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Manning Up, Kay S. Hymowitz

2011/04/07

I first heard about this book on NPR, and, having spent enough time around my boyfriend’s roommates, was immediately interested in hearing theories about the reasons why so many young men are extending their adolescence into their twenties and thirties.

Hymowitz begins with the luxury that most young Americans have in exploring their options prior to and after graduating from college, comparing it to previous generations’ expectation of childhood, adolescence, school, a job, marriage, and children. Using the term “preadulthood” to describe the period of transitioning from the teen years and college into full-fledged, salary earning, home-owning, semi-stable adulthood, the author considers the role of education, the economy, and new trends in the workplace as they have contributed to this: “What should I do with my life? It’s not just a good question; it’s a hard question. The preadult is stunned with possibility, a predicament unknown to most of the human race up until very recently” (35). The reader may be understandably confused as the next chapters focus on the history of women’s roles in the western world, focusing on American women and their move from the kitchen and home to the workplace. Later chapters address the metamorphosis of the man into the guy, including the deconstruction of mature manhood, women’s independence from men as breadwinners, and the emergence of the child-man who spends his time playing games and maintaining his adolescent attitude.

Overall, the book is not so much an analysis of the current trends in masculine gender role, but rather a look at current trends in young adulthood for both men and women. The scenarios that the author presented in the last chapter as examples of what is happening in the lives of young men and women are a little sad, but realistic, and include the neo-traditional, the Darwinian playboy, the single-and-loving-it woman, the choice mother, and the starter marriage, each of which reflects different trends in the American family culture. Hymowitz provides a lengthy bibliography which cites plenty of additional reading sources. This is a good overview of how we got to today’s gender roles, but deceptively titled.

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