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Manning Up or Wimping Out: Men Don’t Exist to Serve Women’s Desires

Kay Hymowitz's new book wants the current generation of "child-men" to "man up." But maybe our society shouldn't have spent decades tearing them down.

by
Helen Smith

Bio

February 23, 2011 - 12:00 am

I read Kay Hymowitz’s new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, recently. First, the good points:

Hymowitz does acknowledge that women have made great strides in our society mainly due to advances in technology and the knowledge economy that gives better jobs to those with degrees, degrees that “take years.” Hymowitz has a good chapter titled “The New Girl Order” in which she admits that Americans now like girls better than boys. She does a fair job of describing some of the biases against boys, though she does little to rectify them.

Now a couple of bad points:

Hymowitz talks to very few actual men for this book. If males are included, it is through a book or blog written by a woman or a chivalrous man. Or Hymowitz invokes a blog written by a male blogger such as “Roissy” to prove how “misogynist” these male bloggers are. However, her definition of “misogynist” seems to be any male who dares complain about a female. The book would have been better if Hymowitz had included more actual male voices, and if she had demonstrated a bit more psychological understanding of the male perspective. (But then, maybe that is a book I should write).

I do believe Hymowitz tried to be sensitive to the plight of today’s men, but the book presents as being more concerned about how men fit into the world of women rather than how men actually feel themselves.

Hymowitz makes little or no mention of the discrimination going on in today’s college culture against men. She sees men as a bunch of goofballs who just can’t cut it in comparison to women. Hymowitz gives an example of how women work harder than men in college. Women, according to studies:

… contribute more to class discussion and have more frequent communication with faculty including discussions about career plans. … Overall, men are less engaged in college life.

She mentions the work of Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, who reports that “men tend to be loners.” One professor Hymowitz mentions says:

The men come into class with their backward baseball caps and the “word processor ate my homework” excuses. Meanwhile the women are checking their day planners and asking for recommendations to law school.

If women were showing disinterest or not engaging in conversation at college, the big question would be: “what are we doing wrong, and how can we get them engaged?” When men tune out, they are good-for-nothing slackers. Perhaps if men were welcomed into this conversation, they wouldn’t need to sit back in stony silence.

What would happen if a regular Joe, not an alpha male, came into class and gave his true opinion about the topics at hand, say in a psychology or sociology class? What if that opinion was non-PC, such as: “I think that men should not have to pay child support if women can have abortions,” etc.? How far would that man get in school? Would he graduate? Would he even pass the class? Even if men won’t admit it to themselves and women like Hymowitz overlook the problem, it exists.

After 45 years of being told they are pigs, sexist, and good for nothing, men have quit trying to please others, so they slap on a baseball cap and don’t talk much. And with good reason.

According to Hymowitz, these child-men are all used to a freewheeling life of going from girl to girl and video game to video game. Hymowitz mistakenly believes that men are suffering from the limits of American individualism.

Though she reluctantly admits that the “materials available to young men are meager, and what is available contradicts itself,” she comes up with this ridiculous conclusion: “At bottom, they are too free, a fact epitomized by their undefined, open-ended, and profoundly autonomous pre-adulthood.” She ends the book suggesting that young women will have to get a better understanding of the limitations imposed by their bodies (Huh?) and young men need to man up.

My question to her: Why should they?

What do you have to offer these men you call child-men if they do man up? Are you going to ensure that they have fair access to their children should they divorce? Will you make sure that they aren’t hauled off to jail if the wife makes false accusations of domestic violence? Will you let them keep the earnings and property that they worked for over years rather than have them turned over to their wife, even if she cheated and was abusive? Will you shield the millions of men who live in fear of their significant other but have nowhere to turn for help? Will you make marriage, in other words, as valuable to men as you think it is for women?

I doubt it. What Hymowitz and other authors in this area — see Kathleen Parker’s Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care for another example — seem to want is for these men to marry women and make them happy. Rather than recognize that they are autonomous beings who are living for themselves and fulfilling their own needs and not a woman’s obligations, these analyses of the “man problem” seem to be all about what women want.

Well, such are the fruits of half a century of organizing gender relations along the lines of women’s immediate desires. Long term, it has resulted in men bailing out, going “John Galt” in the gender economy. And I can understand the disappointment. But I don’t share it. As you sow, so shall you reap.

You are frustrated that some men have turned their backs on women and have decided to live for themselves and not for you. Perhaps you should have thought of that possibility earlier. And as for that American individualism that you seem to hold in disregard?

May it live long and prosper.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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