Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Defense of Traditional Gender Roles

In her Wall Street Journal piece “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?” and her new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, Kay Hymowitz gives voice to the complaint from “legions of frustrated young women” that today’s twenty-something men wallow in a sort of limbo of extended adolescence she calls “pre-adulthood.” She claims that guys (as distinct from “men”) in this state are clinging to adolescence while their female counterparts are achieving professional success and looking – in vain – for a comparably mature mate with whom to build a life.

This is a complaint that goes back at least as far as the 1983 pop psych book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, and is largely the result of the massive impact feminism has had – and continues to have – on relationships between American men and women (I say “American” because in my personal experience, which is admittedly not scientifically validated, neither feminism nor the Peter Pan syndrome are problematic relationship issues elsewhere in the world anywhere near like they are in this country – but that’s a topic for another time).

If I may paraphrase myself from a previous article on Acculturated called “Long Live Chivalry,” the blunt, relentless assault on traditional standards of manhood over the last five decades or so, and the near-obliteration of traditional gender roles, have left young men and young women equally resentful and polarized. “Men are confused about what’s expected of them,” Hymowitz says, and “don’t feel that they have a clear social role.” That’s because women have usurped those roles and been celebrated for it while men have been, at best, lectured about the need to reimagine masculinity, or at worst, openly dismissed as no longer necessary and even becoming obsolete. For decades we’ve encouraged men to get in touch with their feminine side, and now many seem incapable of getting back in touch with their masculine side.

The good news for Ms. Hymowitz and those legions of desperate women is that the problem isn’t as dire as they believe. They may simply be looking for love in all the wrong places, because the men they want do exist. But good men of quiet confidence and maturity by definition don’t draw attention to themselves, so the search may be a little like finding Waldo in a crowd of males who feel emasculated, useless and defensive, and who respond by retreating into frat-boy man-caves and dragging out their “pre-adulthood.” Their immaturity is reflected in, and reinforced by, entertainment biz exemplars like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, in contrast with the iconic masculine confidence of the John Waynes and Clark Gables of eras past.

So what is to be done? Is this indeed the end of men? Will men ever be men again, in the positive, old-fashioned sense? Will women ever be able to find a real man to partner with instead of a “guy” to babysit?

They will be when our news media stop demonizing men and traditional values; when radical academics stop sowing division between the sexes; and when pop culture stops rewarding bad behavior and perpetuating tired old stereotypes like the Hapless Sitcom Dad. Men will be men again when both men and women understand that appreciating age-old gender differences is not a threat to gender equality; when we raise our boys to be responsible, respectful, honorable; and when we teach them to be as proud of their masculine nature as we teach our girls to be proud of their feminine one.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 2/14/13)