Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Peurile Men Hate Bossy Women

Readers may recall my post, back in February, about a tedious article by Kay Hymowitz titled "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" the thesis of which is that men are spending their 20s in extended adolescence rather than manning up, getting jobs, and getting married. I just discovered her follow-up article, which consists mostly of quotations from emails she received from men after the first piece. It struck me that publishing inflammatory articles and then printing all the emails you get in response is an easy way to do journalism. Anyway, what do the men say?

It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM [single young man] is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

Here’s Jeff from Middleburg, Florida: “I am not going to hitch my wagon to a woman . . . who is more into her abs, thighs, triceps, and plastic surgery. A woman who seems to have forgotten that she did graduate high school and that it’s time to act accordingly.”
I don't find this sort of misogynistic ranting interesting or informative, except as a reminder of how much anger there is in the world that can attach itself to almost any target. Hymowitz offers this as an insight:
The reason for all this anger, I submit, is that the dating and mating scene is in chaos.
Followed by some nonsense about how much sense the dating scene of some imagined past America made. (For the record, my view is that there have been in human history two kinds of dating scenes: arranged marriage, and chaos.) There do seem to be people who worry a lot about the lack of rules, or silly crap like who pays for dinner, but if you ask me they are merely focusing the frustration of not easily finding the perfect partner (or getting lots of sex with hot babes) onto certain flash points so they have something concrete to complain about. The underlying problems are and always have been that it is hard to find love and hard to find, or sustain, sexual passion.

We then move on to the eternal complaint of men, that although women say they want nice men they all fall for arrogant jerks:
Young men grew up hearing from their mothers, their teachers, and Oprah that women wanted sensitive, kind, thoughtful, intelligent men who were in touch with their feminine sides. . . . Yeah, right, sneer a lot of veterans of the scene. Women don’t want Ashley Wilkes; they’re hot for Rhett Butler, for macho men with tight abs and an emotional range to match. One popular dating guru, David DeAngelo, ranks “Being Too Much of a Nice Guy” as Number One on his list of the “Ten Most Dangerous Mistakes Men Make with Women.”

According to a “Recovering Nice Guy” writing on Craigslist, the female preference for jerks and “assholes,” as they’re also widely known, lies behind women’s age-old lament, “What happened to all the nice guys?” His answer: “You did. You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.” Women, he says, are actually not attracted to men who hold doors for them, give them hinted-for Christmas gifts, or listen to their sorrows. Such a man, our Recovering Nice Guy continues, probably “came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he’d have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.”
A friend of mine once belonged to an AOL loneliness support group that was entirely taken over by a bunch of guys who wanted to make this complaint unendingly. The thing is, she said, they only made this complaint about "hot" women, and were rudely dismissive of those who didn't meet their physical standards.

I think there is something to this, but not all that much. First, it conflicts with the other big complaint that men have about women, that all they care about is how much money you make. Plus, the nice guys I know have mostly managed to get married. Maybe they didn't marry the hottest women, but you know what? That doesn't matter. The only effect that attractiveness has been found to have on either the chance of getting married or marital satisfaction is that very attractive men have trouble staying married. Beautiful people are not happier, and being married to a beautiful person will not make you happy. If that's your agenda for life, rethink your agenda.

Hymowitz, incidentally, takes these male complaints seriously. Like many conservatives, she thinks it is up to women to keep up moral standards and make men toe the line, and she oozes disgust when she writes about promiscuous women. She concludes her piece with a line from one of her male correspondents, who wrote:
The behavior of men is simply a response (which is actually a quite logical one) to the changing behavior of women. Simply put, men are a breeding experiment run by women. You reap what you sow—and when a man can sow all he wants and leave the reaping to others, well, why not?
So there you have it, ladies; if men are jerks, it's mostly your fault.

As usual, I think this is all a way of talking about broad shifts in our economy and society. People are not marrying late because of something wrong with the dating scene. On the contrary, whatever is weird about the contemporary dating scene is created by late marriage, which means staying single much longer, rather than the other way around. The long transition to adulthood has more to do with economic factors, declining birth rates, and high housing costs than anger about the behavior of the opposite sex. Again I say, that in a world where nobody takes adults very seriously (least of all their employers), what is the point of taking that 50-hour-a-week office job? What do you get for it that makes the sacrifice worthwhile? People like Hymowitz need to worry less about whether people are jerks and more about how to make the rewards of work worth the sacrifice of taking a grown-up job.


Unknown said...

A few thoughts:

1) I read the list "dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging" and I immediately thought, "that describes just about every female reality TV character I've ever read about." (Note of course that I haven't WATCHED . . .) Not certain what the connection is, but it may be simply that our society is preoccupied with a certain type of woman.

2) Another possibility behind the obsession with "dishonest, etc." women and asshole men is that people in contemporary America are extremely mobile. You put a lot of people who don't know each other together, and I bet that, after X amount of time, most of the folks in the room will know the most aggressive 10%. Those are the folks that the other 90% will have most in common. This may be part of the reason many folks are preoccupied with types of people who are statistically fairly rare.

3) I think you're right that it has always been difficult to find love, especially with the sort of person one fantasizes about at 18. But I can't help thinking there is a peculiar difficulty in contemporary life. I think this especially when I contemplate western Europe today, where there really are a lot of more or less permanent, fairly unwilling singletons. And the birth rate there is plummeting. Yeah, some of this is economic. But I'm not satisfied the economic explanation is a complete one.

John said...

I like your observation about mobility; in the dating scene of an urban neighborhood there will be certain aggressive people who make a big mark, and everyone will know them.

I don't think our low marriage rate is all about economics. Part of it is our very high expectations of marriage. We -- this is the societal we, the "society says" gambit -- want our marriages to be not just economic and child-rearing partnerships but the emotional center of our lives, and we want our spouses to be both our closest friends and our passionate lovers. That is a lot to ask. As to why we want that so much, I think that has to do with our lack of other sorts of emotional support. We no longer belong to tight-knit communities or have life-long jobs and mobility erodes friendships, so we all depend very heavily on our spouses. When it works, marriage is a great refuge from the loneliness and competitiveness of modern life, but it is hard to make it work and it is reasonable to be cautious about taking that step.

Erich J. Knight said...

The power of Smell