Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An assortment: 1950s sitcom edition

-When, in an earlier post on l'Affaire Galliano, I asked what Mme Millepied would say about all this, I did so rhetorically, and out of obedience to this blog's mild Natalie fascination. Well, it seems she has weighed in. Go Natalie! "Sart," notice that she sees this as a lesson to us all to combat hate, not as a lesson to poor dear fashion "geniuses" to seek help for their tortured souls.

-The discussion at Amber's about girls in boys' clubs is really one about assimilation: do members of a marginalized group who wish to leave the metaphorical ghettos they inhabit need to resemble, to the extent possible via changes in behavior, the dominant one? Or do they have the right to demand acceptance as they are? (I find it much more productive to look at this question in general terms than to dwell on the specific issue of gender, if only because focusing on gender has led male commenters there to present an image of what women are like that's straight out of "I Love Lucy" - crying, whining, and far too many hats.) If you broaden the question to go beyond broads, should all who wish to hold any position of power, however slight, chuck all facets of their identities that differentiate them from straight white Christian men? Must black women relax their hair, must Muslims and Jews convert, and must gays  refer to partners as spouses of the opposite sex? Much needs to be taken into account: are the changes demanded ones that members of the marginalized group could easily enough take? To what extent is continued marginalization despite the good will of the marginalized towards assimilation? To what extent are demands that the marginalized shape up made for show, by those with no intention whatsoever of accepting newcomers? To return, finally, to the question at hand, if men are asking women to refrain from showing up at the office only to gossip and swap recipes, this is a not unreasonable request... but women have already shown up at the office since forever, donned suits, and behaved more or less like men. Any further assimilation to male ways is, one might consider, asking the unfair if not the impossible.

-Kay Hymowitz has more thoughts on man-children (via Arts and Letters Daily), and begins her latest screed, "Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children." Question: isn't that, and not the 20s as an extended male adolescence, the aberration in modern Western civilization? Didn't respectable men - but not, of course, women - have their 20s if not 30s to explore whichever houses of ill repute they felt like, to carouse while serving in the military, to explore harems abroad, and so on, prior to settling down - if they chose to do so at all - with a nice, young, presumed-virginal girl? (Not to mention that the equation of financial independence with adulthood fails to account for all the many situations in the not-so-distant past in which married adults lived off investments and were classified nevertheless as 'bourgeois', or remained the impoverished workers they'd been as children. Or that 'women' were not, until quite recently, differentiated from 'girls' on account of financial independence or lack thereof.) Setting aside the Golden Age of "Leave It To Beaver," was there ever a time when a man in his 20s was expected to be that domestic? Hymowitz's acknowledgement that "at other points in Western history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry" fails to address the gender dimension of this. (My love of newspaper comments has been overshadowed by the fact that there are 1,890 of them responding to this particular piece. I find that daunting and overly procrastinatory, so if what I've written here has already been said there, feel free to point it out.)


Britta said...

In addition to the obnoxiousness of taking social structure of the 50s and projecting it backwards into The Dawn of Time, these conservative articles also manage to classify huge structural/material economic changes as (cultural) personal choices. My guess is that the young man living in his parents basement is probably doing so because unemployment of young people is upwards of 25% in some areas. When our parents were young (pre 30 years of supply-side economics), housing was ridiculously cheap, and decent paying jobs were plentiful and available to pretty much anyone with a college education (or not, since skilled blue collar work had not been completely proletarianized). Plus, there was plenty of whining about Kids These Days during the 60s and 70s. When our grandparents were young, those houses and jobs were made possible by massive government welfare on a scale never seen before or since. If Hymnowitz supports some sort of updated GI bill for young people, then my guess is you'd see a lot more home ownership among 20 somethings as well. But...since for conservatives, structural conditions never seem to actually affect people's lives, there's no mention of that whatsoever.

Finally, what's up with the (usually conservative) trend of basing these rants on fictional media? From Murphy Brown to SATC to Knocked Up...this is not real life, so don't use it as evidence of such.

Withywindle said...

Full patriarchal authority was often delayed until 30+, but boys also started working at 12 or younger. A riotous 17 year old apprentice was in many ways less childish than today's 30-year-old Xbox fan. Maybe the world wasn't always the 1950s, but in important ways the 1950s resembled the Old World much more than the 2010s do.

PG said...

I think class and geography make the big differences here. The majority of people in Europe, prior to the 20th century, didn't live in densely populated areas that could support houses of ill-repute, nor did they have the resources to travel abroad or do much more carousing than the local public house afforded. It was pretty difficult for middle- or lower-class man outside urban centers to obtain sex on a regular basis unless he got married.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


That's not so much true of 19th C France. Peasants (such as those Zola depicts in Germinal) would enjoy a premarital romp in the hay. Even if they might eventually marry the girl they'd impregnated.

