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The War Between the Sexes

Yesterday, Basic Books released a new book by Kay S. Hymowitz entitled Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal, Hymowitz is the author of an earlier book, Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, which I touched on in a post on Sunday.

As a student of trends, Hymowitz is always worth reading, and the argument that she advances in her latest book is already causing intense discussion. The weekend before last, she published a teaser in The Wall Street Journal entitled Where Have All the Good Men Gone? The last time I checked 105,594 readers had signaled that they liked the piece, and there are indications that in some quarters it has also attracted considerable ire.

It is easy to see why. In this country today, there is no subject more apt to provide an occasion for the unleashing of fury than a frank discussion of relations between men and women. Neither sex is satisfied. Both are angry. And much of what is posted on the internet by men about women and by women about men is, frankly, vile.

The focus of Hymowitz’ article and no doubt of the book from which it was excerpted (which I have not yet seen) is what she called “pre-adulthood,” by which she means the condition of the twenty-something slacker dude. “Not so long ago,” she observes, “the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.” This may make some sense, she acknowledges, for those who have gone to college (though she does not adequately explain why). “But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.”

What Hymowitz calls pre-adulthood is, as she argues, “a major demographic event,” which she compares with adolescence – a stage in life that did not exist for most Americans until the middle of the last century – when it became the norm for everyone to go to high school. The statistics are clear enough. There are colleges and universities in this country with something close to a one-to-one sex ratio (Hillsdale is one among them), but they are rare and highly selective. The overall ratio in the country is three-to-two – which helps explain why 34% of the women and only 27% of the men in the 25-to-34 age group have bachelor’s degrees.  The young women who do attend college have higher GPAs than the young men alongside them, and Hymowitz is right when she says that “most professors” see them as having “more confidence and drive.” Nationwide, women outnumber men in graduate school and in law school, and they earn more than their own brothers and the men they date. They get on with life, and young men don’t.

Hymowitz explains this development in part by pointing to the “knowledge economy” – to a decline in the number of jobs that we think of as typically male and to an increase in the premium paid college graduates apt to end up sitting behind a desk. She points as well to “our increasingly labyrinthine labor market.” As she puts it, “Fields that attract ambitious young men and women often require years of moving between school and internships, between internships and jobs, laterally and horizontally between jobs, and between cities in the U.S. and abroad. The knowledge economy gives the educated young an unprecedented opportunity to think about work in personal terms. They are looking not just for jobs but for ‘careers,’ work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions. They expect their careers to give shape to their identity. For today’s pre-adults, ‘what you do’ is almost synonymous with ‘who you are,’ and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.” As she puts it, “Husbands, wives, and children are a drag on the footloose life required for the early career track and identity search. It has delayed a stable sense of identity, dramatically expanded the pool of possible spouses, mystified courtship routines, and helped throw into doubt the very meaning of marriage.” One consequence is a delay of marriage.  Where, in 1970, only 16% of those 25 to 29 years old have never been married, today this is true for 55%.

Hymowitz’ main point, however, is that the entry of women into the career market has given rise to “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.

This point – and everything else that Hymowitz has to say on this subject – is well-taken. But I think that there is something that, at least in her article, she has omitted.

Some years ago, Christina Hoff Sommers published a volume entitled The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, in which she explored the manner in which American schools – where women nearly always rule – denigrated manliness. This is, I suspect, one dimension of the problem. The qualities traditionally celebrated as signs of manliness — fortitude, stoicism, courage, and fidelity, among them – are mocked, while everything is done to encourage young women to spread their wings.

There is, I suspect, yet another reason for the emergence of the slacker dude, and that is the sexual revolution. Prior to, say, 1969, coitus not interruptus was for the man unmarried – especially for those put off by the thought of going to a brothel – in short supply, and young women colluded to keep it that way. What they wanted was marriage, a family, and stability – in short, Hymowtiz’ “protector and provider.” They were not much interested in young men reluctant to step up to the plate; and they were decidedly unfriendly and, in fact, downright nasty to other young women who broke the rules. George Bernard Shaw caught the drift of things in the world of yesteryear when he observed that marriage was an institution bound to last – given that it combined the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.

In about 1969, as I well remember, everything changed, and footloose young men found that they could easily get for free from nice girls what they would hitherto have had to pay for in unsavory circumstances from girls not so nice. Young men are instinctively nomadic, and they enjoy chasing (and being chased and unchaste) – so this suited them just fine. In the circumstances, they found that it was outside marriage that they could most easily combine the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity, and they succumbed to the temptation. There were women who would feed them, do their laundry, and provide for their needs in, ahem, other ways.

When Hymowitz observes, “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,” she misses something that Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas and co-author of Premarital Sex in America catches when he observes, “When attractive women will still bed you, life for young men, even those who are floundering, just isn’t so bad.” There is, after all, at least one point on which Freud was more than half right: “Civilization is built on blocked, redirected, and channeled sexual impulse, because men will work for sex.” The real problem, as Regnerus points out, is that “today’s young men . . . seldom have to.”

