MYSTERIOUS, MYSTIFIED YOUNG MEN

Two very interesting, fairly contradictory stories about young men, have recently appeared.

In Slate, Mark Regnerus says that while young men are struggling in the world, especially in contrast with young women, they are still finding it fairly easy to bed young women. “We keep hearing that young men are failing to adapt to contemporary life,” writes Regnerus. “Their financial prospects are impaired—earnings for 25- to 34-year-old men have fallen by 20 percent since 1971. Their college enrollment numbers trail women’s: Only 43 percent of American undergraduates today are men. Last year, women made up the majority of the work force for the first time. And yet there is one area in which men are very much in charge: premarital heterosexual relationships.”

Regnerus says that if women were more fully in charge of their relationships, “we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on. Instead, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (which collects data well into adulthood), none of these things is occurring.” Instead, men are geting what they want–easy sex with no commitments.

Regnerus says it’s a matter of supply and demand. Although sex in consensual relationships commences only when women decide it can, women are just not demanding much. Regnerus cites several reasons: the proliferation of porn, the availability of birth control, the lowering of social constraints on sexual activity. “The price of sex is low, in other words, in part because its costs to women are lower than they used to be.” But just as important is the “growing imbalance between the number of successful young women and successful young men. As a result, in many of the places where young people typically meet—on college campuses, in religious congregations, in cities that draw large numbers of twentysomethings—women outnumber men by significant margins. (In one Manhattan ZIP code, for example, women account for 63 percent of 22-year-olds.)”

The idea that sex ratios alter sexual behavior is well-established. “Virginity is more common on those campuses where women comprise a smaller share of the student body, suggesting that they have the upper hand. By contrast, on campuses where women outnumber men, they are more negative about campus men, hold more negative views of their relationships, go on fewer dates, are less likely to have a boyfriend, and receive less commitment in exchange for sex.” Women are agreeing to sex earlier in relationships, or even without relationships; Regnerus found that 30 percent of encounters “don’t involve romance at all: no wooing, no dates, no nothing. Finally, as my colleagues and I discovered in our interviews, striking numbers of young women are participating in unwanted sex—either particular acts they dislike or more frequent intercourse than they’d prefer or mimicking porn (being in a dating relationship is correlated to greater acceptance of and use of porn among women).”

And yet, despite this available sex, young men are still not happy; in fact, they’re angry. So says Kay Hymowitz, author of the new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. Writing in The Daily Beast, Hymowitz says young men are angry because women are demanding equality everywhere, except when it comes to romance. “During the last few years researching this age group, I’ve stumbled onto a powerful underground current of male bitterness that has nothing to do with outsourcing, the Mancession, or any of the other issues we usually associate with contemporary male discontent. No, this is bitterness from guys who find the young women they might have hoped to hang out with entitled, dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling—and did I mention gold-digging?. . . .Women may want equality at the conference table and treadmill. But when it comes to sex and dating, they aren’t so sure.”

Hymowitz points to a condition she calls gender bait and switch. “Never before in history have men been matched up with women who are so much their equal—socially, professionally, and sexually. By the time they reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors—in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. They very reasonably assume that the women they are meeting at a bar or café or gym are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex. That’s the bait; here comes the switch. Women may want equality at the conference table and treadmill. But when it comes to sex and dating, they aren’t so sure. The might hook up as freely as a Duke athlete. Or, they might want men. . .to pay for dinner, call for dates . . .and open doors for them. A lot of men wonder: “WTF??!” Why should they do the asking? Why should they pay for dinner? After all, they are equals and in any case, the woman a guy is asking out probably has more cash in her pocket than he does. . . . Men say they have no choice. If they want a life, they have to ask women out on dates; they have to initiate conversations at bars and parties, they have to take the lead on sex. Women can take a Chinese menu approach to gender roles. They can be all “Let me pay for the movie tickets” on Friday nights, and “A single rose? That’s it?” on Valentine’s Day.”

Can both of these views be true?

Leave a Reply