A commenter wrote:
Think about it: guys like Leo Dicaprio or Owen Wilson for example.
These guys are not exactly manly men but seem more like teen boys.
There’s no need to invoke exotic theories like endocrine disruptors; they’re just reflecting the zeitgeist. I just turned 51, and a disturbingly large percentage of men in their twenties and thirties seem like spoiled narcissistic man-children to me. I thought for a while that this might mean I was turning into the sort of crusty old fart I laughed at when I was twenty-five, until I noticed that the percentage of man-children varied a great deal depending on my social context.
At the martial-arts school where I’m training, zero to not much. Even the teenage boys there are pretty manly, on the whole – not surprising, since manliness is very nearly defined by stoicism and grace under pressure, and a martial-arts school should teach those things if it teaches nothing else. Anywhere firearms are worn or displayed openly, ditto — go to a tactical-shooting match, for example, and you’ll see even prepubescent boys (and, though rarely, some girls) exemplifying quiet manliness in a very heartening degree.
On the other hand…when I go to places where people are talking rather than doing, the percentage of man-children rises. Occasionally my wife Cathy and I go to screenings at the Bryn Mawr Film institute, most recently to see Sergei Bodrov’s The Mongol; it’s pretty much wall-to-wall man-children there, at least in the space not occupied by middle-aged women. If our sample is representative, my wife is manlier than the average male art-film buff.
How does one tell? The man-child projects a simultaneous sense of not being comfortable in his own skin and perpetually on display to others. He’s twitchy, approval-seeking, and doesn’t know when to shut up. He’s never been tested to anywhere near the limits of his physical or moral courage, and deep within himself he knows that because of this he is weak. Unproven. Not really a man. And it shows in a lot of little ways – posture, gaze patterns, that sort of thing. He’ll overreact to small challenges and freeze or crumble under big ones.
One of the things this culture badly needs is a set of manhood ordeals. Unlike the tribal societies of the past, we’re too various for one size to fit all — but to reliably turn boys into men (or, to put it in more fashionable terms, to help them become mature and inner-directed) you need to put them under stress in a way that, except for the small percentage that go through military boot camps, we basically don’t any more.
Instead, we prolong adolescence into the twenties and thirties. With dolorous consequences for everyone…