Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Family

Men Will Be Boys . . .

George Will writes in Newsweek about the growing phenomenon of men seeking eternal youth--not so much in sports cars or girlfriends who could be their daughters--but in things that are often much less dramatic or spectacular . . . things such as, well, Dave and Buster's--the Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.  Will--partly through an examination of this book by Penn State historian, Gary Cross--seeks to trace the emergence and subsequent worsening of this trend by looking at the changes in parenting (particularly in what we call fatherhood) beginning in the post-War years of the 20th century. 

It's probably not a coincidence that in the post-War years, American fathers began to be chastised to become more "huggable" (i.e., more like mothers) and to treat their children with the respect "due to a business associate" (i.e., the respect due to an equal).  For this was also a time when more women and mothers began entering the workforce and, as a consequence, such hugging was probably needed as moms either were not there to offer them or were likely often too tired to note the need and supply the demand when they were.  If women picked up some of the slack for men, then it was only natural for them to expect that men would pick up some of theirs.  The trouble is that slack of this kind is only rarely picked up by substitutes in a way that is satisfactory.   Obviously, wonderful fathers have always demonstrated love and affection for their children--but a father's love is and must be different from a mother's love.  Not inferior, mind you.  But different.  You can tell a child that a father is just like a mom for the job of offering the oft needed hug of forgiveness and acceptance--but don't be surprised if you meet skepticism and resistance.  In this we can probably account for the other piece of advice then offered to dads--treat your children as equals.  If they aren't to be mothered or fathered, are children really to be expected to continue in their designated role?  If they are expected to pick up some of that slack too--consoling themselves, teaching themselves, designing their own expectations, and increasingly, fending for themselves--then I suppose they really are due the respect of a business associate.  Of course, this makes a house a lot more like a corporation than a home . . . but there we are.

All of these things cause men, according to Will, to begin to feel marginalized in their own homes and uncertain as to what, exactly, their roles as fathers ought to be.  Perhaps even the title of the 1945 magazine from which Will extracts this bit of "advice" for fathers is telling:  Parents.  "Parents" is gender-neutral.  And the advice it usually offers (even to this day) might just as easily be passed along to a nanny or to a day-care worker.

Across the board, Will sees a lowering of expectations for men.  The inevitable result is also a kind of sad raising of expectations for women and for children.  We sell this by claiming it as liberation and enlightenment:  Women today are now free to work!  Kids today are so "independent!"  But the reality very often falls short of the sales pitch.  Is it really a wonder that so many boys now want to grow up to be boys in an age when so many real boys are expected to act like men?   

Thanks to Kate for passing this along.
Categories > The Family

Discussions - 9 Comments

I loved to column, though throughout I couldn't help thinking of a great line that I think comes from Groucho Marx: "Hey, wait a minute--I resemble that remark!"

Acute as ever, Julie.

A heightening of expectations for women is certainly not a cultural trend any sentient being has observed in the last five decades, bar in one realm: married women from all walks of life are generally expected to have workaday jobs for ~2/3 of the nonage of their children. A third of the workforce of 1957 was female, but people who write magazine articles about the contours of everyday life seem not to notice the experience of the wage-earning majority, taking the lives of the bourgeoisie as the norm.

Most women in our society today engage in behavior that was below-minimum-standard in 1957, bar in slums. One pregnancy in five ends in a surgical or chemical abortion. Most of the first-born children in this country are bastards; some portion are legitimated post-partum; then again, some portion of children born within wedlock are so in households that include the issue of the mother's previous trysts. Among my mother's contemporaries, divorce suits were filed by women whose husbands were alcoholics or serial tomcats; now it's for any old reason. The brutal truth of the matter is, the bulk of the female population is not due the deference that their counterparts received fifty years ago.

The following is a fair contention: that the ethos of an educational institution you name will carry with it the assumption that a young man is a defective woman. Ditto mass entertainment products.

Will needs to entertain the thought, and Julie Ponzi is likely incapable of entertaining the thought, that the young men are engaging in defensive detachment from a cultural world that is antagonistic and that they cannot meaningfully alter. An aspect of that is the manner in which the law and social practice has rendered the attachment of father and son and father and daughter tenuous in every respect.

Men behave badly. Aye, they do. What is the alternative? Put up with the caprices of women for about ten year's worth of train wreck 'relationships'; then occupy the status of 'pet' or 'ATM machine' for an interim period of years until your wife grows tired of you, ejects you from the family home, and turns your children against you (not to mention some other man's children for whom you provided sustenance for those years).

The whole manner in which men and women now interact is a social catastrophe. To examine only this aspect of it is to invite what you deserve from these young men: an upraised middle finger.

Actually, Art Deco . . . I don't find a lot in what you say with which I can disagree--except, of course, for your bizarre and persistent misreading of me from which you gather your assumption that I might.

