Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DocMosh - Manning Up (On Kay Hymowitz)

DocMosh is the new blog from my friend, co-author, and occasional teacher, Dr. Mosher. In one of his first posts, he tackles the recent interview with author Kay S. Hymowitz about her new book, Manning up: How the rise of women has turned men into boys.

Before getting to the point, here is his statement of purpose for his new blog:
My point of view is that of a trained social scientist, musician, and consumer of popular culture. I hold no authority as a spokesperson for any community represented here (how ultra post-modern of me), nor do I claim that all my personal stories are factual, mine, or logical. The purpose of these posts is to raise questions around community, sexuality, gender, popular culture, education, psychology, and sociology. Well, and to have fun. Camus and Sarte spent many hours expressing concepts related to who we are: who am I and why am I alone? In the 21st-century, I want to ask, where are we, and what is aloneness? My intent is to deconstruct narrative, raise questions around the constructs, solicit responses for discussion, and attempt to reassemble meaning; part academic, part amusement = acamusement or edutainment. I better stop before I assign too much meaning to all this. Enjoy and post away! I await your contribution.
OK now, here is a taste from that interview with Kay Hymowitz.
MyDaily: What inspired you to write this book? Did you expect it to be so controversial?
Kay Hymowitz: I was inspired for three reasons. One, I had three children who were either in their twenties or nearing their twenties, and it seemed that they were confronting a very different culture and economy than I encountered at their age. Two, I was aware that something very new to human experience was happening with women, as in, having women who were more educated, earning more (as single, childless woman are) and by all counts more ambitious than the men who were their peers. Three, I started to wonder about this persona that was so popular in the media; the kinda goofy, schlubby young guy. Who was he appealing to and why was he so prevalent? Why were we getting all these movies with stars like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler?

About the controversial aspect of it -- I think the original excerpt that appeared in the Wall Street Journal gave an impression of the book as more anti-male than it is.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with the publicity, and I don't mind people arguing about it, as long as I can get my two cents in.

OK, so since they're at the heart of your book, what exactly is a "pre-adult"?
Pre-adults are young, educated, single people between the ages of about 21 and 35, approximately. Sociologists have come to the conclusion that we are witnessing a new life stage. Most of them refer to it as "emerging adulthood." I thought that a better term was "preadulthood."

It's a new stage because people are reaching the usual milestones of adulthood later than they have in the past. And those milestones, at least in this culture, are usually considered to be independent living, marriage, and children. So those things are happening late, but there's something else that's different, which is that we have this enormous group of young people living on their own, usually in the city (because that's where the jobs are), and creating their own subculture. People have married later at other points in history, but what's different is that they were not able to live on their own or with roommates, because they didn't have their own money, and so they had very little social presence.

What is a child-man?
So the child-man is the young guy who finds himself in this new era of preadulthood and doesn't quite feel himself a man, and is of course not a child, but is still very attached to many of his adolescent pleasures, and hangs out a lot with his bros. He's the audience for a lot of the new media that have arisen to entertain him. And I'm referring to Maxim magazine, plenty of cable channels, and characters played by Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler.

I see the child-man as representing a continuum of characters. On the one hand you have the most noxious versions, like Tucker Max (lest we forget or try to pretend that he doesn't actually exist -- he's selling a million copies of his book about drinking, hooking up, and his bathroom exploits). And then we have the nerds and geeks who are just not quite comfortable with women, who are still a little boyish in their relations with the opposite sex. And then you get another type, which is kind of passive or listless. The guy who just isn't sure what he's supposed to be doing next. The best representation of that is a fictional charter created by Benjamin Kunkel in the novel "Indecision." I don't believe the character is completely fictional...
So the child-man can take varied forms.
I have my own perspective this, which is more about cultural transformation than it is about a new life-stage, a la Erik Erikson. I see a lot of young men these days operating in a liminal space between the old hegemonic way of being men and the not-yet-articulated (perhaps self-authored) way of being men. I see these guys as the New Middle Men - stuck betwixt and between.

DocMosh has a little different take on it:

Kay, I do admire your analysis of sociopolitical and sociohistorical trends. You are correct. This is such a unique time for young men. Being 38 myself, I still feel the nips of fire on my heels as I look for social rules, norms, and contexts for being a young, gay, masculine man in this society. I assure you, though, changes in expectations, rules, norms, and values are for the better. Men can be emotional, and not just towards women. Men can love, and not just their wives. Men can engage in meaningful relationships, and not just with potential young female mates. Men are not defined by women alone. We are defined by what we see, what we buy, what we consume in popular culture, what we want, and what we…feel. Yes feel. These archtypes you speak of (e.g., Seth Rogen, and I might add Michael Cerra) are refreshing, liberating, scared, threatening, in-touch and NEW. Their NEW forms of masculinity are needed. The path you project leads to loveless marriages, over population, heterosexual norms, assumed hegemonic heterosexuality, and, dare I say, war.

William Pollack and Dan Kindlon both support the ideas that young men need more emotional input in their lives. I am of the opinion that we need new forms of masculinity in this new millennium. Emo boys can grow up to be emo contributors to society; soft spoken, reflective, sensitive boys can grow up to be confident leaders. Do the founders of Google and Youtube fall into the man-child category? Kay, I admire your attempts to show us what is happening, and wonder if you might want to adapt the context of change to what is already happening not to old standards and dead values.

I share a lot of his sentiments here - and I want to take the metaperspective - both/and is the way to go.

I look forward to seeing more from DocMosh.

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