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Where Have the Good Men Gone?

February 21, 2011
Man and boy in the mountains

What make a man no longer a boy? Don't think too hard about it, you'll go cross-eyed.

I just got done reading an article by this title and I currently feel equal parts vindication and depression. I’m not the only one who sees this problem! Hooray! But apparently this is a problem all over, not just in SD.

Worst…

Fears…

Realized!

There are boys and there are men, right? Wrong. There is something in-between and they are a pain in my butt and not worth dating.

If you want to read the article, here you go: Where Have the Good Men Gone? It’s a long one and it makes a lot of points. Almost all of them eliciting from me that same combo of, “Yes, I was right!” and “Crap! I was right. I’ve mentioned a lot of these points on my blog in the past. And I’m sure I will mention a lot of them again in the future, but the part I want to talk about on the blog today is the coming of age question.

What explains this puerile shallowness [of men]? 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.

– Adapted from “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys” by Kay S. Hymowitz, to be published by Basic Books on March 1. Copyright © by Kay S. Hymowitz.

The idea that men don’t know what it takes to be a man and that this uncertainty is because of some lack of cultural milestone is very interesting to me. It also highlights another one of my deeply held personal beliefs: humans need ritual. Rituals keep us sane. Rituals keeps us happy. Rituals help us feel fulfilled. And meaningful rituals are missing from the average person’s life in modern America.

In my opinion, the need for meaningful ritual used to be fulfilled by religion, but when the rituals became meaningless the culture got rid of the religions and effectively threw out the baby with the bath water. Personally, I have worked hard to add meaningful rituals to my life because I have noticed the void (in fact I never noticed the void as much as when I was a part of the modern Christian church).

Honestly, after talking to my guy friends I kind of thought loosing one’s virginity was sort of the qualifying event for guys. Is that a bad thing admit in a public forum?

Speaking of admissions, I have to admit that I don’t feel like a grown up or a WOMAN just because I’ve reached a certain age. I definitely feel that in our society getting married and having kids are still the measure of a woman’s worth. However, despite the fact that I don’t always feel like a grown up, I can still look back on my life at a lot of accomplishments and milestones and feel good, like, “Yes, I am an important and productive member of society — I’m an adult.”

College graduation for example. Or falling in love. Or learning to drive. Or all of those things put together Maybe?

Anyway, back to men. What can society, or religion or parents do to add some sort of coming of age manhood qualifier to Americana? And what should that qualifying event be? And for those of you who feel like men, what was your qualifier? When did you look at yourself, your life, and think, “I’m really a man now?”

Oh, I know…after you saw the movie Fight Club, right? ;)

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. dave c permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:38 am

    College & Las Vegas.

    College… I honestly didn’t know what I was made of, until I went to college. See, I had breezed through highschool math and pretty much everything without ever even knowing what the word ‘study’ had meant. Then I went to college, and I’ve never prayed that I would make it through a class with a C-. I remember hearing about in the mid 90s how you’d have to survive a beat down to make it into a gang initiation. This was like that, only with math and programming. At the end of projects week, you couldn’t formulate complete sentences. “a ramblin’ wreck from [insert school here] tech.”

    Las Vegas… even though I was married, I still sort of felt like I had mom and dad and my wife’s folks in life enough that we were still living together, just elsewhere. So when we moved to Las Vegas, there were some challenges that absolutely made us, us. One particular month we had a 2300 dollar car repair bill the same time my wife’s back went out. Happy 23rd birthday. We sued the shop that broke our car… my wife’s back got fixed. The thing was, it was without any family support at all. The big thing is that proved to both us, and I think our respective families, that we had really grown-up.

    I think when you’re a man, and you’re 18-22ish, you need to be on either a military ‘thing’ or a mormon mission, or GO AWAY for college (says the kid that stayed in-town)… and I think if you don’t do that, then, you won’t have the requisite piss and vinegar to do those things ever again in your life.

    • February 21, 2011 10:25 am

      Thanks for the insight. I would have to agree about going away. Really living on one’s own seems like enough of a litmus test for adulthood to me. (Says the girl who went as far away as possible after graduating high school.) I wonder if other men feel the same as you.

