What About the Mens? Marriage Edition.

Matthew Yglesias points to a depressingly trite piece in The Wall Street Journal about how men don't grow up, headlined "Where Have the Good Men Gone?" Feel free to judge the article based on the title alone, but, if you'd rather someone who's read the whole thing vouch for its inanity, I'm happy to.

For starters, it's basically a rehash of The New York Times Magazine article bemoaning the malaise of 20-somethings that ran in August, just more sexist. It takes, again, the very particular experiences of affluent young college grads in urban areas and expounds on them to say that this is "Something New!" But this time, it explains it as a particular problem of men.

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.

For starters, it's actually false that adult women reach adulthood simply by becoming physically mature. The definition of female adulthood changes in contexts and throughout cultures: In some places, barely post-pubescent women give birth to children, rendering them mothers and women; in others, the absence of children can land an adult woman a role as a dependent adult relegated to the children's table for the rest of her life. In some cultures, women go through no fewer rites than men -- think of female circumcision in Africa -- and in others, the menarche means absolutely nothing.

But this isn't about women! It's about the poor, poor men and the confusing state into which they've been thrust by a changing society.

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.

They might as well just have another beer.

Ha, ha, I get it. Men drink beer. Yglesias' take was this:

Since I’m still in my twenties for a few more months, I thought I’d actually look up the median age at first marriage for American males. The most recent year the data is reported for is 2007, when it was 27.7 which is indeed a few years older than it was “not so long ago” in 1960 when it was 22.8 years. But in 1920, it was 24.6 years. In 1890, it was 26.1, presumably because everyone was too busy watching Judd Apatow movies. Or maybe this number just bounces around over time and it’s always been the case that some people are sometimes frustrated with some members of the opposite sex.

To that, I would just add: Maybe it's true that reductive articles that portray men and women as stereotypes and caricatures always lose.

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