Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will today's man ever grow up?

When Wedding Crashers came out in 2005, there was major buzz going into opening night. Fresh out of college and just starting our careers, my friends and I were a key demographic for the film. Weeks after its release some of my friends had seen it twice, even three times in theaters, pegging it as "one of the most hilarious movies of all time."

Where have all the cowboys gone?
At this point I hadn't witnessed the alleged comedy magic they spoke of, but was reluctant to do so. "Why," I asked multiple times, "would I want to spend money and time watching a bunch of adolescent men make like they're back in high school?" I know it sounds so bourgeois when it's down on paper, but seriously -- why was this concept so hilarious? After finally paying my 10 bones and watching the damned thing I still didn't get it. What was all the hype about? Was this supposed to be funny? Because to me it was just depressing watching older men act like idiots by choice. Like freedom equates the desire to regress, which is just not attractive. Period.

Now, seven years later, we've got yet another film glamorizing regression in Hall Pass. Roger Ebert's  film review begins pitch perfectly:

"I was just reading an article about the oddly prolonged adolescence of American males, especially those in the movies. There's a common fantasy where the guys get away from their wives and girlfriends, and escape to where they're free to guzzle beer, eat sloppily, belch, fart, leave pizza boxes on the floor, scratch their butts, watch sports on TV, and in many other ways become irresistible to hot chicks. When was the last time you saw a man under 30 in the movies who had a stable marriage, a job, children, and a life where he valued his wife above his buddies?"

Ebert writes that the most honest words in Hall Pass are spoken by Joy Behar, "as a more experienced older woman who tells the two wives that their husbands, like all men, believe only marriage is preventing them from being irresistible to women. It is probably a good thing for the species that so many men believe they're irresistible, because so few are."

So this begs the question: What happened to all the real men? And by real men I don't mean you need to be putting up drywall and chopping wood, but where are those men who embrace maturity and look forward to being the responsible head of households that they were before the Brothers Wilson made movies like Wedding Crashers and Old School, trumpeting how "cool" it was to regress into frat-boy college students?

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but there are facets about traditional roles that I love, and the career-driven, confident, organized man is one of them. Not that I think every man needs to be a briefcase-wielding accountant, but whatever that career is -- art, business, communication, law, medicine, science, etc. -- that's driving said man, why does he need to backpedal into adolescence to feel himself again or to "have fun"? Last I checked you can be a rock for your family and be goofy without doing kegstands with your bros and getting stranded on the rooftop of a Las Vegas hotel.

I read a great article in the Wall Street Journal recently called "Where Have All the Good Men Gone" by Kay Hymowitz who argues that too many men in their 20s are living new kind of extended adolescence. In her words:

"I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

"Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

It's almost as if the new parameters of what being a "man" means are debilitating to the pre-adult males who are suddenly being faced with having to move to that next level beyond video games and casual girlfriends. But why? Is it because staying the same is easier than stepping up to the plate?

Hymowitz continues:

"Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with "Star Wars" posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn't be surprised.

"Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do." 

I don't agree that "no one needs them anyway", but I do feel like we're quickly losing our good men to a generation after them that finds it easier to remain in pre-adult purgatory and eschew conventional responsibilities for whatever is easier. Easy is crippling. 

I hope things change course in this respect, but part of me feels that in general men will continue to regress while women become more complacent with doing everything on their own -- having children, raising them, having careers, etc. The disparity between sexes will grow and the already-changing nuclear family will become a shade of what it barely even is today. To me, this is unsettling.


  1. This post and those artocles remind me of a very early (jaded) post when I first started the single slant: http://thesingleslant.blogspot.com/2010/02/bromances_03.html.

    Bromance; Bro's before Hoe's; whatever you want to call it- it's immature, and yes it's destructing our demographic of men. I'm so glad to see I'm not the only one cringing at "Hall Pass."

  2. I could write a book in response.
    I couldn't agree with you more. I remember my mother saying men don't mature until they near their thirties. Now it seems that forty is right around the corner and they still behave like children.
    Granted, men will always be men. They will always have a touch of caveman, but the majority of men are running away from any responsibility. I see more and more business owners and executives being woman. We take the reigns financially, socially and domestically.
    Women have become so good at filling all roles. The only role not being assumed is the individual that needs to be taken care of, looked after and treated like an adolescent. Men are now assuming that role.
    I partially blame the feminist movement, but in the same breath, there will never be a time that I become the responsibility of a man. I would rather stay single and take care of myself.
    Ideally, it would be nice to find a companion, but when push comes to shove, I just see so few real men and I will go on taking care of myself and then men of society will continue behaving like children.

    I had a boyfriend that thought I was destroying his life. He would break it off for a weekend and discover he was a tool not that I messed up his game. It is hysterical to look back now and think about how insane he was.