  2. dave c permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:04 pm

    I’m a little conflicted on whether to agree with you or to claim you’re being a man-hater.

    On the one hand, I think the box man has to fit into is something that we’re finally breaking out of, now that we don’t have a box we NEED to be in. I think it’s bullshit that we should always be the ones to work, and to do this, and to do that… and… it’s just as much bullshit as expecting women to cook.

    On the other hand, I’m horribly disappointed in what’s become of men these days.

    When I was growing up (I’m only 31, I am NOT old enough to say this, but here it goes), there was two rules extoled from fathers to their sons:
    a) Work hard. You don’t need to be good at everything, you just have to be doing something.
    b) Under no circumstances, ever hit a girl.

    Yet, there are all these guys just sponging off their women. Makes me want to pound my head against a wall.

  3. dave c permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:05 pm

    (provided of course, I would be pounding my head against a male wall)

    • February 21, 2011 2:11 pm

      I don’t hate men. (I mean, I don’t think I do.) I do certainly dislike some men (and I commonly decry the lack of men I would find datable — which is sort of what I was getting at here), but I think my dislike of men is in rather parallel proportion to how many women I dislike. Maybe you should let me know more specifically which part makes me seem like a man-hater. Then I can defend myself or take your point.

  4. dave c permalink
    February 21, 2011 3:05 pm

    Basically taking the side that a man should be a provider and protector, is what I was getting at… is about as chauvinistic as saying women should be in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.

    Man-hating was a bad choice of terms, but that’s what I was getting at.

    • February 21, 2011 3:22 pm

      I don’t know if I really do take that side.

      I guess the idea that a man provide for and protect me is attractive in some respects. If a guy could provide for me and I could pursue my writing full-time that would rock, but I’d be happy to find a guy who can provide for himself as well as I manage to provide for myself. I don’t see a lot of those around. And as far as protecting me. Well that is just hot to think about. But protect me from what? I mean how often is that really going to come up? As mouthy as I am I don’t really start too many fist-fights.

      But I’ll keep thinking about it. I agree with you that putting men into a certain box is about the same as saying women should be relegated to domestic chores. But I don’t think the idea that a man should provide for and protect his chosen woman is as limiting as saying all women need to be housewives.

  5. dave c permalink
    February 21, 2011 3:47 pm

    Well, the point that trumps ‘the box’, is that a man should, at the very very very least, be able to take care of himself. Not even putting a dog or a cat or a wife in there. That’s just called “being a human being”. Barring of course disabilities and the occasional sickness.

    …and sadly, I’m seeing quite a few men who, I’m not sure could take care of themselves.

  6. February 21, 2011 9:03 pm

    I, like many other fathers would have to say becoming a father made me feel somewhat initiated, but I still have feelings from time to time that are kind of “boyish”, like I’m an imposter or something. I don’t really know what it will take to feel fully initiated, but I know that I feel good about myself as a man pretty much all the time except for when I’m asking myself questions like “do I really feel like a man?”

  7. Doug permalink
    February 22, 2011 3:42 am

    I think taking responsibility is often the crossover point for many men into adulthood, marriage and family especially. When one faces greater responsibility (either by choice or by having it forced upon them) the decision arises whether to shirk and run away or to “man up”. As the article mentioned, in 1970, 70% of 25 year-olds were married and in 2000 was about 30%. Also, in 1970, 16% of men aged 25-29 had never been married. That figure is now 55%.

    Another form of responsibility often delayed or missing from the twenty-somethings these days is their entry into the workforce. Ms. Hymowitz’s description of the “college premium” is accurate – that increasingly more people are spending a longer time in academics, further postponing the responsibility that comes with employment.

    The whole article is so condemning of the modern twenty-something man. I wonder if the article had been written by a man, criticizing the modern woman, would not the author be branded a misogynist or a bigot? I dare say the author’s misandrist leanings are hard to miss.

    The author mentions a “life script” that used to be common “For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult…” Where are the men with “fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity”? The author says these are now obsolete. I would ask where are the women with “faithfulness, integrity, humility and grace”?