In the end, however, this leaves both women and men unsatisfied. For no one really wants to be a pig, and members of both sexes possess longings that a passing roll in the hay will not do much of anything to quell. If Kay Hymowitz’ article in The Wall Street Journal adequately reflects her book, the latter will be at best a starting point for rumination on this subject – and not a sufficient source of enlightenment. But, on such a matter, it is certainly good to begin some serious thinking – for with regard to the relations between the two sexes we live in a world increasingly unhappy. Witness the fury aroused by even raising this subject.

  1. CoolHand
    TeeJaw:One of Wolff’s characters, one of the jocks I think, refers to the women on campus as  “cum dumpsters.”  The women I grew up with were nothing of the sort, and if any guy had made a similar reference he might have received a punch in the nose. · Mar 2 at 10:35pm

    This was not common where I went to school, but then, neither was the “hook up” and party sex thing either.

    And I agree, any man who said such a thing in my presence about a woman I was even casual friends with would end up with a very sore face for his trouble.

    There are very few things in the world I hate more than a user, male or female.

    Strong personalities that prey on weaker ones really get my ire up.

  2. Robert Promm

    Great article and spot on.  I “liked” in FaceBook and that way it will get passed on to my “boys”. Here’s hoping that they will read it!

  3. CoolHand

    As an unmarried man just into his thirties, I read these kinds of studies and just shake my head.

    I don’t know why most men my age do anything, and I don’t know why ALL women of ANY age do things.

    What I can say, is why I do things.

    Currently, I find myself reluctant to enter into long term relationships because of the dire penalties that await when/if such an undertaking dissolves.

    In my state, if you live with a woman (or she can prove you’ve been in a monogamous relationship) for more than six or eight months (I forget which), she becomes your common law wife, entitling her to all sorts of things that used to be yours, should things go badly.

    Being self employed, I own a lot of tools and machines, etc.  I do not savor the thought of having to liquidate most of them to “settle up” with a woman who simply lived with me for 0.05% of her life.

    Continued . . .

  4. CoolHand

    I also find that it is increasingly difficult to figure out who a woman really is while you’re in the initial stages of dating.  They spend so much time on deception and convincing you that they’re something they’re not, that it’s damned near impossible to sift through it all and come out with their real personality.

    Call it the classic “bait-n-switch”, where she sells herself as an easy going girl who likes cars and football while you’re dating, but who turns out to actually hate all non-Honda Civic cars, despise sports, and harbor a deep seated need to force the same on her chosen mate once she feels like he’s good and hooked.

    I love the company of a good woman, but the reality is that currently, the chances of finding one are very low, and the risks if you do not are very high.

    A very sad state of affairs indeed, but there it is.

  5. raycon and lindacon

    George Gilder, in 1986, in his book Men and Marriage pretty much predicted every word of your post.  Bottom line… women have always been the foundation of civilization by demanding the protections, provisions and stability of marriage in return for sexual satisfaction.  When women decided to give it away free in the 1960s, they doomed their progeny to an unfulfilled life forever more.  Who are the losers?  Everyone.  How can we recover?  For women to rediscover what they knew millennia ago.  Nothing of value can be simply given freely away without the result being a cheapening of it.

    Ladies, you have won by losing big.

  6. katievs

    My Dad gave me a copy of Men and Marriage before I went off to college. Being extremely innocent at the time, I was a little embarrassed by the frank discussion of male sexuality, but also deeply impressed by the basic thesis.  

    I have quibbles with it now, but on the whole, find it profoundly true.  

    I am more than convinced that the key to recovering western civilization is a re-discovery of sexual morality.  (It’s also the key to our resistance to Islam.)

    I note that Pope John Paul II devoted years of his Wednesday audiences to the subject, later published under the title Theology of the Body.  Then he established institutes for marriage and family throughout the world.  He was way ahead of the curve.

  7. katievs

    Correction: since I went to college in 1984, it must have been a little later that my dad gave me Men and Marriage.   Anyway, it was when I was still innocent. 

  8. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Rosie: Prof. Rahe, your observation on Sunday that the sexual revolution has deeply affected the relations between the sexes is spot on.  For example, I am part of a dwindling group that does not believe that premarital sex is acceptable.  Think about the limitations this belief imposes in finding a mate.  Many individuals including conservatives will not contemplate dating someone who has this belief.  The sexual revolution impact is so deep that within the conservative movement premarital sex has become completely acceptable.  I understand that conservatism is also about personal liberty, but how can it be denied that the de-stigmatization of premarital sex in part has led to this sorry state of affairs? · Mar 2 at 10:07pm

    It may be harder to get a date, but the pool from which that particular date comes is a good one.

  9. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Miss Conduct: Having always opposed feminism, and having taken unbelievable abuse from my loving tolerant sisters from college until present for it, I have no quibble with the conservative criticism of it. However, I’m gettin’ kinda tired of being called a lying, faithless, unpaid-member-of-the-world’s-oldest-profession just because I’m a chick.  I don’t hang around women who talk about men that way–I won’t have it in my presence.   I can’t even read most of the posts and articles regarding Mrs. Hymowitz’s book. The helpless, malignant resentment toward women is so depressing. It fills me with despair and makes me want to never talk to any men but my fiance. · Mar 2 at 6:49pm

    I can understand your despair. It cuts both ways. There is today a great deal of antipathy between the two sexes. In my opinion, it derives from deep disappointment, and that in turn derives from the decline of chastity. It is no accident that the time-horizon of the love ballad is eternity.

