Manning Up

How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, Kay S. Hymowitz, Basic Books.

It’s a good time be female. Better educated and more empowered than ever before, young women are enjoying the benefits of an increasingly girl-friendly economy, and thriving in an America that no longer seems to need men—not even for having children. Meanwhile, young American males are struggling to navigate the long and labyrinthine road to post-adolescence, filling their leisure time by drinking beer, playing video games, and watching Adam Sandler movies. In other words, guys in their twenties and thirties are putting off adulthood, while women are as focused and driven as ever. Says author Kay Hymowitz:  It’s a trend that has negative implications for society, because it contributes to the trend toward family breakdown.

Hymowitz, a contributing editor of City Journal, begins the book by defining her use of the term “preadulthood”—when your average twenty-something “hang[s] out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.” Preadulthood is a new and momentous sociological development, she says, one whose cause is mostly economic. And while both sexes go through it, it “doesn’t tend to bring out the best in men,” she writes, which has prompted legions of young women to ask themselves: What’s-the-matter-with-guys-today?

The problem, according to Hymowitz, is that men no longer know what is expected of them as men or adults, and are continuously reminded of how stupid, insensitive, and generally clueless they are. If the preponderance of man-child actors and arrested development TV shows and movies is any indication, young men seem to have embraced this stereotype: Witness the commercial success of Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Steve Carrell, and Johnny Knoxville, to name but a few. In contrast, women of what Hymowitz calls the New Girl Order “project a giddy optimism and determined fabulosity.”

No one should be comfortable “with the growing evidence that Americans now like girls better than boys,” she writes, before noting that there’s now a term (“gender disappointment”) for mothers of sons who would have much preferred a daughter. Hymowitz wraps up the book by considering what men need to do to “man up” and regain some of the footing they’ve lost. Yet it seems inevitable that males will remain out of sync with women for the forseeable future. “The result,” says Hymowitz, will be “relationship mismatch, miscommunication, misery, and more business for sperm banks.”