    The modern women has little to no interest in traditional gender roles and prefers independence and equality. They came down from their pedestal to become equal with us men, and that is where things turned. Men aren’t needed to protect and provide anymore. Maybe with women’s liberation, men have been liberated as well from the shackles of familial responsibility to which we devoted ourselves over the centuries.

    “Behind every great man is a great woman” used to be said with gratitude and respect for the role of a wife. Now, it is considered insulting to suggest a woman is behind a man. Modern women have removed the roles that real men used to play. In truth, usually behind every “real man” is an encouraging, gracious and supporting woman. Women’s Lib has allowed women to care more about what they want and make themselves a priority. Now, men are free to do the same. Ms. Hymowitz should realize that one can’t have it both ways.

    • February 22, 2011 8:25 am

      “I would ask where are the women with “faithfulness, integrity, humility and grace”?” Really Doug? I think you are purposely trying to be incendiary here. These women are everywhere. I could personally and specifically name a ton of them.

      • Doug permalink
        February 22, 2011 9:51 am

        The author saying the traits of fidelity, fortitude & courage are obsolete in men isn’t incendiary or insulting? I wasn’t trying to pick a fight, just seems like a double standard. It’s hardly fair to say that real/good men are in short supply, but there are great women everywhere. I think exceptional people are just that: exceptional.

        • February 22, 2011 10:12 am

          I’m sorry you found it insulting. And I guess I don’t see the double standard. It seems to me that the author is holding men and women to similar standards. And I’m glad you weren’t trying to pick a fight. I should have known that isn’t your MO.

          I do agree with you that exceptional people in general are in short supply. Otherwise they wouldn’t be exceptional, they would be ordinary. But honestly, Doug, I do feel that there are great women everywhere around me. But great men seem to be in short supply. Especially great single men. (And you don’t count as being around me cause you’re in India most of the time! But I do suspect you are even more exceptional now than you were when we were near one another.) While the majority of the great women around me are single. But that might just be my perspective because I’m not trying to date a woman.

          I hope you don’t feel that I am trying to disparage the modern man as a group. But I do feel that there is a problem out there, and I’m sort of a solution-oriented person. Even if we can’t implement the solution I’d like to know what it might be. I’m just trying to understand at this point. Maybe I need to work harder at not forming opinions yet though.

    • February 22, 2011 10:46 am

      Also, I think I would be very interested in an article written about women from the male perspective. But I think the topic isn’t as interesting to scholars an authors because we know the answers to so many of the questions that would be raised (or we think we do). The “liberation” of women from the home. Anyway, I’m interested in all of this because I am basically trying to to assemble a personal working definition of femininity and masculinity. I think they are very different and that they need one another.

  8. February 22, 2011 5:35 pm

    I agree with you that society needs a coming of age experience for men. For me, it was entering the military. During basic training, I did not think that I could make it (it is very tough) but once completing it, I looked back on it with satisfaction and realized that I could have taken more than they dished out.

    I made E-5 in 15 months (which is fast in the military) I had a very repsonsible job for a 21 year old. I was a shift leader in a hospital diet kitchen and wrote menus, and supervised 5 other cooks 2 military and 3 civilians. By this time I was also married and had two kids.

    Society does not provide for enough jobs with responsibilities for men now a days.

    I felt like a grown up and acted as such.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  9. February 22, 2011 7:53 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this.

  10. Craig permalink
    February 26, 2011 4:27 am

    Where Have the Good Men Gone?

    They are in the Corps !

    Some points :
    1. women contribute to the child-man phenomena by choosing sexy men over responsible men.
    2. Men rationally responded to women’s lib by liberating themselves as well from the male gender roles of provider and protector–and women don’t like it.
    3. Women have said for decades that they don’t need men. Now they have it, and they don’t like it.

    This is the question the modern day woman asks as she looks in the mirror. Since the modern woman view’s men as a type of tool, the better question is what can this tool do for me?

    Is he a financial tool, a pleasure tool, an excitement tool, a security tool, an emotional support tool, a plumber tool, a carpenter tool, a house cleaning tool, a broken but still useful financial tool?

    In order to “man up,” for the modern woman you need to be the latest swiss army multipurpose tool with all the bell’s and whistle’s.

