Hyper-Achieving Woman, Underachieving Man

Nov 23, 2011 |Candice Watters

What does it all mean for future marriages?

Women have moved from naturally complementary to competitive, to conquering the men in their lives. What does it all mean for future marriages?

I noticed her in the security line at the airport. With her tall leather boots, black sheath dress, Burberry scarf and stylish trench, she was surely a member of what author Kay Hymowitz calls the "New Girl Order." Hymowitz describes women like her in her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. Career oriented, financially independent, upwardly mobile and confident (a la Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City"), young women have become all that decades of feminist striving dared dream of. And more. They are the women who have overtaken their brothers. She writes,

For the first time ever, and I do mean ever, young women are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more education, more property, and, arguably, more ambition than their male counterparts. Throughout human existence, men were the ones holding the jobs, the degrees, the money, the power, the independence, and the expectation for action on the public stage. Now men have met their match—in many respects, their superiors. How did such a revolution occur in the space of a half-century, a small minute in the time of human civilized existence?

The answer to that question makes up the bulk of Hymowtiz’s insightful and helpful book. But she doesn't stop there, and rightly so. For the question most women are asking goes a step further. For it turns out that even as women are jetting ahead, they are in many ways leaving their male peers behind. And so they ask, what are we to make of this mismatch, when women far outpace and out-achieve men — the very men they are looking at as potential mates?

Hymowitz is skeptical about the romantic potential between these hyper achieving women and underachieving men. Apart from being peers, it seems 20-something women and men have increasingly less in common. She paints a daunting picture:

Women graduate from college in greater numbers than men, with higher grade point averages; more extracurricular experiences, including study abroad; and as most professors tell it, more confidence, drive, and plans for the future.

They are aggressively independent; they don't need to rely on any man, that's for sure. These strengths carry them through much of their twenties, when they are more likely to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace, to be buying apartments and otherwise in aspiring mode. In an increasing number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.

For all this progress, women are not entirely happy. I think I understand why. At least a little bit. When Steve and I met, we were fast friends. Our mentors, Hu and Mary Morken, said later that they hoped we wouldn't miss each other, being as we were "so much like brother and sister." We were peers. Born a day apart, we shared nearly matching life experiences. We both moved away from our hometowns for college, edited our respective college yearbooks, graduated with B.A.s the same year, started careers and worked for three years before showing up at Regent University to start graduate work in public policy. It's like we were following the same life script. We used to joke that we were like Zan and Jayna, the "Wonder Twins" from Saturday morning cartoon's "SuperFriends." We were equally matched and even a bit competitive.

Things weren't always this way for 20-something men and women. Our parents were more naturally complementary. My mom was a nurse; my dad was a dentist. She worked to put him through dental school then went home to be a full-time mom when I was born. It wasn’t out of a conviction about God’s Word and the created order that they filled these roles; they simply fit the cultural norm and were glad to do so — just as we were glad to engage in a little friendly competition early on in our friendship. But the closer we got to marriage, the less desirable that became. I didn't want to go head-to-head with Steve for the one job opening we both interviewed for three months after our wedding. So I bowed out. I told the man with whom we were meeting that if there was only one opening, he should consider Steve for the job. I was glad to be a housewife for a season and support him as the breadwinner. And the longer we’re married, the more convinced I am that the creation account explains the way things are supposed to be, not just the way they were back then.

The increasing inequality between men and women, with women often leap-frogging the men they know, finds them staying single longer than historical norms and longer than many of them wanted to be. Empowered and set free to pursue as many degrees and any career they choose, many women are going for it, now in greater numbers than men. For the first time, they've overtaken men in that pursuit. Census figures released this year (April 2011) show that "for the first time, American women have passed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor's degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who goes off to work and who stays home with the children" (from The Washington Times). See also the Census press release.

They're in school much longer with plans to always work. They're increasingly urban with extra money for spending on themselves. For all the good that may produce, it can't help but encourage culture-wide delays in getting married and having babies. For most women, that's a cause for deep disappointment. Whether you're dating or hoping to date, there's a real problem you're likely to face or may already be facing. No longer are romantic relationships naturally complementary or even, as was the case with Steve and me, competitive. Now, in many sectors, the women are likely the conquerors. They're superior in education, career, income and even spiritually.

Hymowitz thinks the trend is irreversible, but doesn't believe it necessarily points to the end of marriage. She said, in an interview with Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

I think we can maybe learn to negotiate this…period of life a little bit better than we have. Women need to be a lot smarter about their love lives, equally as smart as they are about their careers because they are treating the twenties, especially the early twenties a little too casually. And giving too much sustenance to the child-man…and not demanding enough from him. And I think we need to also concentrate a lot more on reaffirming men how necessary they are…how necessary it is not just for them to achieve in school but how necessary they are to family life.

