With her new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, Kay Hymowitz has managed to infuriate men and women - equally.
Ms. Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, heralds great consequences for those dallying in the economic and cultural era she calls "preadulthood," a prolonged period of navel-gazing that middle-class twenty- and thirtysomethings now enjoy as they float between higher education and settling down.
In preadulthood, women are the first sex, excelling in school and hiking their earnings in the growing knowledge sector. Men have fallen behind, Ms. Hymowitz argues, much like the flatulent, video-game-adoring jocks in any Judd Apatow flick. "Preadulthood," she writes, "doesn't tend to bring out the best in men."
Ms. Hymowitz argues that even as gender scripts fade, women have come to expect equality in the workplace but old-fashioned chivalry in their romantic lives. Men, in turn, are growing resentful of the mixed messages.
She points to pick-up artists who promise a return to "primal masculinity" in the midst of "dating disarray," as well as other men who have given up altogether, on blogs such as Eternal Bachelor. (Tagline: "Give modern women the husband they deserve. None.")
Young women, Ms. Hymowitz says, are also giving up on men: "Their choice only legitimizes the guy's attachment to the sandbox. Why should he grow up? No one needs him anyway."
It's a grim outlook, one Ms. Hymowitz elucidated for The Globe and Mail from Brooklyn.
You paint a portrait of men filling some sizable leisure time with beer pong, fart jokes, Maxim magazine, Adam Sandler flicks and video games. That sounds like a caricature. Many adult Peter Pans have refined some pretty eclectic tastes. How did you build your portrait?
I started to notice that popular culture was filled this particular persona, the Animal House frat guy. Then I started to see that the child-man has many different guises. You see the geek guy who is uneasy around women and obsessed with his gadgets and video games. There are the emo boys, guys who are preoccupied with themselves. The hipster is what author Julie Klausner [author of the recent book I Don't Care About Your Band]was most familiar with. What I find fascinating about her book is that these guys might seem very sensitive and thoughtful but in fact they really don't like women very much.
Can you see why critics think you're stereotyping men?
Yes, absolutely. I think the book as a whole gives a different impression. I see a shift in the way men and women are relating to each other that is a result of huge economic and cultural shifts that are nobody's fault.
You describe a double standard: Women want equality, but something else in their romantic lives. I can understand a man being miffed at having to pay the bill when her wage is higher, but are they actually irritated that they're expected to open doors? Chivalry is such an easy way to establish masculinity, even more so at a time when it's increasingly scarce.
Men aren't sure, given a lot of the cultural messages, how they're supposed to express their masculinity. Some of the men writing to me have found that if they open the door for a woman they get a dirty look. What is expected of them? Are they supposed to pay, ask women out on the first date, or complain about the kinds of mixed messages they're getting? One of the most important ways we're giving men mixed messages is when it comes to the question of fatherhood. We constantly say how important fathers are. But in our behaviour we show that fathers really aren't necessary and that women can go it alone. Men react to all these messages by shrugging their shoulders and becoming passive and uneasy. There are no scripts for them any more and a lot of men don't do very well under those circumstances.
This line: "Everyone knows the woman who calls herself a feminist but still wants 'a guy to be a guy.'" Can the two never be rectified?
It's hard for me to imagine how we're ever going to create new scripts. Preadulthood is so confusing because women are now the first sex. They are outperforming men in school and, most interestingly, they are increasingly out-earning men. There's never been a time when women were ahead of men in these ways. I don't know how this will get resolved. It may not. There's a gap between these cultural facts and more primal urges that women have for more manly behaviour.
You say that the "very heart of preadulthood" sits in "women's determination to achieve financial independence before marriage." Feminism took away men's breadwinner status. Is women's success to blame? What are women supposed to do?
I'm not blaming anybody. I'm trying to describe a very dramatic, extraordinary shift in the culture and in the economy that has led to all these questions. I'm certainly not arguing that women shouldn't be successful, although I do think we have to attend more to boys and the problems they're having in school, for men's and women's sake.
People look for partners who are like themselves on the educational level to marry, and that's not going to be possible for a large number of women. Will they marry "down?" If they do, will those marriages last? These are important and open questions.
Women can always date older men until their counterparts grow up, just like they do in high school when they hit puberty first, right?
Yeah, that's one way around the child-man. Most child-men will grow out of it. They'll hit their 30s, or the really slow ones, 40, and their own biological clocks will kick in. That said, I do think that we're looking at a future of growing single mothers.
You say the child-man has a disregard for domestic life. What about the rise of paternity leave? More men in their 30s are embracing this. Where do they figure in your book?
A lot of men, particularly college-educated men, want to be more involved as fathers. Feminism has been successful in asking and getting men to see being a dad as a really important part of their lives. Still, [the job market]is really competitive, and at a certain point for married couples, somebody's going to have to step back and it's usually going to be the woman. A growing number of men are willing to [take parental leave] The big, unanswered question is whether women will really be truly happy with that, or whether they'll find it deeply, unconsciously disturbing that they're earning more than their husbands. We don't know that yet.
The opening line of your book is, "Where have all the good men gone?" But you also write that the "child-man is a reaction to a widespread cultural uncertainty about men." Are books like yours perpetuating the cycle?
I certainly hope not. I'm trying to start a conversation about what we think about men and how we're treating them. Some of the comments I've gotten were, "Sorry ladies, I've got my Xbox and my Internet porn. I don't need you any more." It says something about their anger and feeling of being dissed and given so many mixed messages.
Are women angry too?
Yeah, they are. Well they have been for a long time. There was a strain of feminism that said, "We don't need men." Women and men are interdependent and it will always be that way and should be that way.
This interview has been condensed and edited.