I have not misread you.

It is completely unclear to me how you take a discussion of the ways in which women have sought to usurp mens' roles in the home and then rejected the need for fatherhood (as a thing distinct and different from a co-partner in motherhood), and suggest that it is, somehow, a celebration of today's "standard" (or lack of standards) for womanhood or, worse, an invitation to a genuinely manly young man to suggest I bug off. (I'll here refrain from the implication of your actual choice of words.)

When I say: "If women picked up some of the slack for men, then it was only natural for them to expect that men would pick up some of theirs," I am not suggesting that women were thereby doing something heroic in "picking up" that slack . . . for you ought to see that if men can't do the job of "mother" as well as women can, it's also certainly true that women can't do the job of father in the same way that men can. We are both poor substitutes (though, yes, sometimes necessary ones) for each other. In noting the frustration of a flustered mother with too much on her plate, I am not thereby suggesting that she is justified in not properly prioritizing her duties . . .

Perhaps you take offense at my use of the term "slack"--as if I were suggesting that men, as a class, dropped the rope on purpose. I don't. A great deal of that so-called "slack" was left there because so many men were out lifting up an even heavier burden in defending the freedom of their country. Of course, you are right to note that among working-class women, it had never been an uncommon thing for mothers to have additional work to do outside of the home for the purpose of helping to keep the family ship afloat. But after WWII what WAS new in that, I think, was the notion that there was something preferable in this situation and, what's worse, that it somehow made women more equal or more valuable if they did not seek to find their fulfillment in the home. Prior to that (except in rare cases of genuine calling) if a married woman worked, it was an extension of the home--it was done for the sake of the home and to supplement the work of her husband. She was being his help-mate. It was done, in short, out of love and sacrifice for that husband and for the family they had created together. It was not as though she were searching for personal fulfillment in the work itself or for the acknowledgment and kudos offered by people not a part of that family. Today, the vast majority of working married women do work because they need to for the sake of their family's well-being. But the way that they talk about it is different. After the War, the way women talked about their work outside of the home began to change. (Maybe, too, there was more satisfaction to be found in the nature of work then beginning to be made available to them? That is something that at least deserves some consideration . . .) But, whatever the reason, the focus for many became something apart from the comfort and security of their families--and this change in the mode of talking about that work permeated down even to the lower eschelons of the working class (who, whatever you say about my and Will's emphasis, that class generally seeks to imitate the manners of the so-called "bourgeoisie" you dismiss as not relevant--for we do not have a permanent class structure in this country and most people here--whether rich or poor--identify themselves as "middle class". . . most everyone here, thank God, views himself as being "on the way" to becoming rich, or at least richer than he is).

The emphasis, in short, became self-fulfillment. Women were taught and encouraged to seek it apart from the approval of their husbands--to care just as much about what other men (and women) thought of them as they did about the opinion of their own man. And they were told that this had little to do with the way their homes were organized or the quality of that home life. They were told that they were not properly appreciated in their homes (the perfect weapon to assault them with--for it is every woman's deepest insecurity and neurosis--find five women from any era who truly believe that they are properly appreciated) but, moreover, they were also told that they ought not to be so appreciated--that they were a drag on their men and unworthy of being called their equals. Given that, the temptation, of course, was to build up their own reputations outside of the home (much easier, frankly than pleasing a single man and working to bolster his reputation) and then to use it as a weapon to beat back their insecurity and with which to demand respect within their home. The standards of "men" are much lower than the standards of one man . . . and yet . . . somehow, fulfilling them is never quite as satisfactory as the satisfaction of that one man. Perhaps that helps explain the serial monogamy of so many women today . . . they don't even know why they aren't satisfied.

The cause of the tenuous attachment between fathers and sons and fathers and daughters that Art Deco bemoans and seems almost to congratulate today's men for responding to with "defensive detachment" is, of course, the detachment between husbands and wives that preceded it. Instead of looking to discover which group--husbands or wives--is most responsible for the chaos, it seems to me much more important to understand the nature of that chaos. And that means first understanding what something other than chaos might look like . . . and that means, above all, that men and women have to come to understand each other. What seems to me to be preventing this turn of events (something that used to come more naturally in the maturing of all men and women) is that men and women today are in such a vast denial of what, in fact, they themselves are. It's very hard to understand your opposite if you don't first understand your own nature--or, what's more likely and even worse--you exist in a state of denial about the fact that you even have a nature as male or female.

Little or nothing in your verbose rant is a reference to anything I have written or Will has written.