She's onto something here. Men are, by design, not only necessary to family life; they are essential. When God made Adam he designed him to provide for and protect Eve and their children. He gave him charge of the garden and told him to work in it for their provision. Even if Eve could have coaxed a bigger crop from the earth, it wasn't her job to till the soil. She had other, equally essential, work to do. It was to her that God gave the charge of bearing and nurturing life. Their jobs weren't interchangeable. God didn't lay out the options and tell them to go with what felt most natural, or what would lead to the biggest income.

In Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Wayne Grudem says,

The Curse Brought a Distortion of Previous Roles, Not the Introduction of New Roles: In the punishments God gave to Adam and Eve, he did not introduce new roles or functions, but simply introduced pain and distortion into the functions they previously had. Thus, Adam would still have primary responsibility for tilling the ground and raising crops, but the ground would bring forth “thorns and thistles” and in the sweat of his face he would eat bread (Gen. 3:18, 19). Similarly, Eve would still have the responsibility of bearing children, but to do so would become painful: “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).

That their roles weren’t transferable may seem obvious to us reading their story all these centuries later, but how often do we find ourselves wanting to reassign our own roles based on what's most financially beneficial or pragmatic? It matters that the husband be the primary breadwinner and the wife the primary caregiver to young children. The test for whether a man's provision is praiseworthy isn't just his paycheck. Certainly he must be able to put food on the table, a roof over his family's heads and clothes on their backs (1 Timothy 5:8), but the standard isn't Pottery Barn, Whole Foods and Nordstrom. It's only a very recent phenomenon in all of recorded history that we have pantries that are more full than empty and bank accounts that are routinely in the black.

A man's ability to provide will depend in part on his earning potential. But ultimately his ability to lead sacrificially as both husband and father will have more to do with wisdom than with his checkbook. As my friend and professor Dr. Russell Moore said recently, “How a man organizes his time, manages his money and keeps his life out of chaos says much about his ability to lead.” Is he a hard worker? That matters a lot. And the actual dollar amount—assuming it’s enough to provide basic necessities—matters a lot less than we’ve been conditioned to think it does. Income is less important than wisdom. Wisdom is spiritual, a gift from God and the basis for being able to live out God's design for marriage—that goes far beyond a man’s salary, and transcends his college diploma, or lack thereof (Proverbs 2:5-7).

And so the question remains: What should you do to marry well despite the influx of underachieving men?

Read and listen. Manning Up is a quick read and an insightful look at the circumstances we're in. Hymowitz is exceptional at her craft of analyzing the problem. Dr. Mohler's podcast interview with Kay Hymowitz — "Where Have the Men Gone?" — provides the biblical context necessary for moving from the problem Hymowitz describes to the solutions the church can supply. Lisa also interviewed Hymowitz on The Boundless Show in episode 90. Ask your pastor and parents and mentors to read and listen, too.

Pray. Nothing of consequence happens apart from prayer. God is faithful. Marriage was His idea and ultimately, His institution to defend. It is, after all, not just a private arrangement between a man and a woman, but a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). When you pray for gospel-centered marriages to form you are praying according to God's will. That's why you can pray boldly (John 14:13-14). William Farley's excellent book Gospel Powered Parenting talks about the important role women play in praying for biblical masculinity. This is crucial if they are to have godly men to marry. Farley encourages women to "ask God to make the men in your life masculine as defined by Christ's example."

Repent. If you've been part of the problem — dating recreationally, unintentionally; sinning sexually; belittling men, believing the worst of them (men are brutes, women are angels) — ask for God's forgiveness and start afresh. Ask Him to give you His perspective on the problem.

Be feminine. "Just as big muscles and athletic ability do not evidence biblical masculinity," writes Bill Farley, "so weakness, passivity, and fear do not evidence biblical femininity. Both are caricatures. … biblical femininity is a constellation of heart qualities. A woman with biblical femininity is strong, convinced, and unshakable. Faith is her bedrock. 'Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come' (Prov. 31:25). Just as men become more masculine around men who are humble servant leaders, so they become more masculine in the presence of biblical femininity."

Help. Esteem marriage, support the marriages around you, rejoice with your friends at their weddings and pray for them. God made marriage for our good relationally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. With so much at stake, it's no wonder marriage is under assault, nor that the spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6 follows right on the heels of Paul's instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5.

To the women who aspire to be among Hymowitz’s "New Girl Order" — to fly high above the men in their lives — or even just to silently gloat a little about being better, "remember your Creator in the days of your youth," and the way He made His creation. Rather than focusing on the areas where you're superior to the men in your life, ask God to give you His perspective on the role He made women to fulfill in marriage: God made woman to be a helper to man (Genesis 2:20-25). Not because men are lame and, on their own, are capable of so little, but because as men made in the image of God, they are called to so much.

Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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