Review: Manning Up

Non-fiction NovemberHave you noticed a recent uptick in what’s been called “child-man syndrome”? Do the young men you know—be they siblings, friends, or possible date material—seem to be more interested in video games, stupid Adam Sandler movies, and sleeping around?

You’re not the only one. In fact, there’s a pandemic of child-man syndrome going on — and its symptoms and causes are catalogued in Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Boys Into Men.

Some excellent points

I’m not certain how I feel about this book. Hymowitz makes some great points and obviously knows her stuff, but in the end I felt both misled by the title and a little defensive (more on that later).

Hymowitz spends the first several chapters explaining how the “scripts” we follow throughout life have changed. Not so long ago, there were clearly-defined sections of life, including adolescence and schooling, the end of schooling and starting a career, marriage, children, old age, and death.

However, a shift in culture has altered these scripts, and things are no longer as cut and dry as they once were. Hymowitz goes into each of these changes in detail, but here’s a quick rundown:

  • The planet is becoming more of a “knowledge economy” (jobs depend more on knowledge, creativity, and ideas and less on physical strength or widget-making), which means that more education and training is needed before young people can enter the workforce.
  • The number of career possibilities has exploded, with jobs that didn’t even exist 10 years ago suddenly being in high demand (social media manager or content strategist, anyone?). Students are stunned by the possibilities, and find it difficult to choose one straight of out college.
  • Young people are being encouraged not to get a job, but to “find their passion.” They want to “do something meaningful,” and “make an impact” in their career.
  • In general, men and women are waiting longer to get married; women because they want to be able take care of themselves, and men ostensibly because women are delaying them.
  • As more single women turn to sperm banks and IVF to provide them with children, men are getting the message that they’re not needed at all. So why expend the effort?

All of these changes in work and family culture have contributed to the creation of a time of life Hymowitz calls “preadulthood,” when a person is stuck in the gray area between adolescence and adulthood.

This lack of direction and inability to mature apparently affects more men than women — and if the title of Hymowitz’s book is to be believed, it’s kinda sorta all women’s fault (even the title implies it).

I’m frustrated

According to Hymowitz, “the child-man is a reaction to widespread cultural uncertainty about men.” They receive all kinds of messages from culture and media and their family about what kind of men women want, but are simultaneously—and usually subconsciously—being told by women that they’re not needed. You’d be uncertain of the value of growing up, too.

Hymowitz does a great job of highlighting young men’s problems, and it’s fascinating reading. However, it feels like she’s writing from the perspective, “If only these women weren’t so gosh-darn independent, we wouldn’t have all these immature man-boys loafing around playing World of Warcraft!”

I know that it’s important to feel needed and appreciated, but since when is it womens’ responsibility to cajole men into growing up?

A lot of stats, but no suggestions

This is where I have the toughest time with Manning Up: there’s no suggestions on how to overcome the issues Hymowitz brings up. You may say that Cinderella Ate My Daughter is the same, but Orenstein never presented her thoughts about the research she sited as absolute belief — she was always questioning what she read and saw, and Hymowitz doesn’t.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter didn’t need to make suggestions about how to fix the issues; to me though, Manning Up does, and while a pithy concluding statement of “[Boys] just need to man up” may be amusing, it doesn’t count as an attempt to solve the problem.

So while this was an interesting read, I can’t say I’m thrilled about it. To me Hymowitz’s blaming of women for mens’ problems is as big a waste of time as is blaming men for womens’ problems. Less blaming, more fixing.

Did I misinterpret this book? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Review: Manning Up

  1. I haven’t read this one but it interests me. I can see where men not feeling needed might lead to them not “growing up” but everyone is responsible for themselves in the end and we can’t go blaming somebody else for all our problems.

    I also have a friend who is so freaking independent (love her too death) that guys are terrified of her. She doesn’t need them so they don’t bother. Deep down she wants to get married but there’s no vulnerability. Anywho, it’s all very interesting. I should read this one and see what I think.

    1. I tend to agree with you, Jenny, but I can understand the problem. It’s difficult to do what you know is right (in this case, growing up and being a responsible adult) when no one is really pushing or expecting you to. Most people need occasional praise for their good decisions; so if no one is letting these “child-men” know that their efforts are appreciated, that it’s important for them to grow up, and that their contributions are needed and valued…they’re less likely to do those things.

      I’m chafing a bit at the use of the word “vulnerability.” I don’t think that a woman needs to show vulnerability in order to date/marry a man. I think it’s more about showing the man she likes that she wants to care for him, and that she wants to be able to lean on him for support and care in return. Which in retrospect sounds like vulnerability, but that word has some connotations I don’t like.

      Yea, don’t take my word for it; read the book! And then write a review so I can comment on it. 🙂

  2. The role of a man is much different in today’s society with the greater trends toward feminism and secularism. I think we are probably at a transitional stage where many men are confused and even scared. The need for the he-man male as protector role is no longer quite as valid as it once was and men are becoming somewhat emasculated in a way.

    I would probably blame women’s movements, along with other secular oriented movements that look down on certain qualities that were once mostly attributed to men. That is not to blame women in general, but just the organized movements with philosophies that diminish men in the roles that they have traditionally held in the past.

    At this point, I wonder about the suggestions. I too wonder what the solutions might be. It may be an issue that will have to gradually be dealt with by assimilating newer ways of thinking into the minds of upcoming generations and watching the old ways of thinking die off as the old thinkers pass on. I think it’s going to be more of a process than a revolution.

    Lee
    Enjoy my delightful interview with Susan Kane on
    Wrote By Rote Saturday 11/26

    1. Great comments Lee, thanks. You make some excellent points.

      I think that despite the differences/differences of opinions various people express, men and women are in similar boats. The roles of men and women are changing, and men and women are being “[diminished] in the roles that they have traditionally held in the past.” I think the goal is for every gender to eventually maintain equal roles and responsibilities inside and outside the home, but you’re right in that it’s going to be more of a process than anything else.

      To a certain extent, I also “blame” the women’s movement for this situation (I put “blame” in quotation marks because it’s a placeholder for a word I can’t articulate; one that’s less accusatory, perhaps). Yes, the various waves of feminism are responsible for a huge shift in how many people look at society and stereotypes, etc. And I can see how these movements might have negatively affected men, especially young ones. But what’s the alternative? Abandon feminism—abandon woman’s advancement in society—because it makes some men feel less manly? I don’t know what the answer to the conundrum is, but I do know it’s not that.

      I haven’t seen many reviews of this book. Time to go searching — I wonder what other people have thought about it?

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