My overall point here, though, is that the schedule Hymowitz gives for when one becomes an adult in professional and romantic matters, all at once, conveniently enough, is somewhat particular to the 1950s.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...



Hymowitz didn't mention the structural? Somehow I thought she did, but I'd need to check... Some social conservatives do, though. They don't want a GI bill, necessarily, but are maybe in favor of big tax breaks for the procreative.


As I mention in the post, it's a recent idea to equate adulthood with financial self-support, especially when it comes to women but when it comes to men as well, given how many adults didn't work, and how many children did. The important factor for Hymowitz is whether a man is good marriage material in his 20s, not how "childish" he would seem as represented by Judd Apatow. If at virtually no period in history were men considered to be ready to settle down monogamously for life at that age, then for the purposes of her argument, what matters shouldn't be whether a man who's been working in the mines since childhood has a more world-weary attitude than today's man-child, but whether either one is prepared, at 25, to settle down and reproduce with a woman. The relevant point Hymowitz ignores is that, while there is hefty historical evidence to back up the idea that women could (should is something else) be made to settle down in late adolescence, this has not typically been expected of men.

Britta said...

She makes vague allusions to certain changes--e.g. the rise of college attendance, but no explanation for why that was, and absolutely zero mention of broad economic forces affecting social structure. Also, she doesn't address in any way how the collapse of the US economy has hit young people (especially men) the hardest, and many things that our parents took for granted are out of reach for all but the most privileged. Instead these (in her words) "relatively affluent" single men are playing x-box and watching Star Wars because women haven't forced them to act civilized.

She also mixes it in with some absolutely appalling and totally unverified armchair anthropology & psychobiology (e.g. "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." and comments about our biological imperatives and what not).

I also could go on about how maybe many gen Y women also decorate their walls with Star Wars posters, and would rather drink beer and play x-box with their boyfriends than play Betty to Don Draper, and don't care if their husbands bring home the bacon, but apparently women, due to our biological essence, haven't changed since the Dawn of Time, and merely want to be supported while we have babies.

Also, age at first marriage is not a cultural universal, but varies not only by time but also by place. I know some places child marriage has been common, or marriage at menarche for women, but in other places marriage has always been later. I read an article awhile ago that mentioned that in the late 19th century, age of first marriage for Norwegian immigrants was mid 20s for women and late 20s for men (and these are farming populations, not urban elites). We have on my father's father's side the age of birth, death, and marriage of my ancestors going back to the 15th century, which although not representative provides interesting longitudinal data, and I think the earliest it ever was was late teens for women and mid 20s for the men, but marriage before 20 for women even in the 16th and 17th century was uncommon (and this is in a small farming community).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Agreed that marriage age has varied tremendously. What interests me is that modern, Western, Golden Age-ideal-type-situations have, in my understanding, rarely included the expectation that a man must be married with kids by 30. A woman, yes, and realistically lots of men probably were settled down by that age.

Meanwhile, there's also this to contend with...

Britta said...

Oh yeah, I saw that article, but couldn't finish it the first time through (though I did just now). It doesn't make me angry so much as just feel kind of despairing, like getting a student paper that is flawed on so many levels you don't even know how to grade it.

One thing that annoys me about these articles is that they present two choices: 50s husbands or Apatow man-children, as though men only come in two varieties. I agree, most women don't want emotionally immature partners who refuse to do any work in the relationship (do any men want women like this?), but then again, most women don't want with a man who adheres to strict retro gender roles.

Also, it seems like men who write these articles know very little about actual women. Women who write these articles are either 1) married, and wildly speculate about what it must be like to be a young single person, or 2) are like Lori Gottlieb, and who assume that their own very particular criteria are held by all women, so if they aren't lucky in love, it must be the fault of men, dammit, not themselves. I always think of Dan Savage--if you're attractive and successful and involuntarily single, it's probably because there's something wrong with you, not the entire rest of the world.

In the particular article, I also thought it was interesting the "women" interviewed were all, like, 20. Sure, in *college,* maybe many men are not looking for wives, but then, most women aren't either. And if my college was in any way typical, there were enough men and women who got married within a year of graduation that it seemed the people determined to settle down at 22 could find someone.

Finally, I'm not convinced that there's any "crisis" even occurring. According to wikipedia, average age of first marriage in the US is 27 for men and 25 for women (2007 data), so I'm confused what exactly the problem is. Man-children are marrying at 27 instead of 24? 20 year old women are finding it harder to get married while in college?

Ok, I will stop ranting about this topic.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"In the particular article, I also thought it was interesting the "women" interviewed were all, like, 20."

About to post on this...