March 14, 2011
It's been a few weeks since the publication of Kay Hymowitz's article, "Where Have the Good Men Gone?" Comments have been posted, responses have been written. In a sense, there's not much else to say. In my estimation, Hymowitz is dead-on in her description of what is now called "pre-adulthood" - the twentysomething (or thirtysomething) who is free of familial obligations, is professionally successful and financially stable, and is well-educated. The milestones that used to mark adulthood for men and women -- providing for one's wife and children, taking care of a household, and bearing children, are not being met. To be sure, these other things are certainly goods in themselves, and serve to better society in some substantial regard. I, for one, am very proud of my graduate degree and my profession as a teacher of young women. It does feel good to be earning a competitive salary, and to hold my head up high in a room filled with other men and women my age, proud of my accomplishments and interested in those of the people in my company. These experiences we are having in pre-adulthood, well, at least some of them, give our lives some color and interest.
However, Hymowitz is also right that advertisers, marketers, and entertainers are all tempting us to give into desires for superficiality which is easy and experiences that are fleeting with no-strings-attached, distracting us from our most visceral area of vulnerability -- the desire to be loved. Though Hymowitz describes what is going on, she doesn't provide the way out:
What explains this puerile shallowness? 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.
No matter what demographic or sociological shift occurs, or what milestones are or aren't met, men and women, more than boys or girls, desire to be in loving relationships that are deeply satisfying. I don't think anyone in their right mind would claim that single men or women stuck in this limbo are particularly happy. At this point, it's not a matter of shifting the blame from one sex to the other, or to the act of sex itself. It's a matter of cultivating relationships of charitable friendship, calling one another to "man (or woman) up," and to meet milestones in the formation of character. Even if masculine and feminine virtues are said to be outdated, they are ingrained in our humanity, and will find a way back into society, if only we would have the "fortitude, courage, and fidelity" to try.