Extra! Extra! Heterosexuality in peril!

Pub date December 10, 2008

Dear Readers:

I’m kind of pretty

and pretty damned smart

I like romantic things like music and art

and as you know I have a gigantic heart

so why … don’t I have a boyfriend?

— Kate Monster, "Sucks to be me" from Avenue Q

Sucks to be Kate Monster, and it sucks just as much to be my many friends of similar description — not monsters but smart, pretty, funny, adventurous, and moderately level-headed young women of great heart, who are caught in an endless cycle of dating to no (desirable) purpose and no end in sight, at least out here on the coasts. One friend actually moved to the Midwest to get away from the evil scene and was promptly rewarded with an actual boyfriend, the type who proudly introduces you as his girlfriend and can discuss a future together without smirking. I’ve developed a kind of semi-vicarious hate-on for the coastal guys — what gives them the right to treat my friends like instantly replaceable consumer objects of dubious value? — so I’ve been reading with interest some of the recent glut of articles and books on the state of young manhood, First World Problem version.

Most of these come down to "men are just big boys/no they aren’t," the argument currently raging, or at least smoldering, pretty much anywhere you find people discussing the current social climate and where we seem to be heading, love-and-marriagewise.

On the "no wonder you can’t find a boyfriend" side, you find innumerable lifestyle articles, most notably and recently Gary Cross’s Men To Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, in which the historian blames the immaturity he sees in modern Western males on three decade’s worth of cultural shift, starting with a rejection of the old, unquestionably masculine and often admirable but also frequently rigid and authoritarian paternalism of the "Greatest Generation," which left men wandering, lost and fatherless, for lack of a better role-model to replace the castoff, too-dadly Dad. This is nothing startling — we’ve heard it before — but he does present a decent argument and does so without too much blame, some hope for the future of heterosexuality, and none of the (admittedly rather entertaining) snottiness of our next example, the recent articles by Kay S. Hymowitz in City Journal.

City Journal is the organ of conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, but so what? It has lively cultural commentary and even if you don’t want to be a conservative yourself, it isn’t (I think) contagious, so why shouldn’t readers of leftish news weeklies read out of their comfort zones occasionally? And its authors, apparently, aren’t afraid to say they were wrong, which is always cheering. The first of the two articles, "Child-man in the Promised Land" was another of the "men suck" pieces. The man-child (whom the writer contrasts with the man, who has or wants a wife and kids and actually seeks out responsibilities and then discharges them rather than avoiding ever acquiring any) has tastes both formed and reflected by Maxim and [adult swim]. He likes video games and junk food and sex but not women, really, and he doesn’t call when he says he will because he never intended to — why should he when there’s always another girl who, not having met him yet, expects even less from him than you do?

That was the first article. The current piece has Hymowitz exploring the (really rather startling) not-so-underground Man Web and finding that a lot of these guys are treating women like trash because the women (they feel) are trashing them right back. Nobody’s acting very mature here, so she could just as well have titled her piece (actually called "Love in the Time of Darwinism") "She Started It!"

Women, say the young men, want it all and switch the rules on you without warning. They want equality except when they don’t, and then you’re in trouble for not bringing roses. Plus, they’re attracted to jerks, they sneer at nice guys, and then they blame you for acting like a prick.

This state of affairs, the shifting rules and roles, may have brought us to this point, writes Hymowitz (and others), where the gulf between male and female mores and modes of expression is wider than it has been since before World War I, and a certain amount of aggression, contempt, and rude gamesmanship (see both The Rules and Rules of the Game ) is both expected and to some extent accepted. I leave it to Hymowitz to troll the gamier recesses of the Web for sites like AlphaSeduction and Eternal Bachelor ("Give modern women the husband they deserve. None."), but you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that this stuff is out there.

Are these dispatches from the new war correspondents accurate? Somewhat. As much as can be expected from lifestyle journalism, anyway, which by definition requires a phenomenon, the more disturbing the better (would you read weekly articles in The New York Times titled "All Well in Pleasantville?"). Is this state of affairs universal? Certainly not. Is it inevitable? I think not. What’s that everyone’s been saying about hope and change?



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