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Customer Review

on March 2, 2011
Manning Up is the latest addition to the seemingly endless stream of books which examines the inadequacy of men. What sets it apart from the typical feminist screed is a tone that is neither triumphalist nor bitter. It's not at all surprising that Hymowitz is married and has children; even when criticizing man for his childish ways, she's cognizant of the precarious position in which he finds himself. That her book fails to convince is a point against it but it contains enough truth to be mined by the attentive reader. In a future effort, the author herself may buttress her inadequate solution by offering advice for women, who have created their own misfortune.

Hymowitz provides a good sketch of how we have arrived at the present predicament. In her writings on the successes of feminism, she deserves special credit for singling out the role played by "nineteenth- and twentieth-century market capitalism" in building "foundations of the New Girl Order." She notes that, increasingly, women are succeeding in the "knowledge economy", while men are falling behind--opting out as they either lack the skills or the ambition to compete. Such women are not inclined to notice--let alone date--those men who prefer bumming around in basements. These trends are disconcerting because of female preferences: women tend to date men of higher status. Success, then, seems to reduce the pool of available men. But--and this is important--this occurs only because women are reluctant to alter their preferences to date a less desirable man.

Although Hymowitz focuses on the alienation men have experienced, and rightly notes that the trend goes back more than a century, she doesn't seem to recognize its fundamental importance. If a boy is reasonably smart, he soon realizes that school is dull--college, too. His job may be no better, but at least it provides him with a paycheck. If he is married, he will work hard to provide for his wife and kids. Since he is not married, he takes to video games. The reason for his situation is important: the women his age are excitedly embarking on their own careers which provide "glamor, passion, and a life fully lived" and have no interest in settling down just yet.

Men have trouble relating to this passion for one's career. It's not that men cannot succeed; it's that he can see little reason to do so. The highly structured world women have created is, to put it mildly, frustrating for men. Contrary to Hymowitz's assertions, there is little room for genuine creativity, only the contrived and useless kind that allows one to decide which colors to use in a PowerPoint layout. If Hymowitz is disappointed that child-men are opting out, men are flabbergasted that anyone would consider something so transient as a "career" to be fulfilling. As Lester Freamon puts it, "The job will not save you."

In this vein, it remains unclear why the way of woman is superior to the way of men. Granted that drinking beer and reading Maxim is not the summum bonum, is it any worse than lighting scented candles and reading chick lit? It's one thing to set aside marriage prospects to work as a doctor in the third world, another entirely to work as a "diversity administrator" or a "compensation consultant" so that one can acquire another pair of shoes. That men do not need to work themselves ragged to achieve their goals might merely demonstrate resourcefulness and contentedness.

Hymowitz wants the child-men to man up so that women don't have to become spinsters or "choice mothers" at the expense of their careers. Might women alter their own behavior? "[T]he economic and cultural changes are too embedded, and, for women especially, too beneficial to reverse." So the answer is no. Although it is women who are becoming disenchanted with the way things are, and although it is women who have created this situation, it is men who ought to change.

And they are to change precisely when women are ready. Supposing men, many of whom are more or less invisible to women, set aside any resentment and dutifully marry the first woman who deigns to notice him in accordance with the ticking of her biological clock, would manning up thus set society to rights? Or would it merely reinforce the behavior of women? It's possible that the growing population of cat ladies will serve as a reminder to their younger sisters that beauty fades, and that it is often foolish to string along good men in the hopes of attaining a better one. Absent the spinsters, women will continue to behave irrationally, confident that men will save them from their duplicity. It's hard to fault the man who does not wish to play the fool.
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