  11. Roxy permalink
    February 28, 2011 5:31 pm

    Here’s a concept. I don’t want a ‘good man’, I want an EQUAL. The only things I ask my mate to provide are those in which I am willing to provide myself.
    The problem seems to be that women’s lib worked a little too effectively, and women are now not only the CEO’s, they’re the mothers, too…so we’ve taken away a man’s necessity to provide, but we still haven’t figure out how to stop a woman from mothering everything she sees– men included.
    To achieve the things we want to achieve women have to play their A-Game 100% of the time. That requires us to be more organized, more driven, more effective than our male counterparts, simply because we have a vagina. So not only have we started running the show, we’ve facilitated a lifestyle in which men no longer have to. Because we can literally do it all.
    I think we’ll continue to do so until we not only fight for our liberation and independence, but feel comfortable in our expectations of men as well. No more double standards, no more excuses. Both genders have their strengths and weaknesses, but a human is a human, damn it. It’s society that makes that unequal.

    • March 1, 2011 8:12 am

      I”m with you, Roxy. Although I have been asking about people’s ideas about masculinity and femininity. my personal standards for men are the same as my standards for women. And I use the word EQUAL all the time as well. Unfortunately, I haven’t met a single man who could qualify as such yet.

  12. Craig permalink
    March 4, 2011 1:55 am

    Equality is a mathematical concept, it doesn’t exist in the real world.
    You want an equal mate ? First, you should choose a woman as mate, and as you write there is no more need of men.
    About the men, it’s a generation of men raised by women. They are so infantilized that they can’t face the few real important choices of their lifes.
    Don’t blame society, maybe you want more laws ? I don’t think that mixing the private life with the society is the solution.
    There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal.

    “There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal.”

    Friedrich A. Hayek

    • March 4, 2011 8:19 am

      You’re negating your own points, Craig. In one sentence you attribute this issue the the idea that this is a generation of men raised by women (a societal issue) and in the next you say not to blame society.

      As for equality being a purely mathematical concept again you are negating yourself with your final quote. There is such a thing as ideological equality and I’m pretty sure that’s what Roxy is getting at. (Please, correct me if I am wrong in that assessment, Roxy.) I know that’s what I’m getting at. For example, I want a man who is equally as responsible as I am. Who is equally as intelligent as I am. Who is equally as interesting as I am. And of course there are a lot of things that make up a person, but basically someone who is on my level. And maybe he won’t be as funny as me. But he will make up for that by being better with money than I am. Something like that.

  13. Craig permalink
    March 4, 2011 1:50 pm

    Ok, with your definition of equality. Correct me if i am wrong, but you are just describing how to set up a family (and so you need the good mate -> father of your children) ?
    Concerning my previous post, i just writed some observations, i don’t try to define definitively the causes.

    • March 4, 2011 1:58 pm

      Well, I don’t really have a desire for children currently, so I don’t think that’s what I’m looking for. But maybe there is something biological at play that I am unaware of. I mean for a partner for life. Someone whom I can love freely without having to mother him. A person I am a match for and vice versa. Of course I wouldn’t want us to be exactly the same. Just to fit well together.

  14. Doug permalink
    March 4, 2011 3:19 pm

    Not to get too far off track, but Crystal, you mention there are no good guys around where you live. So why are you still living there? Why do so many people perceive the world (and often the people in it) by the small sliver of society in which they spend their time?

    There are so many cultures, people and perspectives. If you are so dissatisfied with the quality of men you are meeting, why not just take a leap and see what else the world may have to offer. It is easy to criticize, but what steps are you taking to change what lies ahead? What kind of man do you want? and where might you find him?

    • March 4, 2011 4:24 pm

      It does seem that the area I’m in is part of what is limiting the dating pool…and I am planning on moving soon. All the graduate schools I applied to are in other states. I haven’t been researching the places with the most eligible men, but I sort of assumed grad school might have men who are more what I’m interested in. And I am actually working on my “What I Want in a Man” treatise — and if I knew where a man like that might be I would be easily persuaded to go l where he might be. I just don’t know where that is. Got any ideas where I should start looking?

