“The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed but that he cannot believe anyone else.” – George Bernard Shaw
Yesterday I sliced and diced Kay Hymowitz and her “child-man” moral panic and got my single biggest day of readership to date (it got linked on Reddit, for one – party on). Heartfelt thanks to my loyal readers. A few items were just too juicy to leave on the cutting room floor.
THANK YOU MEN, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER
In a Wednesday blog post at wsj.com, Hymowitz tried to back away from 1,300 comments (and counting) blasting her sexist premise. She tries to argue she has unparalleled empathy for “lots of very angry young men.” Wait a minute – she never mentioned anger, I thought she said young men were living in a promised land of irresponsible bliss? She denies she is blaming men (who does she think she’s kidding?) and says the whole of the book is much more balanced, but sneers that said angry men should “drop the Darth Vader decor.”
This is old hat – she responded to Helen Smith’s criticism three years ago with similar crocodile tears for the “deep rage” of men, a rage she only discovered after she’d written her article in which she talked to no men.
It’s curious to note that this is the second time in a month (after Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother kerfuffle) that the Wall Street Journal has published a book excerpt to cacophonous criticism, only to backtrack and claim the quoted work is not representative of the book.
SCHEDULING NOTE: A glutton for punishment, Hymowitz will be participating in a WSJ online chat at 2pm ET Thursday, February 24. The stub notes that her article is one of the most commented on in the history of the website. The first comment on the chat room itself speaks well to the situation:
Why are women always in such a rush to “settle down”? Why can’t we just enjoy ourselves? Relax and have a beer on the couch with us ladies, and quit nagging. Or go find some wuss you can boss around. Good luck.
THE REAL LESSON OF KNOCKED UP
Aunt Kay made a really big deal of Seth Rogen’s character in the 2007 film “Knocked Up” as prototypical of today’s “child-man” epidemic. She’s giddy about contrasting the dope-smoking layabout with the upwardly-mobile young woman, but her analysis is so shallow and backwards I’m fairly certain she never actually saw the movie.
To review, cable anchor Alison (Katherine Heigl, a character actress who plays hot neurotic women) celebrates a promotion by getting hammered and bringing home Ben (Seth Rogen) for a good rogering. Living off an injury settlement as an illegal immigrant from Canada, Ben is a true omega – working with his housemates to assemble a porn taxonomy website and crush many bongs of quality hash.
Sure enough, Alison turns up pregnant and regretfully contacts Ben. Contrary to what Hymowitz would have us believe, Ben accepts his responsibilities immediately; implementing those responsibilities is the source of comedy and drama throughout the film, but there’s never any question his heart is squarely in the right place. Thinking it’s the right thing to do, Ben attempts to forge a relationship with Alison, accompanies her on baby-shopping trips and ingratiates himself to her family. He goes so far as to propose to Alison and tell her nieces about it. Meanwhile, although Alison can be excused for being high-strung at the situation, her first concern is herself and her career and at one point she tries to drive the father of her child out of her life. She feigns the trappings of careerist independence (Hymowitz glowingly cites her “clean sheets and towels” – are her standards really that low?) but in fact lives in the poolhouse of her sister’s property and apparently earns her room on family goodwill and occasional nanny services.
In other words, Hymowitz has it completely reversed – Alison’s “got it together” appearance is illusory, and when faced with an existential life challenge Ben doesn’t question stepping up to the job.
The film is pockmarked with classic Apatovian bit characters, including a child-phobic female producer, a wacky on-call obstetrician, assorted stoners, a self-conscious club bouncer and Harold Ramis as Ben’s fancy-free father.
The key supporting characters are Debbie and Pete, Alison’s sister and brother-in-law. Pete is flummoxed and betatized by Debbie’s bitchy, humorless and controlling demeanor. He hoaxes work travel to get away from his wife, using the time to see Spiderman and attend his fantasy baseball draft. Debbie’s view of love is “you tell someone everything that’s wrong with them, and then later they thank you for it.” Pete has a more cynical opinion: “marriage is like that show Everybody Loves Raymond, except it’s not funny.” (In the interest of full disclosure, this portrayal of a dysfunctional marriage was one of the first things that got me really thinking about what’s wrong with today’s SMP.)
While the men go to Vegas to decompress from their respective life pressures, the women are refused entry to a nightclub due to age and pregnancy status by the apologetic doorman who laments he has been made the enforcer of racial quotas.
I laughed my ass off at this movie. I never felt “Knocked Up” was misandrist, sexist or in any other way unfair to its characters. It is a pretty typical coming-of-age type of plot with formulaic contrast against a seemingly-perfect but dysfunctional “normal lifestyle.” It does not speak any better of the power chick or her ball-busting sister than it does of the pothead (it does treat Pete as an innocent man). Hymowitz reads in her own “man bad, woman good” message – the movie is designed to show two people who are really not ready for a situation and how they get through it without winding up like the miserable couple in their midst. Her use of a movie as proof of a phenomenon is silly; by her rationale, the Twilight films are evidence of a plague of vampires infesting our forests.
JUDD APATOW’S HISTORY
As long as we’re on the topic, let’s review “Knocked Up” writer Judd Apatow, the most visible producer of the latter-day “bromance” genre. Apatow’s first piece was the single-season high school dramedy series “Freaks and Geeks” whose subject matter should be self-explanatory. It captured the heart of anyone who listened to Rush, refused to wear designer clothing or expected their girlfriend to feed their mind as well as their libido.
