For this generation, it seems the old adage, “Boys will be boys,” hits a little too close to home.
In Kay Hymowitz’s new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men Into Boys, Hymowitz sheds light on why she believes women’s educational advancements and career achievements have turned men in their 20s and early 30s into “child-men.” You know, guys who still think fart jokes are funny, marriages are smothering and real adulthood doesn’t come until at least age 35?
Where did this so-called child-man come from? He’s glorified in pop culture—exalted in movies by overgrown boy actors like Seth Rogen, Owen Wilson, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, who are exonerated for their childlike tendencies, frat-boy antics and harmless womanizing.
While young women are pushing themselves harder than ever in their academic and professional lives, young men seem to be pulling themselves back—attempting to keep their perpetual post-college party lifestyles alive and bearing resemblance to 21st century Peter Pans (thankfully, sans tights).
Has women’s rejection of traditional gender roles also caused men to rebel from theirs? Things like marriage, children and settling down—which used to signal becoming a man—are now almost seen as a castration of their manhood, leading to one more fallen soldier in the war against domesticity. From Hymowitz’s perspective, this new version of manhood has become a childlike fantasy endowed with all the perks of adulthood—money, sex, freedom—but none of its responsibilities. While women are seeking to “do it all,” these so-called child-men are instead seeking to do as little as possible.
I wonder if the thing holding many women back from fully-embracing this idea of delayed adulthood is simply the undeniable ticking of our biological clocks. We like to have fun too. But, unlike men, we know we can’t behave like children forever if we ever want to actually have any.
Don’t get me wrong—plenty of women aren’t trying to jump into marriage right away either. We earn our degrees, work hard focusing on our careers and relish our economic achievements. Some of us have no desire to ever settle down. And I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to say a guy also without this desire has an automatic loss of their man card. Maybe they’re just as confused as us.
Today, more woman graduate from college than men (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men) and have higher GPAs. Women are no longer destined to be housewives, nurses and secretaries. Women can be doctors, lawyers and astronauts—whatever we want. And as much as we love our fathers, the only thing we really need to become a mother is a sperm bank withdrawal.
Feminism didn’t open up new doors for women, it redefined what it meant to be one. We have evolved into the kind of society that now places more value and esteem in feminine traits—that gives women the ability to wear the dress as well as the pants. But, as one insightful male friend made me realize, there’s another side to this equation: What defines masculinity in a world that doesn’t need it?
In the process of finding ourselves, have we led our other half astray?
Many women are now realizing, with their biological clocks a’ ticking, they are ready to start a family. But their boyfriends aren’t ready to follow suit. Happily ever after becomes an unromantic game of coercion, anxiety and ultimatums, where Peter Pan feels like he’s being forced out of Never Never Land and pushed toward the very adult lifestyle he’s been rebelling against. When push comes to shove, men see this stumble toward the unknowns of fatherhood as an emasculating surrender of the one part of themselves they have always been able to define.
Feminism may have given women the freedom to become something more than wives and mothers.
But it didn’t make us girls.