The nation rightly worries about the fiscal crisis and its ramifications for domestic economic stability. We also worry about the Obama Administration’s fumbling role in international affairs and what this portends for the future of U.S. foreign relationships and America’s position and respect around the world. Though less obvious, but nonetheless significant, is a sleeper issue: we haven’t come to terms with the crisis of modern male immaturity. Here is another instance of an oft-neglected axiom: what seems in the moment to be urgent is often not important, and what is important frequently does not seem urgent.
Researchers have produced extensive documentation, and writers like historian Gary Cross (“Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity”), have explored the “sea change that has taken place in the conception of manhood over the past three-quarters of a century.” Other authors — Guy Garcia and Michael Kimmel, to name two — look at the “decline of man” and the “perilous world” of the American male. Kathleen Parker published a plea for America to Save the Males: Why Men Matter and Why Women Should Care; Kay Hymowitz’s, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, was just released.
While I have been thinking about this issue since my days as a college professor and university academic dean, I began writing about it back in 2005 with the publication of “Today’s New Girly Men” in WorldNetDaily. More recently, I wrote “The Crisis of the Disappearing Educated Male,” in American Thinker. Further, my book, Children at Risk: The Precarious State of Children’s Well-Being in America, details all the ways that children (and women) are harmed when, as is so often the case today, many men are more willing to impregnate a woman than to be a present and involved husband and father.
Clearly, awareness is building that, as Kay Hymowitz said, “Today’s pre-adults have been wait-listed for adulthood.” Hymowitz believes that we are in the middle of a “momentous sociological development.” The crisis of the American male is a “major demographic event” where, as Erick Erikson explained, young men between childhood and adulthood experience unprecedented “role confusion, emotional turmoil and identity conflict.”
For those just becoming aware of this emerging crisis, here are what I believe are the three major cultural trends that stunt young men’s maturity.
Decline in Marriage: Historically, marriage has been integral to American life; as the central institution of society, marriage was the typical step forward into adulthood. Yet the marriage rate today is less than half the level of 1969. Fewer people are getting married, and they are waiting longer to get married. The Washington Post reported, “In 1940, less than 8 percent of all households consisted of people living alone. Now more than a quarter do.” A majority of people (66 percent) still live as a married couple family, but the proportion of married Americans continues to decline to levels never before seen. We must recognize that with so many women willing to engage in sex without marriage, males have a limited incentive to “man up” — to be motivated and have a reason to accept the admittedly demanding responsibilities of adulthood.
Decline in Education: More and more men are lagging behind women in educational attainment and thus lack the credentials to compete in the marketplace. Take college graduation: 34 percent of women (ages 25 to 34) have earned degrees compared to 27 percent of men. This fact alone leads to fewer men in graduate schools and in the high prestige and high salaried jobs. Even in areas typically dominated by men —like law, medicine, and business — women are excelling and their numbers and proportion are growing in comparison to men. Clearly, in our eagerness to level the playing field for women we have seriously destabilized the balance between the sexes to the detriment of males. Kathleen Parker was right when she challenged our culture to “save the males.” As Christina Hoff Sommers said in her book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men, the fact that “women are significantly more literate, significantly more educated than their male counterparts” is likely to create a “lot of social problems;” the lack of enough well-educated men does not “bode well” for anyone, particularly the growing numbers of sophisticated women.
Unclear Social Identity: Increasingly, men are finding their identity in their hobbies (fishing, hunting, racing, sports, etc.) instead of their careers (where they are falling behind women in achievement and status) or their roles as family providers and protectors — both categories scorned by feminists. Previous generations of men had clearly identifiable roles and opportunities to show their physical prowess and courage — through providing for and protecting their wives and families both at home and against the nation’s enemies at war. Men knew that they were needed; today, young women are told that they “don’t need a man” for anything. Males used to become “men” when they “took a wife” and assumed adult responsibilities. Now, instead of serious, dignified, and decisive male role models in the movies — like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Gary Cooper — males today are more likely, as Kay Hymowitz observes, to identify with and to emulate “overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen.”
As a society, we must revive those values and ideals that provided strong incentives for young men to pass the tests of adulthood. The first steps of a solution are quite simple: we must begin by (1) scorning and ostracizing those men, no matter how rich and famous, who fail to take up the responsibilities of being a husband when they father a child and (2) demanding that our public school teachers unlearn those pernicious myths absorbed in college and graduate school and start re-creating an environment, starting in kindergarten, that respects masculine traits and behaviors: that is to say, stop demanding that little boys act like little girls and punishing or medicating them for acting like little boys. Less than this is, on the one hand, to continue to accept what is unacceptable, and on the other to continue to discriminate against our sons and brothers.
We will not succeed in making a new start until we stamp out the myth that young women can do just as well without a man. Unless we change that thinking, our society will be the poorer. As long as the male half of the population is disparaged, denigrated, and infantilized, they will lack the motivation to “man up” and become responsible and accomplished men.