Will writes a critique of the contemporary male population similar to that of others. (A more asinine example may be found here:

The critique is unfair to these young men and useless for any therapeutic program one might conceive because it takes account of the dyadic character of the relationship between men and women only in a manner that is incomplete and lacking in clarity. A somewhat better treatment can be found here:

The perpetual adolescent of which he complains is a complement to a certain feminine type. However, to acknowledge young women as moral agents, as accountable, and as propagators of troublesome aspects of contemporary social life runs very much against the grain of just about all parties participating in public discourse, bar a few eccentrics like Anthony Esolen or Helen Smith. The response is to focus obsessively on the problematic young men and not ask (or in Will's case, not ask with any degree of clarity) just what it is they have to live for or aspire to and why it is that their aspirations in this respect must be so truncated.

Regrettably, we appear to have established a revised social ecosystem, which is to say a novel equilibrium in which the various parties have no incentive to act to improve matters because they perceive of themselves as safer where they are. Motivating young men to take risks to build well-ordered small platoons is an increasing tough sell. Doing so while ignoring the human reality of the women so proximate to each of these young men (their mothers, their sisters, and the young women who come and go) make it well nigh impossible. Dark ages can last a long time.

My suggestion to the woman who produced the prolix non sequitur above, not to mention the following appalling exercise in moral sentiments

is that she take more time to listen and to empathize.

Thank you, Art Deco, for reminding me of that exchange. Now I understand you completely. Men are the victims of women who today are nothing but conniving, gold-digging, slutty bitches. If men behave badly, it is likely the fault of women. Men do not have power over their own lives . . . they are not the masters of their own domain. They are the playthings of the women who seek to rule them and use them for their own purposes. The only solution men have is to rebel and fight back--treat women in the way that they deserve. Clearly, we cannot expect better of young men when women are such vile creatures.

Kay Hymowitz's article is, indeed, very good. But it does not, I'm afraid, support your analysis of excusing the boorishness of today's young men . . . even as it appears to better stroke your feelings on behalf of it (or dare I ask if your real motive is to hide guilt?).

Hymowitz argues: "But human beings rely on culture to tame natural selfishness. After all, we have prohibitions against grabbing a neighbor’s steak off the grill or kidnapping his daughter, to give just two examples of behavior about which Nature also doesn’t care. For this reason, successful human cultures expect far more of their men than muscle and promiscuity." Your gripe with me appears to boil down to the fact that I still seek to make this culture successful by demanding more of men than I do of dogs. Should men ask more of women in return? You bet. I am not sure why you think that I would object to that. I am not sure what it is in any of my writing that you imagine is akin to giving women a pass. There is certainly nothing as close to a "pass" offered to women in what I say as there is to a pass offered men in yours.

Hymowitz also wrote a bit about today's SYF (modeled after the unfortunate and unsavory Carrie Bradshaw). I blogged about that too--but perhaps you missed it:

You do not understand me at all, Julie. And not because my point is difficult to understand. I will re-iterate:

1. Women are moral agents and properly held accountable; habits of mind which habitually absolve women of personal responsibility through various strategems (redefinition of what constitutes and offense, studiously ignoring an offense, or attributing an offense to an autonomic reaction to the male population) are properly resisted;

2. Men and women form a dyad; the dynamic which obtains between them has a limited number of equilibria formed of complementary habits of being;

3. We are in an unhappy place;

4. Improvements require co-operative effort, not a litany of complaint against one party.

women who today are nothing but conniving, gold-digging, slutty bitches.

I think I advised you in that exchange that it was poor form to refer to people's essences rather than their acts, habits, and dispositions. Still holds.

We are certainly in an unhappy place. The division of the parental dyad continues into a splintering of families. It is become so hard for either men or women to accept the responsibility and pain of seriously good behavior and so much of society and our culture seems to argue against that responsibility which makes marriage and the necessary commitment of self-sacrifice. Self-government is hard, and within a marriage and home where one is inclined to let down guard and be the natural self, it is even harder.

Today it is increasingly true that the pattern for marriage is something that one used to have with this person, then had with another, and now have with still another. Who are the exemplars of good maleness or good femaleness? Is it any wonder no one wants to grow up and take responsibility when liberty and libertinism see ms so successful?

The single mothers I know have had responsibility thrust upon them, because of their own irresponsibility. Oddly, they all express gratitude for their children and being made to grow up. Too often they are afraid of taking on the fathers of their children - "He's not responsible enough!" which plays to Julie's point. However, I am sympathetic to Art Deco's point as what these women want in a man is impossible and that they are often no joy of themselves. Still....

I can understand why women are wary of attaching themselves to most men because I am woman. Seeing the other way around is harder. It is purely a matter of perspective.

Doesn't the male/female modern mess make you appreciate those young people who are trying to make strong families and making the necessary sacrifices? My heart goes out to the others, muddling along, meandering and creating meandering children. However, the ideal is still there, at least among my students and the friends of my children. They don't know how to be what it takes, but many seem to be growing into it or hope to so grow.

Maybe people were always messy propositions, but having so many more of us, now, we are more obviously so.

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