Woman Up

 
 

In one of this year's most important books, Kay Hymowitz explores how the rise of women has turned men into boys.

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“We give birth. You pick up the check.” This pithy wisdom on female-male relations came from television hostess Kelly Ripa on her morning program Live with Regis and Kelly this past summer. When her co-host asked for her thoughts on the notion of women paying the bill after a dinner date, Ripa exclaimed, “I’m sure [a lady] doesn’t want to pick it up. Because she thinks that chivalry is dead already, maybe the guy should impress her and pick up the check. And maybe he should pull out her chair once in a while too.” She added, “Any feminist out there that disagrees with me, I am sorry, but it’s gone ridiculous now. . . . We give birth, you pick up the check.” As for her two sons, Ripa told her viewers what she tells her husband: “Raise your sons to pick up a check for a lady.”

A few hours later, the women’s website Jezebel slammed Ripa for her “antiquated social extremism.” Its writer fumed, “A woman can buy a man a meal anytime she damn well pleases. . . . Ladies do want to pay. Yours truly wants to pay, likes to pay, plans on paying, has paid in the past and will pay in the future.” And pay she does. But considering these two contrary views broadcast loudly on a single day, one wonders what a man today should make of this. Is there a way to know whether the girl on your date is a Kelly or a Jezebel, or must you wait in mystery till the check comes? The risks are potentially disastrous either way. Maybe you should forget about the date altogether.

According to Kay S. Hymowitz in her recent book, Manning Up, that is precisely what men are doing. Hymowitz, the William E. Simon fellow at the Manhattan Institute, surveys generations of evidence to illustrate “how the rise of women has turned men into boys.”

This isn’t the first time that women have confused men. Today, however, in many ways men are being told that they are dispensable. From paying the bill on a date, to being the breadwinner, to being a father, to even being present for the act of procreation (as Hymowitz writes, “the confusion about what we expect from men is perfectly captured by the existence of the sperm donor”), Hymowitz shows how the past decades’ cheers for female independence have, at the same time, ushered in a message that men aren't really needed.

There are consequences to that. For starters, there are consequences to motivation. Hymowitz describes a luxury of our times that she calls preadulthood, a longer route to adulthood for young people to find themselves. Preadulthood is a time to find answers to the new big question: “What should I do with my life?” As Hymowitz documents, today’s generation “is stunned with possibility, a predicament unknown to most of the human race up until very recently,” and the journey to find answers translates into a “longer, more chaotic trip to adulthood.”

The path to adulthood is further lengthened by what Hymowitz calls the knowledge economy, a new structure of earning a living that involves “trading in knowledge and ideas rather than brawn, manual dexterity, or routine clerical skills.” In America today, it is considered essential to have years more education than in the past, regardless of whether the education relates to the career one eventually takes up. University of Chicago professors Amy and Leon Kass used to ask their students, “What is the most important decision you will make in your life?” Typical answers ranged from “my career” to “what grad school to go to.” When one student answered, “the mother of my children,” he was met with a roomful of laughter. Because marriage steps in the way of the career track, Hymowitz notes, “preadults marry later than ever before in history.”

This may be because some women today are having love affairs at their jobs. Not affairs with other men, though—affairs with their work. As Hymowitz writes, “the language of romance pervades career talk. Preadults are far more likely to talk about ‘my dream job’ than ‘the man of my dreams.’” She also points to research that shows women and men “actually think differently about what role work should play in their lives. Women tend to choose careers more on the basis of what psychologists call ‘intrinsic rewards.’ That is, they are less likely to put money, power, and status at the center of their ambitions, and are more inclined to think about other sorts of satisfactions,” such as “bringing myself” to work, collaboration, and giving back to society.

This is such a new phenomenon—the language shift from job to career and from work to passion—that it is laughable to people from as little as a generation ago. Isn’t work something that no one actually wants to do but that people endure so they can fund their actual passions, or, say, pay the check at the end of dinner? Isn’t work the punishment man brought upon himself as he was kicked out of work-free Paradise?

Either way, women are signing up in great numbers. The past decade has seen growth in several new fields, such as design, journalism, public relations, event planning—“jobs for people who can communicate, persuade, charm, and multitask, who score high on empathy, intuition, communication skills, planning, and relationship building”; these are skills that, for whatever reason, women happen to possess more often than men.

