Adam Sandler, Male Drifters, and the New-Girl Economy

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys

  • Kay S. Hymowitz
  • Basic Books, 2011; 284 pages, $25.99

A couple of months ago, the Yale chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon was suspended for its members’ behavior during pledge week. Pledges, many of them blindfolded, shouted out chants to their female classmates such as “No Means Yes, and Yes Means Anal.” The media have made much of the fact that DKE was the fraternity of both Presidents Bush. The more salient point is the lesson offered about the relations between the sexes on college campuses these days—and indeed beyond college.

Before jumping to all-too-common, knee-jerk conservative responses—“It’s the fault of feminism,” “Boys will be boys,” “It’s a fraternity; what do you expect?”—we should remember some overlooked yet obvious facts. The young men—we must use that term loosely these days—attend one of the oldest and most venerable institutions of higher learning in the nation. A Yale degree opens doors everywhere in the world. In short, these are future leaders, whether in business, law, politics, or culture. Further, DKE is an exclusive organization within an extremely selective college. Its founding documents state that the fraternity recruits men who “combine in equal proportions the gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good fellow.” At least one of these elements has dropped out of the equation. In a sane world, these “frat boys” would be defending young women, not accosting and demeaning them. Looking to the behavior of their seniors, we see little difference. The scandals of Representative Chris “Craigslist” Lee, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Representative Anthony Wiener have become commonplace.

Welcome to the world of the child-man, who is not expected and has no inclination to do the most fundamental human thing: grow up. To understand this depraved new world, anyone worried about the culture—even salvageable young men themselves—can do no better than to read Manning Up, Kay Hymowitz’s essential addition to the growing corpus of books and articles examining the stubborn immaturity of today’s young American males. As usual, Mrs. Hymowitz writes with humor, insight, verve, and a zest for anecdote. No one who has the least interest in this theme will be disappointed.

Before addressing the child-man head-on, Hymowitz takes the reader on a somewhat circuitous though altogether interesting voyage through the land of the “preadult.” Preadults—men and women—extend their college years well into their late-20s at least, and even into their 30s and 40s. (The book is understandably concerned with the college-educated, mostly urban higher wage-earners.) This is the age at which adults of generations past have been immersed in the duties of building and raising a family. Family life tempered the individualism of modern and American life. The preadult, however, is absorbed—at times obsessed—with her education, her career, her perfect match (who will magically appear when the time is right), and her material fulfillment. The “her” here is no P.C. sop. The preadult women are those whose lives have changed the most, and materially speaking at least, they are making out like bandits.

Hymowitz goes well behind the headlines in order to explain the disparity in the effects of the Great Recession on the two sexes. She observes that in today’s troubled economy, manufacturing jobs have evaporated while the female-dominated health and government-service sectors have grown, resulting in what some call a “he-cession.” Furthermore, we are reminded that women are now moving past the 50-percent mark in medical and law schools. Yet Hymowitz does not stop there. She holds that women are actually surpassing men in the increasingly dominant “knowledge economy.” While men still rule on the tech side, women’s higher levels of education and greater sensitivity to customers’ and clients’ needs—their “emotional intelligence”—put them in a better position to create jobs that anyone over 40 never dreamed of as a child: “Mommy, I want to grow up to be a food stylist!”? Or a design anthropologist, content strategist, yoga center director—among other careers mentioned. As America leaves the age of corporate hierarchy, women seem to have the edge in the new economy’s decentralized, highly intimate, and personalized approach to exchange. Further, as women’s earnings grow, more cottage industries spring up catering to women’s buying power, now often unalloyed with the expenses of rearing children.

That is not to say that men do not occupy exciting, lucrative jobs in the knowledge economy, video-game designers being the most obvious. Yet it would seem that men have a finite amount of beer they can drink, pizza they can eat, sports they can watch, and gaming they can do, while the opportunities for fashion designers, day-spa owners, and scented-candle makers appear limitless. Simply apply Adam Smith’s economic calculus to figure out the number of jobs created by the aggressive consumerism of a Carrie Bradshaw, principal character of Sex and the City and the belle ideale of the preadult world, and you will gain a remedial lesson in the unfathomable.

