Thursday, February 24, 2011


There is this trend I'm seeing in a lot of popular writing that consists of criticizing people in their twenties and thirties for being immature and irresponsible, especially as compared to the way their parents lived when they were the same age. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Kay Hymowitz who sees this phenomenon as mostly limited to men:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
 Hymowitz, who is a rabid anti-feminist, blames this state of affairs on mean, nasty feminists who made all men "bad." Her argument is boring and has been made a gazillion times before by other anti-feminist screechers. Hymowitz's hypocrisy is, of course, self-evident. Without feminism, she wouldn't be writing articles for The Wall Street Journal. She'd be making sure that the dinner was ready on time and struggling to avert the disaster of her husband dumping her for a 20-year-old secretary. There is nothing even remotely curious in Hymowitz's desire to dump on a movement that gave her everything.

What I find interesting, though, is that her sentiments as to a prolonged "pre-adulthood" as a negative phenomenon are often echoed in progressive feminist circles. In a discussion of Hymowitz's article, a progressive blogger Hugo Schwyzer made the following comment:
I don’t think that “extended adolescence” is entirely a fiction — the “drifting” phenomenon we see of young men who are waiting for some certainty to strike is real. It’s not in the bars of Manhattan that we have the problems. It’s on the couches and in the basements of much of the rest of the country, where we have an ever-rising percentage of young men hooked on pot, porn, and World of Warcraft, with mama still doing the laundry. It’s not feminism’s fault, of course — it’s the fault of a culture that refuses to believe in men’s capacity to self-regulate and to achieve.

Hugo refuses to blame "extended preadolescence" on feminists. He, however, still sees it as problematic without ever explaining why it bothers him so much. What's wrong with people not rushing into marriages and careers but, rather, taking the time to enjoy life, pot, porn, and World of Warcraft? 

People who have pushed themselves into marriages that are OK but do not make them ecstatic, into jobs that are fine but don't make them light up with joy are begrudging those who refuse to settle for this kind of existence their freedom. Those who settle for something mediocre cannot fail to dislike those who don't. Saddling yourself with a host of duties and responsibilities that you never really wanted and slipping into a lifestyle that could never be described as a bed of roses is likely to make you look with resentment at those who are in no hurry to do the same.

At 15, 20, 25, we wait for our lives to begin. We know that one day our real, adult lives will start, and eagerly await to see what these lives will turn out to be like. And then, one day, we wake up and realize, "Oh my God, this is my life. I'm living it right now. This is kind of it." One might greet this realization with horror or with joy. Of course, it also likely that people who enjoyed an extended pre-adolescence will be as terrified with the life they ended up having as those who pushed themselves into boring marriages and unexciting careers at an early age. However, they will at least have the memory of having had fun with their pot, porn, and World of Warcraft.


Patrick said...

You can't really be endorsing a slacker generation, can you? What possible benefit is there to having no life, no ambition and no ability to care for one's self?

Clarissa said...

People's opinions on what constitutes a life might differ greatly. :-) The same goes for ambition.

Patrick said...

I can say with absolute certainty that my children will not be sitting on my couch, drinking beer, watching porn and playing WOW on my dime when they are 20 yrs old.

My kids are 7&12, and they already do their own laundry & cook meals. My 12 yr old has already been to at least a dozen auditions for acting jobs (performance is his passion) and is now starting his own little artisan business (wood crafts and chain mail crafts). I have no doubt they will be self sufficient when they are in their late teens/early twenties.

And isn't that the role of a parent? To prepare your children to be adults? If they never evolve beyond dependent children, what will that do to the next generation? Encouraging the extended adolescence period is a dangerous social experiment, in my humble opinion.

eric said...

It's funny how none of these writes address economics. It is much, much more difficult to find gainful employment, and much, much more expensive to raise a family than when I was growing up in the '70's and '80's. I am married and own a (very modest) house now, but not until after 6 years in the military and 10 years of college. We opted out of kids, and we're still squeaking by. These commentators are retarded.

Clarissa said...

Patrick: I think we are talking about different things here. The article I'm responding to is about "large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens."

This isn't about adult people living on their parents money. I don't support that in the least, and I don't think that even happens very often in this country. (In my country it does, and I think it's ridiculous.)

As you can see from the above-mentioned quote, this is about people who make their own living. It's not an issue of money. It's an issue of lifestyle choices.

Leah Jane said...

A question for Hymowitz: This generation of "slackers" or whatever you want to call them, has also been observed in East Asia. In Japan, these young men are called "drifters" who spend all their time online or at a pachinko parlour.
In China, they're noticing young people (again, mostly men) who refuse to get married or find a job, and basically live at internet cafes.
Neither Japan nor China can really be considered countries with a strong feminist influence, so how do they fit into this theory of hers?

Clarissa said...

Leah Jane: good point! But who cares about reality when there is a chance to bash feminism?

eric: I realize that the economic situation has changed dramatically and not for the better in the recent decades. However, there is also now a reality where it's much easier for women to graduate from college, get a job and have a career. Doesn't this balance the issue of economic opportunities for people? I wasn't on this continent 20 and 30 years before, so I'm just asking.

Patrick said...

I couldn't link to the original article, so I had only the quotes that you provided in your post - and I was referencing the quote from Hugo.