But wasn’t the Rise of Women due to the triumphant overthrow of a dominant patriarchy by second-wave feminists? Sorry, no. Hymowitz provides a sober look at the facts that show how other circumstances—the prevalence of household technology, the dawn of the knowledge economy, and the growth of new industries such as design and communications—are primarily responsible for the increased presence of women in the workplace. The pill? Not so much.

What second-wave feminists can take some credit for, however, is the phenomenon of the “child-man”—the kind of man who remains a child into his thirties. Hymowitz describes how second-wave feminists, by announcing that women were “no longer interested in male providers,” were “unwittingly linking arms with Playboy,” which also blasted the idea that marriage was slavery. What prominent feminist activists of the late 1960s and early 1970s sought to erase—the interdependence of the sexes—is precisely what began to disappear in the following decades, with fathers taking a decreased role in raising their children. What followed was the birth of the child-man or, as Hymowitz puts it, “the lost son of a host of economic and cultural changes” including “preadulthood, the Playboy philosophy, feminism, the Wild West of our new media, and a shrugging iffiness on the subject of husbands and fathers.”

Who exactly are these child-men? They are men like Tucker Max, author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and those who follow his blog of drunken exploits with women; the men between ages 18 and 34 who are now the biggest users of video games, almost half of whom play for an average of 2 hours and 43 minutes per day; the readers of Maxim; the viewers of The Man Show and 1000 Ways to Die. Perhaps the epitome of the child-man appears in Judd Apatow’s film Knocked Up, in which Seth Rogan plays an unemployed twenty-three-year-old who impregnates a girl and tries to learn how to grow up and out of his bachelor pad of fart-joking stoners. As Hymowitz puts it, Knocked Up is a “fairy tale for guys,” where “a beautiful, sweet princess” comes along to save the child-man who can’t help himself.

Despite his vices, one senses that Hymowitz has sympathy for the child-man. “His problem is that he has grown up in a culture with no wisdom to offer about being a grown-up man,” she writes, and it doesn’t help that his father divorced and disappeared. Even when looking at the phenomenon of Gamers—men who practice the rule-based method of seducing women called Game—Hymowitz speaks in their defense: “Game is best understood as a male attempt to bring order to contemporary dating disarray and a child-man’s effort to relearn the primal masculinity he has been taught to suppress.” Here Hymowitz shows her impressive range: She tackles these subjects of social import not by moralizing with predetermined principles but by letting her research tell it like it is, however surprising the result. And where the research doesn’t quite explain everything, she’ll admit it: “It would be impossible to prove for certain that the loss of the almost universal male life script—manhood defined by marriage and fatherhood—is the key to the mystery of the child-man. But there are a few studies suggesting that at the very least, young men who are married or who expect to marry are motivated to work harder and make more investments in their future and are less prone to substance abuse and unemployment.”

While today’s child-men are asking, “What should I do with my life?” today’s women are asking, “What happened to all the good men?” Women may be happy with their independence and full-time jobs, but in polling data, they continue to express desire for husbands and kids one day. To these women, Hymowitz effectively offers a much needed wake-up call. She outlines scenarios and realistically dismal outcomes of common (and glorified) lifestyle choices. Don’t want to end up single and hating it at forty? Then you may need to talk to the woman in the mirror.

While at first glance Manning Up seems to be mainly about men and what men need to do, the book in many ways calls women to, well, woman up. First of all, nothing helps men be men more than women being women. That means acknowledging what makes women unique as women. Surely a major part of womanhood is fertility. If women want their dreams of family life to be realized, Hymowitz puts bluntly, “young women will have to get a better understanding of the limitations imposed by their bodies.” There are some things we can’t change, like biology. But Hymowitz isn’t saying women shouldn't work. Instead, she provides a book full of evidence to suggest tactfully that to embrace womanhood more fully, young women should embrace its blessings together with its limitations.

So, in a way, Kelly Ripa hit the issue on the head. No doubt she’s one of the most successful working women today. But she didn't reach professional success at the expense of forgetting a fundamental part of womanhood: “We give birth.”

Mary Rose Somarriba is chief operating officer of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC, and managing editor of Altcatholicah.

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