Ten Questions with ‘Manning Up’ author Kay S. Hymowitz

Laura Donovan Contributor

Kay S. Hymowitz is the author of “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys,” which hit bookshelves Tuesday.

A contributing editor to City Journal and William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Hymowitz writes primarily about social issues. An article excerpt of “Manning Up” titled “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal and explores the idea that men experience a “pre-adulthood” stage in their twenties and early thirties and take longer to settle down, marry, and get into serious relationships. The book and excerpt also speculate that the professional and academic success of women has contributed to the delay of male maturity. Hymowitz told The Daily Caller that her work on this topic has earned her the reputation of being both a man and woman hater, and she says these attributions are inaccurate.

“That piece is an excerpt and it gives a more anti-male feeling than I think the book as a whole communicates,” Hymowitz told TheDC. “It’s an excerpt. If you’re going to be that excitable, then you’ve got to read the thing. Everyone is willing to give this opinion based on an excerpt…I’ve gotten ‘man hater’ and ‘woman hater’ [accusations from online article readers.] They say I’m blaming women because of the subtitle [of the book], but I want to make it clear I’m not blaming anybody. These are big momentous cultural and economic shifts. It’s a little like asking whether we should blame the Chileans for an earthquake.”

Hymowitz agreed to answer 10 questions from TheDC about her new book.

1. Do you think any of the “pre-adolescent” twenty-something aged men who refuse to commit just haven’t met the right girl yet?

That would be the positive spin on this. I think usually if there are enough available people around, you reach a moment in your life where you’re ready, and I think it probably doesn’t have quite as much to do with meeting the right person as we, you know, might imagine in our romantic fantasies, as it has to do with our own level of maturity. But there are chemistry questions to consider. You do have to meet somebody, but a lot of it has to do with your own level of maturity, who you’re hanging around, and who you’re attracted to. Are you attracted to the kind of guys who are going to be into you and are going to make good husbands, that sort of thing.

2. Did you interview any young twenty-something aged males for this story? And if so what did they tell you?

Yes, I did talk to men. I had done an article for City Journal in 2007, I believe, and it was the chapter that appears in the book, and it was called “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” That’s the chapter where I talk about this new world of media that is very male-centric and helping to create this new persona of the child man. When I covered that article, I got a lot of angry mail from young men who I was shocked at the time, said to me, ‘There’s nothing wrong with us, it’s the women. The women are entitled, they’re bitchy, they’re gold diggers, [all] they care about is money, they’re looking for bad guys.’ So I thought, well, I’m missing some part of this story here, so I interviewed a bunch of them [the guys who emailed.] I must have gotten 400-500 emails, and some of the men had still been very angry and nasty when I first emailed them, but they had interesting things to say. It was then where I started to get the sense that guys know they can take time. Yeah they want girlfriends or dates, or someone to hang out with, to use that euphemism, but there’s no deadline for guys. I’ve heard men say, ‘I’m a guy, I can wait until my thirties or even forties.’ And women know because of the biological clock, those who want to have children are going to have to act earlier than men. They don’t have that luxury. And it creates a kind of tension between the sexes when a woman is in her thirties. Men are uneasy around women of that age often because they feel that the pressure is on to get very serious very quickly. But I want to repeat, that if things go the way they have been going, most people will find somebody, they will get married.

3. What inspired you to write about this topic?

I have children who are pre-adults, so I was observing their expectations about when they were going to settle down and saw that it was very different than mine at that age. At the same time, I was noticing the “child man” culture that I’d just read in a book that was emerging in the early and mid-nineties and I thought there’s some connection here. I started to write about the “child man” culture, and as I mentioned, I got such a strong push back that I started to look into the dating scene and then that made me think a little more about why it was taking longer for people to settle down and that got me into the economic shift that I describe in the first maybe three chapters. I also got such a strong, powerful response to that first “Child Man” article that the publisher was quite interested.

