Allow me to propose a better way: Ignore Hymowitz's concerns about how marriage and responsibility are being delayed excessively. Marriage should be delayed, even more than it it now.
A woman graduating from college should commit to not getting married till her early 30s. That gives her many years to sow her wild oats, to go unapologetically crazy for the guitarists and hipsters and felons, and to be finally rid of them when they drive her crazy. During these times, she should feel no particular duty to torture responsible-but-boring boys with her fickle idealism.
Then, when she reaches her late 20s, she will be far more skilled at sorting through the trade-offs that are necessary to commit to living with a mortal male for a lifetime. And she'll be more emotionally available to that mortal and imperfect "good man," who may have spent many lonely nights playing video games in his early and mid-20s but who will at least now have her attention.
Over time, this is a sort of relationship-LASIK -- it gives the single Average American Woman a chance to emerge from her 20s with a clearer view of the opposite sex, and with several good child-bearing years to boot.
Let Hymowitz fret over how the marital process is being dragged out by immature men, but the rest of us could do well to relax and enjoy the process of finding out who we are and what (and who) we're willing to live with.