If these kids are 'self reliant', and choose to spend their time engaging in adolescent behaviour well into their twenties, then they have no one to blame but themselves when they're 45 and wondering what happened to their life. Of course, then they'll probably want the gov't to pay for therapy so they can blame their parents for not forcing them to grow up earlier.

@Eric - life is not that much harder now than it was in the 70 & 80's , or where you blissfully unaware of double digit rates for mortgages, inflation and unemployment? Twenty five years ago, the unemployment rate for the under 25 set was consistently above 20%, regardless of region. Youth have always had a hard time getting started in the work force. I vaguely recall working 18 hrs a day juggling 3 different jobs to make ends meet. A little effort goes a long way.

Clarissa said...

That's the thing. The people who look around and wonder what happened to their lives at the age of 45 are not usually the ones who had been having tons of fun until then. It's usually those who settled for things they don't really need simply because they were expected to. I'm sure you know the movie American Beauty. It's a very badly made movie. But this middle-life crisis of a person who reaches his 40ies and realizes that he never really lived is shown very well there.

Anonymous said...

What really sticks in my throat about Hymowitz and indeed with a lot of anti feminist writers is how they try to enforcing this nasty stereotype that it’s is a woman’s job to straighten out her man. That she should act not be a full and equal partner in the relationship but a sort of second mother who should sacrifice her own dreams and aspirations and devote her life to straightening out and looking after her hapless directionless man. For gods sake the title of her new book is “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys”. Now I'm angry gonna go play Xbox for a bit. (I don't have a WoW acount)


Clarissa said...

2020: I couldn't agree more. I wish Hymowitz and Co asked themselves why is this image of an immature, infantilized man so importnat for them? Might it be because they feel disempowered in society, politics and the workplace?

Patrick said...

American Beauty has to be one of the worst 'best' films ever made - and, in my opinion, wildly divergent from the reality of life.

Who would you trust to run your university? The person who's never accomplished/(tried to accomplish) anything on their own, or someone with a history and work ethic that you can appreciate?

I encounter too many 20 somethings who complain they don't have a 'good' job, or that they can't find work in 'their field'. When I ask what they're doing about it, inevitably the answer is "Nothing". They're waiting for the world to hand them their entitlement. That isn't the way it works.

If you want a good family, good marriage, good career, good community or any other social aspiration, then it takes effort.

Clarissa said...

Patrick, surely you realize that "good family, good marriage, good career, good community" mean wildly divergent things for different people. Also, it is perfectly fine to have other goals than any kind of marriage, family, community, etc. What if a person's goal in life is not to have any of those things but to have fun? What if that person who chooses this as their goal ends up being a lot happier?

Patrick said...

How each individual defines 'good' may be different, but that doesn't minimize the effort required to achieve it.

When I coach kids in sports, I don't demand that we win. I demand that we put out the best effort each individual is capable of. The end will take care of itself.

As a society, we have to hold each other to a standard that maintains or improves society. Endorsing 'fun' as an end in and of itself is contrary to the public good. That only encourages self indulgent, hedonistic behaviour. Which leads to instability. Without a strong foundation, society falters and falls into anarchy. (That sounds a lot more mellow dramatic than I intended, but I can't think of another way to say it)

Clarissa said...

Something tells me that wars, acts of violence and anger are not perpetrated by happy, hedonistic people but rather by enraged, repressed individuals. So, in my opinion, public good will be much better served by people who pursue enjoyment of life as their goal rather than striving to achieve some vaguely defined standards they have not chosen and do not particularly like.

Patrick said...

"Happy" comes from the word happenstance, which means that 'happiness' is entirely circumstantial and ultimately unsustainable. A constant pursuit of 'happiness' is an empty goal.

Enjoyment is radically different than happiness.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, fun means different things for different people. Fun, to me, is reading books, activism, writing, and yes, playing my Nintendo DSi. I have a job I hate at entry level, and I work there to pay back my student loans, pay my expenses (those trips to the bookstore get expensive, heh), and yes, to have a little fun while I write for free for a news site to build my resume.

When I was a teenager, I was a member of Civil Air Patrol, and participated in search and rescue for fun.

Fun, as you can see, can be responsible, have good outcomes, and turn into good jobs, too. You should enjoy life, not make yourself miserable in order to feel responsible. That's the mistake that many make--that responsibility, duty, and being grown-up means being miserable.

Shedding Khawatir said...

This article is truly bizarre. It is not that difficult for a woman in her twenties to date a man in his thirties or higher if she doesn't want a pre-adult. Dare I suggest that the pre-adult women who don't actually want marriage and babies before 25 or 30 might actually prefer a pre-adult man? Or that women who have their own career don't need men as financial providers and thus don't care what job their boyfriend is or isn't working?

Anonymous said...

Hiya Clarissa,

The Hymowitz article struck me as misandrist....

Also, many people of that age bracket have seen their parent's marriage dissolve, a housing bubble collapse, jobs are not guaranteed-etc,etc. Why should people hold on to traditional measures of adulthood when they seem so insecure.

Rock On!

Clarissa said...

It's very misandrist, you are right. And so are most of the comments I read in the many discussions of the article on other blogs.

Love your nickname. :-)

Anonymous said...

@Patrick - is fun necessarily destructive?