4. Do you think twenty-something aged men behave like a “man child” because they’re intimidated by the success of women?

I would put it a little bit differently. I’m not so sure they’re intimidated. I think though that historically and cross-culturally men have had this role they knew they were going to have to play in life. That is that they were going to be husband and father someday and that they were needed for a society to work and that’s no longer true. And it’s perfectly possible for them to live a life of self exploration and pleasure because they can get married someday if they want but they might not. They are given the message that it’s very, very nice to have fathers around but it’s not necessary and they are optional and I think that changes the approach to life. Also I think a lot of young men have grown up in a very girl powered world. Again, I don’t think they’re intimidated by it, but I do think they’re somewhat resentful about it because if you were a young man in the 1980s, and everyone was talking about taking your girls to work and girl power this and girl power that, I think that there was a sense in which they were supposed to sort of step back, but not complain about it. After all these were young guys, all they knew was a world that seemed to be hyping and savoring girls and women.

5. Would you say women don’t actually want to date quality men and don’t realize it?

I think women are very ambivalent about what they want in men and I think men sense that. Women aren’t interested in nice guys, they are told after all that they want an equal relationship and a nice guy is more likely to show them the respect that they want, however they seem to continue to be attracted to the bad boy. I put in my book a Hollywood producer who said that one of the reasons for the amazing popularity for the show ‘Two and a Half Men,’ which is a relevant topic right now I guess, is that women were very, very attracted to Charlie Sheen because he was the bad boy they always imagined they could change. Now, I often trust Hollywood producers on this kind of thing, and I think they’re onto something with this. Does that mean that’s really what women want in the long run or is it just what they’re momentarily attracted to? That’s the big question. My own view is in their early twenties, when they’re not thinking about seriously settling down, they’re more likely to go for the sexy guy, the personal trainer, the guy who has the kind of sex appeal that you don’t always get from highly educated men. But as they get older and they start thinking more seriously about who they want to father their children and who they what to share their lives with, then I think they’re more interested in the nice guy. Unfortunately what often happens, and this is one of the problems with pre-adulthood I think, the long period of single life, unfortunately what often happens is the guys who are their age as women are moving into their late twenties and early thirties, are beginning to look at younger women. So women find that the pool of men who are available to them is shrinking while the pool of women available to the 30-year-old man is growing.

6. Do you think women don’t actually want to settle down in their twenties because they’d rather focus on work and getting a career started?

Absolutely. That is what happens. What I see a lot, and I’m generalizing quite a bit, but I see a lot of women who begin to change their focus a little bit by their late twenties, but again, we’re talking about college educated women here because women who are not college educated are having their children much younger. They’re not marrying, they’re having children outside of marriage in the majority of cases, when you’re just talking about low income, so they’re doing what women have always done. They’re taking care of children. But for college educated women, they want to wait, they want to get careers established and that seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? The problem is what I mentioned before, that if you wait too long to find yourself, you have a smaller pool of potential mates and perhaps not so much desirable mates.

7. And when exactly do you think the pool of men shrinks for women?

Just statistically, if you look at some of the dating websites like OKCupid, which is very popular, they do lots of research on the way people post, what they post, who is responding to what. What they found is women are looking for men about their age, men a little bit older, and men a little younger. But men in their early twenties are looking at women who are very close to their age and then as they get older, like I said the pool thins and they begin to look at women in their younger twenties. I think what happens when women get into early 30s, it’s the older guys who are going to be interested in them, and these guys are often damaged goods. They often have ex-wives or children or there’s something off about them, and that’s why they’re not married, because they have been taken. You hear these stories, and we begin to see it in the data, of very high powered, really attractive, talented women who reach their mid-thirties and there really isn’t a guy out there for them and they’re beginning to think about having children on their own. Remember also that 57 percent of college graduates are female and that means that women who want to marry a man who has a college education, some of them won’t find any for obvious mathematical reasons. It’s tough. You know, a lot of men complain that women aren’t interested in them because they are nice guys and it’s not so great for them either. So that’s a lot of complaints all around.

8. Do you think perhaps women aren’t looking in the right places to meet quality men? For example, would you say going to a bar or a club is not conducive to meeting a decent romantic partner?

