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?

PEACOCKS: MEN AND CLOTHES

The topic of this article is supposed to be Why Men Don’t Like to Dress Up, but I’m having some difficulty with it, because the premise is obviously untrue.  Men love to dress up.

If you have any doubts, go to a football game—NFL, NCAA. Look in the stands. You’ll see tens of thousands of men who have taken enormous care with their day’s wardrobe, starting next to the skin with the luckiest of their lucky T-shirts and building to the regulation team parkas. They will wear the official jersey of a current star, or the throwback jersey of a retired idol in order to help draw the mystic power of mighty ancestors into the day’s conflict. They will top off the ensemble with a well-chosen cap, or imitation leather helmet, or plastic pig snout, or styrofoam cheese head, and they will feel that they have dressed perfectly for the occasion.

And they will not be alone in their sartorial exactitude. Civil War reenactors in blue and gray will scour the hinterlands to find the precise regimental button to wear to their mock conflagrations.  Star Trek devotees will never be caught wearing items from their Deluxe Captain Kirk Uniform Packages from the original series when they meant to be wearing Gold Kirk Uniform Shirts from the 2009 film. A yachtsman will have his special windbreaker and a golfer will have his special sweater and slacks, and many a tennis player will continue to sport his short McEnroe-ish tennis shorts long after his slender McEnroe-ish figure has joined John in retirement. One need look no further than the example of Mr. Elmer Fudd, who always wears the same cap with the side flaps snapped together at the crown whenever he hunts that cwazy wabbit.

What most men do less and less, and what many men no longer do at all, is dress up for work. There was a time, as we see on Mad Men, when men were expected to dress for the office, and that the more successful you were, the better you were expected to dress. None of this came to anyone as a shock, since the world was still governed by a relatively small elite, and they mandated fashion and taste. Appearances mattered, often too much: men who had the right look often rose higher than men of greater ability who didn’t.  And even those who challenged the powers that be—Martin Luther King Jr., Lenny Bruce, Chuck Berry—wore versions of the suit and tie. They wanted to change, challenge, join the power structure, not destroy it, and their clothes demonstrated that.

But as Mad Men shows, not all men take to a suit and tie. Don Draper looks great and takes pleasure in the power that his appearance brings him. But Pete Campbell, young and unformed, doesn’t so much wear his suit as is worn by it; the suit is like the outline of a drawing that he is filling in. And for poor Harry Crane, deskbound and thickening, wearing a suit is a yoke of servitude, another obligation that society, family, marriage imposes upon him.

The sixties, of course, changed everything.  The new fashion freedom men enjoyed  fell on peacocks and drones alike. But over the years, the easygoing spirit of Casual Friday took over, and in many places became Sloppy Whenever. “Suits’’ became a synonym for executive power that was clueless and stodgy. Instead of the Don Drapers pulling the Harry Cranes to dress up, the Cranes pulled the Drapers down.  “The only people in Los Angeles who wear a tie,’’ a friend from the television business recently noted, “are the agents.’’

“It’s appalling how men dress today,’’ Tim Gunn, the creative director of Liz Claiborne said to me in a recent phone call. “More and more, I’m meeting men who have attained some professional stature, who not only don’t wear a tie, but who don’t know how to tie a tie.  I’m flabbergasted. It’s like they’re wearing a sign that says `I have arrested development.’ What are they signifying?’’

What indeed.  Back in 2005, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Ben Bernanke gave a speech in which he answered that very question. “The biggest downside of my current job is that I have to wear a suit to work,’’ the former scholar and researcher told his audience. “Wearing uncomfortable clothes on purpose is an example of what. . .Nobel Prize winner Michael Spence taught economists to call ‘signalling.’ You have to do it to show that you take your official responsibilities seriously.’’

Bernanke’s right (although you’d think a guy who’s able to understand credit default swaps could find himself a comfortable suit.) Men should be as willing to demonstrate their pride in their families and their professions as they do in their teams. And don’t forget: a lot more people are going to admire the way you look in a suit and tie than the way you rock a cheese head.

This article originally appeared in BG, the magazine of Bergdorf Goodman.