Kay S. Hymowitz, writing for The Wall Street Journal, asks an important question: “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” Hymowitz describes a state of extended adolescence, or “pre-adulthood,” among young men. Whereas many men of earlier generations had achieved the milestones of adulthood – such as financial independence, marriage, and fatherhood – in their twenties, Hymowitz contends that today “most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”
These observations are far from new. Many social commentators have offered similarly sweeping generalizations and overly simplistic analyses of the men of the Millennial, or Gen. Y, generation. Ultimately, the conversation shifts to the battle of the sexes, with women declared the victors. As Hymowitz notes,
What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.
Hymowitz makes the familiar argument that the rise of women has displaced men from the workplace and caused confusion about gender roles – a sentiment evidenced by the title of her new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. She continues,
It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles – fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity – are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
“Husbands and fathers are now optional”? Virtues are “obsolete, even a little embarrassing”? This sort of thinking is at the root of the problem, not the ascendancy of women in the workplace.
Let us be clear. Husbands and fathers are not optional, if the desired outcome is the healthy development of children. There are numerous studies that link father absence to poor academic performance, failure to graduate from high school, drug and alcohol abuse, serious delinquency and incarceration.
There is additional research that suggests that extended adolescence is derived from the absence of positive male role models. In Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (Harper, 2008), Professor Michael Kimmel observes that in the absence of a father or positive male role model, young men turn to their peers for social affirmation and an example of masculine behavior. In this search for true manhood, the blind lead the blind. Often, this quest for peer affirmation is expressed through destructive behaviors like binge drinking, violent hazing, and the sexual exploitation of women. Young men in this stage of development are styled as “guys” – they are “males who are not boys or men but something in between.”
The battle of the sexes is not a zero-sum conflict. Most men aren’t keeping score, anyway. The social dysfunction of young men, as expressed in extended adolescence, is not a consequence of the academic and economic success of young women. This is a red herring.
The current crisis of masculinity is due to an absence of virtue. Young men need male role models and mentors who can set high standards and hold them accountable. “Guys” are able to persist in a self-centered, irresponsible lifestyle because their parents, friends and co-workers tolerate and enable the behavior. Parents need to expect maturity and self-reliance from their sons. Women need to challenge the “guys” in their lives to be better men.
We may ask “Where have the good men gone?” A better question is “What can we do to help the ‘guys’ in our lives become the men God is calling them to be?”
-- Michael Brewer