  10. prairiedoc

    In my practice of medicine I see hundreds of girls who co-habitate, have kids, go from one man to the next with no sense of shame or concern.   The government subsidizes them, their parents raise the kids often and they don’t really seem to see any value in demanding a commitment from a man.  Many just hang around, figuring the guy will be more likely to stay long term, the longer they’re together. Pity the children.

    That’s what male-hating feminism, and government programs that take the place of fathers have wrought.

  11. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    katievs: Correction: since I went to college in 1984, it must have been a little later that my dad gave me Men and Marriage.   Anyway, it was when I was still innocent.  · Mar 2 at 4:34pm

    The book was originally published in 1973 under the title Sexual Suicide. I read it circa 1977.

  12. StickerShock

     Paul, this is an exceptional post.  As the mom of a 19 year old daughter, it’s been a hot topic in our household.  You should write a book on the subject.

    Katievs — The summer before my daughter left for college I had her read I Am Charlotte Simmons.  I wanted her to be aware of the culture shock she was about to esperience.  Sadly, the Catholic high school religion classes focused almost exclusively on social justice and a twisted view of feminism, so I had to introduce her to Theology of the Body. 

  13. The Mugwump

     Worse than the devaluation of men and manhood is the devaluation of fatherhood.  Modern feminism is the culprit for which we are paying a high price.   

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    StickerShock:  Paul, this is an exceptional post.  As the mom of a 19 year old daughter, it’s been a hot topic in our household.  You should write a book on the subject. · Mar 2 at 4:59pm

    My wife and I speak frequently about doing so. Our working title is Dating and Mating. I have a book on ancient Sparta to finish first. Thereafter, we might just take this on. We have two daughters and two sons — all young — and we worry about their fate in the profoundly confused world they are about to enter.

  15. katievs
    Paul A. Rahe

    katievs: Correction: since I went to college in 1984, it must have been a little later that my dad gave me Men and Marriage.   Anyway, it was when I was still innocent.  · Mar 2 at 4:34pm

    The book was originally published in 1973 under the title Sexual Suicide. I read it circa 1977. · Mar 2 at 4:48pm

    Yes, but I’m virtually certain I got it from my Dad as Men and Marriage.  Are you suggesting that I couldn’t possibly have been innocent two years into college?! :)

  16. katievs
    StickerShock:  Katievs — The summer before my daughter left for college I had her read I Am Charlotte Simmons.  I wanted her to be aware of the culture shock she was about to esperience.  Sadly, the Catholic high school religion classes focused almost exclusively on social justice and a twisted view of feminism, so I had to introduce her to Theology of the Body.  · Mar 2 at 4:59pm

    I am Charlotte Simmons is a painful read.  Wolfe is a great social critic.  But he doesn’t seem to see where the hope lies.

  17. katievs
    ~Paules:  Worse than the devaluation of men and manhood is the devaluation of fatherhood.  Modern feminism is the culprit for which we are paying a high price.    · Mar 2 at 5:00pm

    Paules, you are right.  But don’t forget–please let’s none of us forget–there is a legitimate kernel of truth and justice in feminism.  As we work toward “a reform of the reform”, let’s be sure not to throw that out with the bathwater.

  18. Xennady

    I don’t think it’s about the men. Woman know full well that the full force of the law and the state are there for them, while men have been painfully taught the opposite. Basically, a man has no rights a woman should feel bound to respect, according to present society. It seems like most of the men I know have grim anecdotes to back up my statement, and if we complain, our lot is to be insulted and told to- ahem- man up.

    This is not stable. Basically, men need to have a stake in this society or it will fail. We have been coasting on the moral and ethically framework of times past, while the legal reality has become something utterly different. Men have noticed.

    Women are thrilled by all their wonderful accomplishments and freedom now, no doubt. But when family structure finishes unraveling eventually they’ll be living in a continent sized version of East St. Louis minus the welfare state to send them rent money and foodstamps.

    Not good, obviously.

     

  19. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    There are a great many unhappy women out there. In the academy, before coming to Hillsdale, I met very few women who were not feminists, and none of the ones who were really serious about their feminism were happy at all.

  20. Robert Bennett
    katievs

    Paul A. Rahe

    katievs: Correction: since I went to college in 1984, it must have been a little later that my dad gave me Men and Marriage.   Anyway, it was when I was still innocent.  · Mar 2 at 4:34pm

    The book was originally published in 1973 under the title Sexual Suicide. I read it circa 1977. · Mar 2 at 4:48pm
    Yes, but I’m virtually certain I got it from my Dad as Men and Marriage.  Are you suggesting that I couldn’t possibly have been innocent two years into college?! :) · Mar 2 at 5:04pm

    There is a beautiful short story that George Gilder wrote in that book called I believe The Princess and the Barbarian.  It’s still a wonderful fairy tale to read.