Hey, did you think that the well of “20-somethings-represent-a-whole-new-paradigm-for-adulthood-and-the-way-we-live” newspaper articles was empty after that long sorta-expose the New York Times did last year? Well, the Wall Street Journal doesn’t think so—they just published this long piece by Kay Hymowitz that at this moment has 47,000 Facebook likes and 1,100 comments. Hymowitz talks about all the stuff the Times article talks about (young people are undergoing extended periods of adolescence and not getting married, buying a house, and/or starting a career right after college, etc.) but adds her own little twist—in an endearing combination of feminism and reactionary traditionalism, she complains that this “pre-adulthood” is hurting women, because all the men are too immature to be long-term relationship material. Or as she puts it:
Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor's degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.
Still, for these women, one key question won't go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie "Knocked Up."
The immature, Apatow-movie-watching, maladroit geek in me wants to snark back with something like, “Where have all the good men gone, Kay? Away from you as fast as fucking possible, that’s for sure!” Then I’d high-five my grubby slacker buddy and we’d go right back to playing Left 4 Dead, snacking on salty, chemically-flavored chips, and periodically taking bong hits.
But you know what? I’m a fucking adult, so let’s actually talk about Hymowitz’s ideas. Perhaps because it’s is adapted from her book, the article is sort of confusing: after telling us about the dangerously low supply of good men in America, she backs away and discusses the formation of “pre-adulthood” in a gender-neutral way. It takes longer to get a good, stable job in today’s market—you have to go to college, and probably bounce around a few jobs before you have something you can properly call a “career.” People’s age at the time of their first marriage has been rising steadily since the 70s. And the media—oh, those bastards!—are encouraging our young men to remain barely-sentient towers of meat who giggle at fart jokes. Hymowitz blames the lack of good dating options for heterosexual women on Maxim, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Spike TV, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Steve Carell, and Seth Rogen.
As much as I like the idea of a bunch of frat-humor outlets teaming up with Hollywood and advertisers to keep men dumb and single so they have disposable income to spend on body spray and fancy booze and video games, I think it’s probably more likely that being a grubby guffawing boor makes you read Maxim and watch Adam Sandler movies than the other way around.
To deal with the other pieces of Hymowitz’s narrative: people aren’t getting married as much as they were in the 50s and 60s, and that’s probably a good thing. Women couldn’t earn as much as men, so it made sense for them to land a fella and become housewives as soon as possible. Now that women can have careers, they do have careers and don’t get married so young. Another explanation for the marriage age rising, courtesy of Matt Yglesias: “Maybe this number just bounces around over time and it’s always been the case that some people are sometimes frustrated with some members of the opposite sex.”
Anecdotally, I would say that there are plenty of 20-somethings who follow the guidelines given to them by the trend pieces. But an upper class of shiftless layabouts who aren’t employed at anything in particular is nothing new. Remember the dandies or whatever in England, or wherever the dandies were? (They were probably invented by trend article writers too.) Remember Baudelaire, a prominent proto-pre-adult?
Hymowitz probably wouldn’t consider Baudelaire marriage material, what with the syphilis and the drug addiction and all. But he doesn’t match the description of the archetypal pre-adult man that she uses in her concluding paragraph: “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.”
Nor does that description match anyone I’ve ever met, except for maybe my dorm neighbor my freshman year, who would literally lie in bed eating candy and playing video games. Even the men I know who have moved back home with their parents, or are unemployed for long periods of time, or are chronically single, aren’t the kind of shiftless hedonists of the sort that Hymowitz is convinced are replacing the “good men,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style.
I’m not a woman, or an old person, but weren’t good men always hard to find? Wasn’t that the whole point of the saying, “A good man is hard to find”? Now that women can become successful for themselves and don’t need to latch onto a man—anything with a penis and a paycheck—for the sake of long-term security, they can take their time and pick out a man to share a life and a house and chromosomes with. Picking out a romantic partner can be pretty complicated, especially when you have high standards, and especially when you have to find someone who will love you back. That’s tricky! Maybe you’ll like someone and they won’t like you, or someone will like you and you’ll be in a relationship, or you’ll really like each other but one of you has to move across the country—both of you being hard-charging professional types—and thus, leaves the other behind. Love is complicated, as pop music has taught me. It’s complicated and hard, and you don’t have to invent bullshit pop-sociological reasons for why the guys who are around you are losers.
Where Have all the Good Men Gone? [WSJ]