A pushy feminist may be poised to become the first president of the United States, but the game is over and masculinity has won. You have been called out as hopelessly immature “social retards,” addicted to binge drinking, online porn, and massive online Gears of War battles – and rightly so – but you need not change. The house of feminism has folded like a cheap suit and you will no longer be put upon by your mother’s call to grow up or girls’ underhanded machinations to change you. Feminists have surveyed the landscape and discovered there is no future save for the man-child.
Allow this author to explain. In “Child-Man in the Promised Land,” Ms. Kay S. Hymowitz (save your hymen puns for the comments) of the Manhattan Institute has vividly described how you, the common twenty-something American male, has occupied a “hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance” and happily so. While some observers have condemned your lives as “extended adolescence,” Ms. Hymowitz inadvertently reminds you how great it is. You’ve opted to marry less and marry later in life. You have your own Bible (Maxim magazine, of “covers and features with pouty-lipped, tousled-haired pinups in lacy underwear…”), your own ideal domain (the “Animal House living room” featuring stereo, game console, plasma screen TVs, and high definition satellite connections for ESPN 8 “The Ocho!” broadcasts), your reflection in television and movie screens (Transformers, Saw horror flicks, Superbad, the whole Ben Stiller to Will Ferrell “frat pack” catalogue, Adult Swim, and the nothing’s sacred monument that is South Park), your own fields of Olympia (frag-fests and clans on Halo 3), and finally, your own credo to define yourself and your ethos – “bros before hos.” Ms. Hymowitz attempts to diagnose the causes – chauvinist media caricatures, rebellion against any and all authorities, revolts against bourgeois domesticity – but concludes your profile is one of choice. “Now that the [single young male] can put off family into the hazily distant future, he can—and will—try to stay a child-man.” Ms. Hymowitz warns “nature has rules,” and whatever debt you take on to persist in adolescence, you will eventually have to face the consequences of existential bankruptcy.
Little does Ms. Hymowitz realize she has been thrown under the bus by a fellow female (no surprise, right guys?). According to Ms. Lori Gotlieb, in a recent Atlantic Monthly article, the question for fellow women remains to be alone or to settle, to which she advises (with authority) “Settle!” Ms. Hymowitz judges you to be sub-par husband and father material, but Ms. Gotlieb counsels “settling is the way to go… if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family.” You know many men who’ve warned you against marriage, but now Ms. Gotlieb helps you out by lowering expectations.
Ms. Gotlieb’s construct may still entail marriage – a “mundane and often boring” division of labor – but you’re still likely to have your own space. “So [what] if you rarely see your husband… how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?” Score! You just have to keep your stuff tidy and you’ll get plenty of time for the playoffs, poker, porn, and Playstation. Ms. Gotlieb puts it all into perspective – “while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation.. once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content.” Sweet! No more sad recollections of your buds as ill-fated soldiers – “haven’t seen him in ages… he went off and got married.”
Even gender traitor, Greg Behrendt, author of He’s Just Not That Into You, is put in his place; Ms. Gotlieb reminds women the co-author is Ms. Liz Tucillo, who wallows in singledom that “just plain sucks.” Ms. Gotlieb even cites the chick TV shows or plotlines you gladly clicked over (The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the endless Ross-Rachel story on Friends) as cautionary tales. Ms. Gotlieb is on your side. She issues a stark warning – “…settle or risk being alone forever. That’s not a whole lot of choice.”
But if this is a triumph for the Y chromosome, then why does this author shudder at this prospect?
Is it because he is no longer single and young? Having just exited this glorious brotherhood (only 237 days ago but who’s counting), is this author experiencing pangs of jealousy? For this author, smiling insincerely to morally casual buxom young girls, trash-talking on Halo 2, and Van Wilder quote-fests are a recent, not ancient, memory.
No, the real reason sleeps in the room across the hall. Ensconced in a redwood crib lies the author’s son. Exploring this new role of fatherhood, the author keeps a close on eye to the challenges of raising a Man in today's society.
As such, the author posits that Ms. Hymowitz is only partly right. Ms. Hymowitz includes a fitting reference to an anthropological maxim – “it is marriage that turn boys into men” – but concludes a libertine cultural landscape has enabled males otherwise. Yes, full-length Jenna Jameson videos readily downloadable via BitTorrent and all-night Bioshock campaigns will retard a male’s maturity quotient, but the primary reason lies with an under-explored component of Ms. Hymowitz’s essay.
No one is asking these men to grow up.
