A couple of years ago, author Hannah Rosin sparked a firestorm when she wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly called “The End of Men” where she proclaimed that the “age of men” has all but run its course and women are taking over. In her article, she noted that the educational tables have already flipped and in the next decade two out of three college graduates will be women. As a result, women are landing many of the primo jobs and gaining power in our society (at the expense of men).
When I first read the article I scoffed and dismissed it as another shameless poke at masculinity. However, a new movie trend is causing me to stand up, take notice and concede that maybe Hannah was on to something.
In the past couple of years, an entirely new genre of movies has been introduced as a commentary on a growing trend in our society. Have you noticed all of the recent movies about slacker sons who refuse to grow up and just want to live at home -sponging off their parents? In the past few years Hollywood has pumped out such movies as “Failure to Launch”, “Step Brothers”, “Jeff, who lives at Home”, “Mamas Boy”, and “Cyrus” (just to name a few). The amazing part of this new movie genre is that they are all comedies! Isn’t if funny when grown men are trapped in their adolescence and paralyzed by the fear of their ability to function in the real world?
Madison Avenue has recently jumped into the “slacker son” market with both feet. Have you seen the new commercial where the State Farm agent is conspiring with the parents to boot their grown son out of the house so they can better utilize his room and reduce their insurance rates? Better yet, how about the KFC commercial where the parents come to the basement for a “better-grow-up-soon” chat with their video game playing “man-child” and he dismisses them without ever looking up from his game controller or his chicken nuggets?
When did it become culturally acceptable for post-college age men to choose to stay in the family nest instead of blazing their own trail? I know the economy is pretty brutal out there but when did the “Go West, Young Man” spirit get replaced by the “Life’s Pretty Chill at My Folks” attitude? There is no doubt that many of our boys are getting de-railed on the track toward manhood. And the problem is much bigger then we realize. Did you know an estimated one-third of all American men ages 22-34 still live at home with at least one of their parents? If this trend continues to build then I would say the “End of Men” is well underway.
The most painful summer of my life happened when I returned to my parents’ home between my first job and graduate school. After getting chewed up and spit out by corporate America, I retreated back home for a comfortable place to rest and re-group. My parents sent me a pretty clear message that “summering” in my childhood domicile was a very temporary situation and I needed to move on to something else. I’m happy my parents knew that failure, hardship and pain tend to create the most fertile ground for growth – and they sent me packing.
Why are more and more American boys dropping out of life and seeking respite in their parents’ basement? Some would point to a failed education system, a changing economy, violent video games, desensitizing electronic media, attention-deficit drugs, etc. These factors may be contributors to the crisis but are not the underlying cause.
Quite simply, boys (and men) no longer understand what it truly means to be a man.
Historically, men have enjoyed an imperfect, yet defined formula for masculinity – our roles and responsibilities were pretty clear. In today’s world, things are completely different, and the lines are quite blurry. Men aren’t great at dealing in ambiguity and wading through the murky waters. Sadly, in our confusion, today’s father has lost touch with the true essence of manhood. And even more sadly, we’ve forgotten to teach our boys what true masculinity should look like.
Very few boys (and men) in our society have a clear and compelling definition of what it means to be a man. In the absence of any real information, the culture is right there waiting to fill the void with a 24/7 onslaught of fabrications, distortions and downright lies. Without anything real or transcending to build their lives upon, boys are becoming disillusioned and emotionally checking out of their own lives at staggering rates.
Just about every culture teaches their young boys what it means to be a man, except Western society. It’s time for fathers and male mentors to start engaging our boys in the active discussion on what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) to be a man. The only way to get our boys back on track is for older men to commit to taking the next generation of boys on Man Quest journeys to find the real and true pathway to manhood.