  15. so true says permalink
    June 3, 2012 11:13 pm

    it certainly should be more like, where have the good women gone? so very nasty women today now, with their SHIT DON’T STINK OF AN ATTITUDE that they have. women are so very hard to meet for us straight guys, because of this. the sad thing is that many women now will think that THEY ARE ALL THAT, and what losers that you have become today.

    • June 4, 2012 10:09 am

      Wow, way to completely miss the point, dude. Did you even read this blog post or any of the following comments?

  16. Ask permalink
    August 18, 2012 12:49 am

    First off, I have enjoyed reading your blog this evening. I found it by chance tonight and have been happily reading through your posts.

    This is an interesting topic, one that I wanted to comment on, and perhaps voice some thoughts in my head as a young male, finding himself in this ever changing modern world.

    I’m a young man of 21, living in California. I am not in college but working my butt off in a field I enjoy and could see myself pursuing a career in. I have natural talents which apply at the workplace and have a definite interest in the field, that works for me.

    I found the post to be quite introspective as I, myself, see this not-quite man, but hardly a child in myself. This state of confusion and uncertainly about the future. I see myself, strengths and shortfalls, then I look at what I expect of myself and hope to come to some conclusion. I can say I’m not the adult I see myself being, but I am becoming more and more like him everyday. I would like to think that if the **** were to hit the fan, I would man up. Life might not be easy, who said it was? I’m making steps toward the future, I think the key is whether or not those steps are big enough. My life is coming together and I put my big boy pants on everyday, each day they fit a little better.

    I think if there is a major change culturally, that effects young adults, both men and women, is that we’re raised soft these days. Experiences I have heard from people of my parents generation suggest a much less forgiving parenting experience regarding young-adulthood. I know the pendulum has swung for a majority of people I know. An overly large, parental safety net allows us to grow at a much slower rate. Yes, people in generations past were much more adult in their low 20′s. The young adults I know, from all walks of life, friends and acquaintances, few are truly grown up at this age, from 18 to 25, myself included. How come we’re aging slower? Parental safety net followed by years of college?

    This is a very interesting topic, thanks for listening. And one last note, in my experience there are nearly as many lost young women as there are men. Only the post-teen, pre-adult confusion shows more in men. When measured side by side, I’d say the young women I know have it together more then the men.

    • August 20, 2012 9:01 pm

      Thank you so much for your insight into this topic and for shapring your personal thoughts and experiences. I recently had a friend who believes in past lives who said she felt that one of the resons she is having such a difficult time finding a great lasting relationships is because she doesn’t believe she can have it all and in her last life she was trapped as a wife and that makes her scared to be one in this life.

      I don’t know forsure what I think about reincarnation, but it made me think. And I can see how (if reincarnation is real) a lot of women in the this and the past few generations might be creating a lot of the relationship troubles they are currently experienceing because of some sort of life hangover from society’s history.

      And it got me thinking, what if something similar were going on with men? Say they had so much responsibility in past lives that they are trying to have as little responsibility as possible this time around. Even though that sounds very lonely and unfulfilling to me I can se where (if reincarnation is real) it could make a lot of sense. If you had to work your butt off and support not only yourself, but a wife and children because society said so in your last life why wouldn’t you take advantage of the fact that so ciety barely makes you take care of yourself this time around?

      Anyway, those are just silly ruminations that don’t help much. As for your situation I think the lack of test of manhood that a fella can pass in order to feel accomplished would definitely make me feel a bit more childish than need be. Like if there was some crucible of life that you could go through and once accomplished the entire society not only saw you as a man but treated you as one as well, well that would be a test worth taking wouldn’t it? But society is so fractured at this point that anything that ever served such a purpose in modren America no longer really has that weight.

      Loss of virginity, graduation, marriage, fatherhood, home ownership, there are hundreds of things I could name that used to be larger milestones of manhood that our society doesn’t revere much anymore. Not that they ever should have held any of them as big accomplishments, but still…men seem to need respect in order to function fully. It’s too bad we, as a society don’t have a way to give it to them and help them be real men for all of us.

      Because I think we need some real, strong, determined, ethical ambitious men in America — at least my part of it. I’d sure like one of my very own.

      Thanks again for your comment and introspection.

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