More pointedly, no one is asking or expecting or even demanding these men to grow up. In discussing the Seth Rogen hit Knocked Up, Ms. Hymowitz plainly calls out Seth’s father for what he is – “useless” – but does not press the matter. This thrice-divorced loser IS central to the issue. While Ms. Hymowitz asserts Seth and like men-children are “not very promising husbands and fathers,” what about their fathers? A substantial burden must be borne by the previous generation of fathers who abdicated their singularly paramount responsibility to raise their sons into men. Media, rebelliousness, and restlessness can be factors, but their impact can be bounded by parental authority, most emphatically by the male father figure. This generation of men-children represents the legacy of the preceding Baby Boom generation’s deconstruction of the family by way of variously radically post-moral identity-centric “isms,” naively envisioned as pathways to post-modern evolution but ultimately destructive in its abandonment of fundamental values regarding the family and, in this case, patriarchal roles.
American Beauty was an award-winning film featuring Kevin Spacey as an aging Baby Boomer dissatisfied with his life. After meeting a Lolita in the form of his daughter’s friend, he finds the wherewithal to reverse his misery. Fight Club was a cult hit featuring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as two Gen Xers who revolt against the stale consumer culture by forming an underground club where members pummel each other in bloody fistfights and wreak anarchist havoc around town.
While seemingly very different, the two films are strongly linked.
In American Beauty, Spacey wonders where his enthusiasm for life and family have gone, but he does not resurrect himself by renewing his commitment to an alienated daughter and over-achieving wife, but by instead regressing into adolescence. Spacey’s path entails resigning from his job (to become a short-order cook), finally standing up to his frigid wife (by trading in his Volvo for a Camaro and smoking pot), and undertaking a vigorous exercise regimen (so he will be attractive to the irresistible flirt constantly tempting him). In the end, Spacey abstains from bedding the young girl, but openly declares he has found happiness.
In Fight Club, Pitt and Norton could have been Spacey’s estranged sons. In one conversation about their upbringing, the alienation from their fathers is readily evident. Pitt recounts making his “yearly call” to his dad to get his advice. When hearing Pitt’s father’s last suggestion was to get married, Norton counters he didn’t know his father and subsequently he’s nowhere mature enough to get married. Pitt responds, “We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”
The contrast between the narcissism and libido driving Spacey’s character versus the spiritual hunger in his generational successors is startling; at one point, Pitt riffs on about this generation of men abandoned by fathers:
I’ve seen in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandered. G-- damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s--- we don't need.
We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression.
Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives.
Indeed, a defiantly powerful existential declaration to be found in film coming in the same decade opened by Francis Fukuyama famously asserting the “end of history.” Fukuyama conjectured history’s end on the final resolution of the Hegelian thesis that the will of men arises from their bid for mastery over others. Fukuyama contended liberal democracy tames such violent impulses in man and thus, with the collapse of the totalitarian ideology in competition with liberal democracy, the perpetual peace of a liberal world envisioned by Immanuel Kant can ensue. Fukuyama acknowledges Friedrich Nietzsche’s admonition that such a state of affairs would result in “men without chests,” but Fukuyama argues the achievement of peace should outweigh this concern.
The Constitution remains one of the most perfect summations of liberal democracy in history and global peace is a worthwhile goal, but if contemporary American society is to be increasingly populated by directionless and infantile men without chests paired with women resigned to their mates' mediocrity, then the potential for continued progress will be dangerously imperiled.
To focus such grand sentiments, consider Ms. Gotlieb’s closing warning to fellow women against lowering standards too much -- “I have my son to consider… [it] would be a disservice to my son.”
The author readily agrees. In a culture where the top 10 men voted the most masculine are either metrosexual athletes, actors, or recording artists -- modern day men without chests -- raising his son accordance to manly virtues is the cardinal obligation. Duty, honor, self-reliance, ambition, scholarly excellence, athletic prowess are the attributes of a Man. The 2007 book, The Dangerous Book For Boys, resonates for fathers not because of page-turning nostalgia, but the eager anticipation of sharing stories of Rome and romps outdoors with their sons.
Present-day twenty-somethings reveling in their imbecility represents the tragic failure of a preceding generation of males.
For any male seeking to define himself as a Man, shaping the fortunes of his son should be the ultimate ambition.
As Ms. Hymowitz pointedly declares at the end of her essay,
Young men especially need a culture that can help them define worthy aspirations. Adults don’t emerge. They’re made.