After the successful “Anchorman,” Apatow broke into auteur status with 2005’s The 40-Year Old Virgin. Andy (Steve Carrell) bikes to his job at a consumer electronics store and seems content to live anonymously. It is revealed that he is in fact a virgin, whose few efforts to play his V-card have been rebuffed. He shares his working life with a compulsive philanderer, a schlubby pickup artist, a pathetic chronic-oneitis basket case and a nymphomaniac boss (Jane Lynch).
Andy is the only fully decent soul in the pack. What has been his reward? Three decades of utter failure with women to the point he has been turned into a non-combatant. Hymowitz would call him a child-man with his fondness for poker, Halo and painting miniatures, but he’s responding to society, not dictating to it. He IS “where all the good men have gone.”
GIVING FEMINISM ITS DUE
Any discussion of gender roles is going to involve feminism, but I do think there’s a place to give feminism a bit of a break as a scapegoat.
Feminism didn’t send American manufacturing jobs offshore, undercutting the blue-collar earning power of the average man. It didn’t (at least at first) co-opt the allegedly conservative churches into a pernicious man-shaming cult, with self-flagellating promise keeper types pledging that they’ll be better betas at home (though this scene is an ugly parallel to college campus DV activism).
Unless you believe Great Books for Men and his Bernankification Theory (lozl), feminism doesn’t control Federal Reserve decisions and trade policies which have a lot to say about which industries (and demographics) are going to be favored in the American economy.
Finally, though reflexively misandrist feminists have their special place in the fiery depths, it’s capitalism as much if not more than feminism that causes marketeers to run sitcoms and consumer ads portraying men as hopeless idiots.
THE COW AND THE MILK – OVERRATED
A considerable portion of responses to Hymowitz’s article are along the lines of “men were better when people didn’t have sex until they were married – why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” This is a typical obligation-masculinity syllogism – “if only men had to WORK for it they’d be better men! We need women to hold out until men ‘commit’ and act the way we want!” It conveniently allows conservative commentators to call for a return to sexual puritanism.
The cow and the milk are a red herring. The issue is not sex per se. It’s sexual attention, and who women choose to give that attention to. The highest level of permissible sex could be caressing a woman’s ankle and we’d still have the conflict of dads versus cads.
That we live in a society that suborns unmarried sexual intercourse is incidental – the freedom of sexual choice, not of sex itself, is what has driven good men to the sidelines of the marketplace in favor of tingle-generating bad boys. So locking up the panties is pointless unless young women are going to change their preferences to men of good character; and if they did that, it wouldn’t matter when they consummated it.
While getting too sexual too early can kill a woman’s image in a man’s eyes, the practice of sexual restraint doesn’t change men’s behavior as much as it screens it, causing fast-lane players to leave the scene in favor of men who prefer sex in the relationship context.
ADVICE FOR WOMEN: WHINING ABOUT COMMITMENT MEANS YOU ARE OVER-INVESTED
In Hymowitz’s debate with Tom Leykis (linked in yesterday’s post) she twice complains about young men’s “unwillingness to commit.” Whether “commitment” means monogamy, marriage, or Sunday brunches is not defined, but we can pretty safely assume she simply means “unwillingness to undertake whatever level of relationship the woman wants” (with the counterpoint that a man who wants more of a relationship than the woman is a controlling stalker).
She is going at the problem backwards.
First, if you are sleeping with a man without monogamy (the lowest level of “commitment”), you’re slutting it up. Period.
Secondly, if you are whining about “commitment,” it’s a sign you are too invested. You are expecting a deeper level of relationship than the man in question is comfortable with, and you are resenting him for it. That doesn’t make him “afraid of commitment,” it simply means he’s choosing to do other things with his time. You need to stop blaming him for a difference of opinion, and get out.
This is another huge contradiction in Hymowitz’s case – if women are unhappy with the quality of men in their dating pool, why are they so hung up on getting the men to “commit” to them? If they’re so miserable with these “child-men,” aren’t the men doing them a favor by giving them a pretext to get out? Sounds like her claim that women today don’t “need” men is empirically false.
I should have been a trial attorney.
A FALSE ECONOMY
The underlying premise of Hymowitz’s case is that if there were more “good men,” women would choose them. As any pickup artist can tell you, the problem is not the supply of the product – it’s that the product is not in demand. More supply would simply drive down the value of the good man even more.
There are cases where a woman dating a cad is operating from a subconscious program to “tame” a man, to make a feral alpha civilized. This plays on the cultural expectation, propagated by girls-first education and consumer advertising, for women to be “better” than the men they are with.
It doesn’t take a forensic psychologist to understand that it’s a fool’s errand, quite dangerous and deeply misinformed.
It is a pretty lie that “women civilize men.” The promises of patriarchal monogamy civilize men, promises of an equally-ranked sexual partner and the chance to be head of your own filial empire in exchange for enthusiastic contribution to the labor force. The promises are upheld by the approval, threat and shame of other men, not of women. The emasculation and removal of fathers from the home – first in black America, then across the board – has shown that women alone cannot raise boys into men.
People like Hymowitz and Hanna Rosin don’t care about men, they only care what men can do for women. So they cheer when women take the pole position in the workplace and earn more degrees. They don’t get worried about the status of men until incentives (there’s those pesky economics again) ensure that there aren’t enough good mates signing up to be with their pretty little sisters, and even then they only “care” about men’s needs for as long as they need to to get men to do what they want, and then they go back to their victimization or cheerleading (their money or their vast carelessness, to appropriate F. Scott Fitzgerald) depending on the scenario.