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Manning up in 2011

Published: March 4, 2011
Section: Opinions


America’s young men need to man up. At least that is what Brandeis alum and writer Kay S. Hymowitz believes, who recently penned an article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Where Have the Good Men Gone”,,and wrote a book on the subject titled, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys.” According to Hymowitz, the “knowledge economy” and its consequences has allowed young women to overtake men, who are now getting stuck in an extended adolescence during their 20’s. She uses excellent sociological evidence to show the gender gap has closed, but she is wrong that college educated men aren’t manning up. Hymowitz is hampered by the fact that she has a problem with the hobbies men choose to pursue today and she doesn’t understand that what it means to “man up” is very different in 2011 then it was a few decades ago.

Hymowitz gets her theory by pointing out correctly that over the last two decades a new life-stage, which she calls pre-adulthood, has been created for college educated Americans in their 20’s. This has occurred because the most desirable jobs in the economy require a very high level of education. Consequently, between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of people between the ages of 20 and 30 enrolled in school doubled, and between 1985 and 2007, graduate school enrollment increased 67 percent. All of this time spent in school has meant that large numbers of single young men and women are now living independently, with some disposable income, which is an unprecedented sociological development. College educated Americans in their 20’s now have an assortment of choices about what to do with their lives and, according to Hymowitz, women are making the better choices.

Hymowitz uses sociological data widely available to show that women are doing better than men in the new “knowledge economy.” She cites the fact that women now earn 57 percent of all bachelor degrees, and that young, unmarried, childless women are now earning more than their male peers men in 147 of the largest 150 cities. Hymowitz is correct that college-educated young women have closed the gender gap; however, she is incorrect in her idea that college-educated men aren’t “manning up” because she fails to acknowledge fully that what it means to “man up” in 2011 has changed.

In past decades American men could look to John Wayne and the Marlboro Man as the definition of what it means to be masculine. Today, however, masculinity can mean different things, and men certainly are no longer judged solely based on their ability to be providers and protectors. Kay Hymowitz fails to realize that the freedom of choice for a young, college-educated American also applies to men in terms of how they define their own masculinity. In the knowledge economy, pursuing activities that are traditionally considered nerdy, instead of traditional “masculine” activities, no longer has the social stigma attached to it that it used to. Hymowitz says that many men in their twenties are playing too many video games, acting like children in the process. Apparently Hymowitz thinks that men aren’t “manning up” if they play Xbox, but they are acting like real men if they waste their leisure time working on their sports car.

Hymowitz’s book “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys”, presents excellent sociological evidence that the gender gap among young, college-educated Americans has closed. However, instead of shouting about the failure of young American men, she should have praised the strides college-educated women have made. Finally, she needs to understand that men will always have their hobbies, be they hunting, sports cars or, dare I say it, video games.