Why Are Our Men Still Acting Like Boys?

As many of you know, I am very busy with my new job so it is not often that I have a spare moment to put up a post, but I thought this was worth it.  One of my favorite publications to check out during my commute is Newsweek, which this week brings us this fascinatingly relevant article about Guyland, aka the post-collegiate but pre-responsible-adult-phase that so many twenty something males seem to get sucked into. (It should be noted that the term comes from Michael Kimmel’s new sociological study on the topic, from our very own SUNY Stony Brook.)

For those of us familiar with the fratastic college life, one doesn’t need to look far to encounter this sort of character.  But what is most puzzling and perhaps disturbing about this is that the behaviors exhibited in the average college male are now spilling over into later life.  To be sure, both males and females are guilty of being “Twixters” or “Boomerangers” (i.e. not-quite-adults who live out the 20something lifestyle as if they were still in college, except often while living in their parents’ homes), but there seems to be a particularly strong aversion to “growing up” among American males.  Chalk it up to social conditioning or the biological clock or both, but women on average are simply more willing to “get it together” earlier in life, by which I mean holding a stable job, seeking out long-term relationships, and often living away from home.  Recently, studies showed young women in major U.S. cities are now earning more than men of their same age bracket.  (There are many possible reasons for this: women in cities marry later, women earn more college degrees than men, or simply women are just more concerned about “getting it together” than the Peter Pan Guyland crowd.)

So it seems that while young women are climbing the corporate ladder and focusing on building stable lives, a greater portion of young men are, quite frankly, stagnating.  Dokoupil does a great job in the Newsweek article of characterizing the inhabitants of Guyland, but to be honest, we all know them.  These are the bros at the bar constantly trying to pick up the next chick or do the craziest-upside-down-151-shot; they are your buddies who just can’t seem to think of anything more hilarious or articulate than “you’re gay” as commentary for almost anything; they are the loyal patrons of every Judd Apatow movie ever made; the list goes on.  Yet what is noticably absent from these guys we know (and even love) is a sense of personal responsibility, maybe even of integrity.  They appear stuck in an extended adolescence well into the twenties.  The Newsweek article notes Kimmel’s assertion that “the traditional markers of manhood – leaving home, getting an education, finding a partner, starting work and becoming a father – have moved downfield as the passage from adolescence to adulthood has evolved ‘from a transitional moment to a whole new stage in life.'”

Perhaps most ironically, the bros in Guyland who seem 100% secure and cool in their plans to “play the field for a while” or whatever the case may be actually are statistically the most unhappy and unsatisfied people.  According to Newsweek, “men between the ages of 16 and 26 have the highest suicide rate for any group except men above 70.”  They are also the most socially isolated – “less likely to read a newspaper, attend church, vote for president or believe that people are basically trustworthy, helpful and fair.”  To that list, I would also add less likely to generally share deep emotions with friends, family, or any possible significant others.  I worry that the confines of ubermasculinity put a stranglehold on young men and their basic human need to connect to the emotions of others.  Social norms today so clearly herald the guy’s guy who plays sports, hangs with the boys, and sleeps around that men who aspire to be such a character often are left feeling empty inside once they’ve achieved this superficial status.  As further proof, Dokoupil points out that a number of “recent studies suggest that married men are happier, more sexually satisfied and less likely to end up in the emergency room than their unmarried counterparts.”  So why are young men so averse?

I think the reasons for this behavior in young men vary widely.  (One can make valid arguments along social, economic, political, and other lines.)  I also think the degree to which men of this age group participate in such behavior varies, but I have to say I do find at least some of these sorts of behavioral patterns and attitudes in almost every twentysomething guy I know.

So, twentysomething guys (and gals), or non-twentysomethings for that matter… what’s your take on this?  Can you shed any light on your own personal experiences, the experiences of friends, or just any ideas on broader society in general?

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2 responses to “Why Are Our Men Still Acting Like Boys?

  1. polisciafterparty

    Kate, I love you and this post. Let’s face it, girls rule and boys drool. Up through their mid twenties, even… what a shame!

    As much as I love discussing / relishing in the buffoon-like nature of our male counterparts, I think my support of the idea of the laydayz “getting it together” stems from the fact that, when I was growing up, I was smothered with rhetoric on “strength in womanhood,” “girl power!” and la la la. The paradoxical standard to which young women are held these days is absurd – if you’re emotionally/financially/intellectually etc unstable or feeble you’re practically scorned by society because you’re letting men keep you down (or something illogical like that, as men and women can be that way). On the other hand, if you revel in your strength and self-sufficiency as a female, it’s easy to be received as having an overwhelming presence that’s oft-considered abrasive and, unfortunately, bitchy.

    I think many of us have adapted to the seemingly fluid standards that have been applied to us throughout our young lives and, in a couple of ways, have come out on top because of them. In addition to our practically innate ability to adapt to constantly fluctuating standards, we post-undergraduate women (if I may be so bold as to compliment our fabulous demographic) are awesome because, in honing our malleability, we’ve learned to come prepared for any situation.
    At least in my family, my sister & I were more concerned about setting ourselves up to have at least minimal stability in our lives post-graduation… a concern, i think, that guys at our age might not have to face as readily nowadays because of the lack of pressure on them to adapt to inconsistent standards.

    I’m glad that there’s finally proof that we work our butts off to be as fabulously in touch with the world as we are; maybe now, I won’t have to work as hard. Not that I mind being a female or anything, but I’m way too lazy to keep having to prove myself.

    Speaking of which… anyone else down for a (girl) power nap? -Amy 🙂

  2. polisciafterparty

    Judd Apatow movies are awesome.

    – Legal Eagle

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