While many men are simply being left behind, Hymowitz shows that those who are succeeding often prove to be less than admirable. The male counterpart to Carrie Bradshaw is the very real Tucker Max. Max’s resume would give rise to the greatest of expectations: University of Chicago undergrad, Duke Law School. But these credentials have translated into a career as, well, a professional “a—hole.” More specifically, Max sleeps with women, records his experiences on his blog, and occasionally turns these posts into a bestseller. As disturbing as this knowledge-economy career is, one must wonder about the lives and responsibilities of his million or so fans. Whereas the men of the 1950s and 1960s who “read” Playboy put the magazine on the top shelf of the closet and stuck to their 9-to-5 routines to support their families, today’s child-men appear to be perfectly content with being jerks like Tucker, pursuing their own more circumscribed careers, and avoiding family until the age of . . . who knows? Adam Sandler’s movies, Maxim magazine, and The Man Show: all make an appearance in this book to show that, while women’s attention away from work may not be on anything much higher than the latest Gucci accessory, at least it’s not in the toilet.

Hymowitz’s chief concern is marriage. On that front, the sophisticated and successful Carrie Bradshaw turns out to be secretly sad and unfulfilled, in her mid-30s, watching her stock plummet in the unforgiving sexual economy. The author performs yeoman’s labor in not only mining the various sociological data that shed light on the sexes but in navigating the multitude of dating services, websites, and fertility clinics holding out hope to 40-year-old women who have abandoned finding Mr. Big or Mr. Right. Of course, the problem is not to be pinned exclusively on men. As Hymowitz shows, career-minded women (who are not necessarily feminists) breeze through their 20s without giving serious thought to marriage and family. Indeed, we see in this book that the mixed signals women offer to men only confuse and frustrate the sex most lacking in emotional intelligence. Worse, women regularly regard men as dispensable. Some of those men do not care. Others turn to a perverse philosophy of Darwinian dating: the expectation that even when you are with someone, both you and that person are looking to trade up.

Not all of the contentions in this important book should go unchallenged. The chief questions concern the extent to which the knowledge economy has caused the altered relations between the sexes and the moral demise of men. Are professors seeing hyper-qualified men leaving their classrooms only to fail to find work in the “New Girl Order,” or are they seeing instead a growing percentage of inattentive male drifters there for the sports, boys who will go on to drift in the fast-break that is the new economy? Why should men not be excelling in this economy of risk, when risk has been the staple diet of men throughout the ages? And why do we have this particular knowledge economy? Does not the explosion of green jobs, a subject not dealt with in the book, owe to the general sappiness of our “caring” culture, a caring culture that looks upon the birth of a child as a drain on our sacred environment? Do not the plethora of jobs in corporate H.R. departments, staffed largely by emotionally intelligent women or milquetoasts like Toby on The Office, derive from a political and legal climate that discourages innovation through the omnipresent fear of litigation and has almost forgotten old-fashioned competition in deference to the new idol of cooperation?

In her last chapter, Hymowitz does canvass other reasons why men are fast becoming boy-men, the most important being the fatherless family. But factors such as the feminization of the nation’s school and college classrooms (terrain covered by Christina Hoff Sommers) deserve a greater hearing. In other words, the very centers of knowledge that prepare students for the new economy are visibly hostile to male acquisition of the all-important knowledge. Mrs. Hymowitz is perfectly open to these questions and admits that fully diagnosing, much less curing, the maladies of our preadult, child-man culture is staggeringly difficult. Readers who wish to find a more entertaining and instructive look into this grim subject, though, will be hard-pressed to find a better book than Manning Up.

Dr. Moore, who served as a lieutentant in the U.S. Marine Corps, teaches history at Hillsdale College. He writes frequently on the subject of manhood and is the author of the novel The Perfect Game, a story about boys, families, and faith set during the Reagan years. He recently launched