Have 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).
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!