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.