That’s what you always hear, and I don’t pretend to be an expert or know precisely because I am an older lady, but what I have heard from both men and women is that you don’t go to bar expecting to find or build a relationship. That’s not the best place to be healthy. People are finding each other online, it’s tough but that is one good place to meet people. I always feel a little uneasy because I think people on dating websites often lie about themselves and its not a good way to start a relationship. It may be very simple with a kind of a white lie. Perhaps guys are an inch or two taller than they say they are [on their dating profiles] or they show themselves in a way they don’t usually look, but the relationship kind of starts in a false way and I kind of worry about that.

10. Do you think city life in general makes it harder to meet a good guy or that some cities in particular would be better for meeting someone of quality?

That’s what I hear, a lot of what my book describes is late age of marriage, and that the decade of single life is much more of a big city phenomenon. Now, are you more likely to meet people in a smaller city? Well maybe not because single people are congregating in these city neighborhoods, which by the way didn’t look like they do now 30 years ago. We have neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Brooklyn and near where I live [that are recently] gentrified neighborhoods with a lot of young people. So people start to congregate and make these little tribal communities. You live among people like yourself, it’s only natural. The book was not dating advice, I’m not in a position to do that but what I hear is that the problems are particularly poignant for women in New York City, very high achieving women in New York City. Let me give you the good news. Most people will find somebody, most people, if they want to, they are going to find somebody to marry and have children with if that’s what they’re after. Most people are after that. But it may be frustrating through some of the twenties and I’m gathering from a lot of people I’m talking to that it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds. You watch these TV shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” and it looks jolly, right? They have all these friends, go on dates, and live in this apartment and it’s all cool, but that’s not what it feels like. I think it’s tougher on some people than maybe their parents understand.

11. For your book, did you interview any young twenty-something aged females?

I didn’t have a scientific sample and didn’t do focus groups or anything like that. I kind of did meeting on the street and did chatting like that. A lot of my research was looking at comments and statements online. There are enormous numbers of dating websites where they give advice and describe the problems they’re having, and all the stuff we are talking about comes up on these sites. If you want to know what people are talking about and how they are thinking about their romantic lives, it’s pretty easy to find out. It’s all out there.

12. Do you think sometimes people need to change what they want if they want to end up married?

Yes, they have much too high expectations of the opposite sex and they have too high expectations of marriage. The advantage of marrying younger, and I am NOT, I repeat, I am NOT recommending marrying younger, which people seem to be accusing me of saying, but when you marry younger you’re kind of growing up together and you’re not expecting that person to be already formed, it’s not that you’re hoping to change them exactly, it’s that you’re doing the growing u together, and that is in some ways easier than going out with your checklist and wanting to see the whole package. I think that creates different kinds of interactions. Both men and women complain that people have checklists, mental checklists, about they want. Men have checklists and women have checklists. It’s probably more common with women because men are usually a little more relaxed with what comes along, but you hear about male checklists as well. And men, even if they don’t have checklists, they may say well, I can do a little better. A lot of sort of nerdy, beta males, the slightly more nerdy guys who are a little bit less comfortable with women, are complaining quite a bit in their early twenties. And by the time they get to their late twenties and early thirties, they find that they have a lot more power than they had before. It’s not just that they have a bigger pool of women, it’s also that they themselves are more comfortable, you know, they’re making a little more money, they’ve lost their metaphorical baby fat, they are more confident. They feel better about the dating world than they did.

13. If a twenty-something aged woman wants to find a nice guy with which to settle down, is her best bet to go for someone in his late twenties/early thirties rather than to try for her own age group?

No, I don’t know. She certainly should be open to dating older men. I think that with marriages these days, you generally want to marry pretty close in age, I mean, after all, we do want quasi egalitarian relationships. I think that’s what college educated men and women have been prepped for and what’s probably going to make them happiest, so I think that’s much harder to have when you marry much older. But certainly a little bit older, yes. It’s just a matter of getting out and meeting people and knowing that it probably will work out. People will settle down, but I do think the current environment is not ideal for a lot of people.

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