05 February 2008

Men Immature?

I saw this essay by Kay Hymnowitz about masculine immaturity the other day, and was going to post something about it, but it just got me all worked up every time. Then Amanda quoted a bit from it in response a response to one of her posts about gaming and feminism. Here's part of what she has to say:
But boy, some of the articles they linked of women decrying men who play video games are a perfect, textbook example of PHMT. (Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too.) These women aren’t the befanged, blood-dripping feminists that some maladjusted young men have been taught to hate and fear. In fact, I’d say they’re the opposite—conservative women who are furious at men for not providing the Ward Cleaver image that they have romanticized to justify their conformity to patriarchal expectations. Example #1, drawn from Kotaku and published in the Dallas Morning News:

It’s 1965, and you’re a 26-year-old white guy. You have a factory job, or maybe you work for an insurance broker. Either way, you’re married, probably have been for a few years now; you met your wife in high school, where she was in your sister’s class. You’ve already got one kid, with another on the way. For now, you’re renting an apartment in your parents’ two-family house, but you’re saving up for a three-bedroom ranch house in the next town. Yup, you’re an adult!

Now meet the 21st-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face – and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?

In case there’s any doubt about what comes next, she is not positing that there’s value in these changes to American culture that allow people to have some fun as single people, so that they don’t grow bitter and resentful about the times and lays they’ve missed by marrying young. She’s all about jacking up the divorce rate by convincing people to marry too young, before they’re formed enough to really know what they want. Men, especially, irritate her with their willingness to allow themselves a bout of bachelorhood and even continuing to believe that being partnered doesn’t mean the end of fun. Why is she bitter? Well, she tells you. For the problem with child-men is that they’re not very promising husbands and fathers. They suffer from a proverbial “fear of commitment,” another way of saying that they can’t stand to think of themselves as permanently attached to one woman. Sure, they have girlfriends; many are even willing to move in with them. But cohabiting can be just another Peter Pan delaying tactic. Women tend to see cohabiting as a potential path to marriage; men view it as another place to hang out or, as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead observes in Why There Are No Good Men Left, a way to “get the benefits of a wife without shouldering the reciprocal obligations of a husband.”

She goes on to say:

All this blaming of video games makes me think that we’re in the midst of a genuine moral panic here. It really feeds the theory that new technologies become the cipher for moral panics. Like I said in the previous post, there is exactly nothing about video games that makes them any more or less a competitor for someone’s free time than sports. But Hymowitz and Muir wouldn’t dare write their respective columns about addictions to their respective nations’ pastimes of respectively-defined football. In order to argue that male inattentiveness to women’s needs and desires is the fault of feminism, you have to pretend it’s a new thing. (In truth, it’s as old as dirt, and a product of privilege more than anything.) In order to bolster the notion that we’re in a scary new world, the new technologies get blamed. Same with MySpace and teen sex, or the rock and roll records of old.

I didn't read the Muir, and I like Amanda, but I think she's protesting too much here. Hymnowitz traces back "male immaturity" this way:
A signal cultural moment came in April 1997, when Maxim, a popular British "lad magazine," hit American shores. Maxim plastered covers and features with pouty-lipped, tousled-haired pinups in lacy underwear and, in case that didn't do the trick, block-lettered promises of sex! lust! naughty! And it worked.

What really set Maxim apart from other men's mags was its voice. It was the sound of guys hanging around the Animal House living room. Maxim asked the SYM what he wanted and learned that he didn't want to grow up. And now the Maxim child-man voice has gone mainstream. You're that 26-year-old who wants sophomoric fun and macho action? Now the culture has a groaning table of entertainment with your name on it.

She then goes on to blame The Man Show, Judd Apatow, and the other Usual Suspects for the Immaturity of Men. I'm not going to go into huge amounts of detail here, but I'd argue that people waiting longer to get married is a good thing -- it means that we're not jumping into supposedly lifelong commitments just based on a desire for sex, and it means that we have more time to make independent decisions and to make something of our lives before taking on the burden of a wife and kids.

For that matter (and this is the point Amanda's making), why should women be sitting around waiting for some man to make them happy? Women should take the time to build their lives, to enjoy hobbies, to cultivate interests just as much as men should. The old-school societal norms (I don't like the word "patriarchy", but there it is) that conservatives natter on about cut both ways, and independence from the need to get married at 20 years old is something that benefits everyone. The sexual revolution was a good thing, and I think no one should be able to take that away from us.

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