The Child Man

This week the Dallas Morning News – a venerable bastion of sophisticated yet southern down-home thinking, has a remarkable article about what author Kay Hymowitz calls the “Child Man.” She says that men today are in the midst of a crisis of masculinity as a result of women asserting their equality and often superiority, and also as a result of a society where the average marriage age is much later than a generation ago. She argues that men today are in a limbo between the time when we move out of our parents’ house and become financially independent and the time that they become burdened by the responsiblity of tending to and providing for a family. This new vacuum has been filled by playing Xbox, reading Maxim, watching sports, sexual conquest, and generally acting like giant infants. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s time to state what is now obvious to legions of frustrated young women: The limbo doesn’t bring out the best in young men.

With women, you could argue that adulthood is in fact emergent. Single women in their 20s and early 30s are joining an international New Girl Order, hyper-achieving in both school and an increasingly female-friendly workplace, while packing leisure hours with shopping, traveling and dining with friends. Single young males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3 and, in many cases, underachieving. With them, adulthood looks as though it’s receding.

I’m forced to agree. These are the activities that our culture glorifies. The role models that are held up for us to see are like Vinny & Turtle on Entourage or such asprirational figures as Tucker Max. Hymowitz references Freud’s famous question: “What do women want?” but today we are more familiar with Mel Gibson’s What Women Want – and for most of the male population, the guy that we apsire to be like – the true man’s man, still looks much more like Mel Gibson before the accident than after. And we spend our time chasing that image.

Here’s where it gets interesting. As female empowerment has grown, men have come to feel threatened, she argues. Therefore men cling to traditional roles, and this is one explanation for the child-man’s immaturity – the fart & frat jokes. The

For whatever reason, adolescence appears to be the young man’s default state, proving what anthropologists have discovered in cultures everywhere: It is marriage and children that turn boys into men. Now that the SYM can put off family into the hazily distant future, he can – and will – try to stay a child-man. Not only is no one asking that today’s twenty- or thirtysomething become a responsible husband and father – that is, grow up – but a freewheeling marketplace gives him everything he needs to settle down in pig’s heaven indefinitely.

Now look at a movie like Knocked Up. Unlike predecessors like Old School, Knocked Up is about a guy who realizes that he can be more, and begins to take responsiblity. Hymowitz suggests that it isn’t until responsibility is thrust upon men that men begin to grow. She leaves us with one last thought:

Adults don’t emerge. They’re made.

This is a really interesitng point, and one that makes sense. Responsiblity is thrust upon us, forcing us to grow up, and so we do. It may be that women naturally embrace responsiblity of their own volition much sooner, but it could also be simply that women feel more pressure – the need to overcome obsctacles in a male-dominated world, or the need to live their life and still have children, that forces them to take responsibility sooner.

Now, why is any of this important to the world of marketing & technology? Because the Single Young Male, or SYM, is a highly coveted demographic for marketers, and where are they spending their time? Online. Which means that the world of Web 2.0 has a remarkable opportunity to capture and hold the interests of this elusive audience.

In 1970, 69% of 25-year-old and 85%of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33% and 58% were, respectively. And the average age for a man to get married has gone up rapidly just in the past few years. That adds up to tens of millions more young men blissfully free of mortgages, wives and child-care bills. Historically, marketers have found this group an “elusive audience” – the phrase is permanently affixed to “men between 18 and 34” in adspeak – largely immune to the pleasures of magazines and television, as well as to shopping expeditions for the products advertised there.

So what does this mean? If you can be the ones serving a steady stream of content to this audience, you’re money. So what to build? Here are three thougths:

Well, the future is video. A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that men prefer short, funny, user generated video from YouTube & DailyMotion while women prefer longer, drama, traditional TV content served up by sites such as Hulu.com, ABC.com, and NBC.com. So clearly th way to go is with user generated creations. Rumors today suggest that Google is spending a forture maintaining and upgrading YouTube but hasn’t seen sigifificant revenue from the venture, however the technology has the most potential to be monetized by serving up ads embedded in the video. The downside of simply serving up ads on the page surrounding the video is sindication – one of the cornerstones of Web 2.0 is that it’s not about making people come to your site – it’s about getting your usefulness out onto other sites as widget or webpart or embedded video so that you grow virally as people share it on their own sites – their own MySpace and Facebook pages, their own blogs. Thus, the key really is in putting the ad into the video or the embeddable video player itself.

Where else? Casual gaming. There has been a recent explosion in online gaming – everything from the standard minesweeper-like games, to the alleged-copyright-infringing Scrabulous Facebook App, to the rise of Wii Tennis, casual games that have low barriers to entry are a tremendous area of growth. They appeal much more to women than any trend in gaming before them, however they are still a stronghold and a relatively green field for innovation. Again, sindication is an issue, and casual gaming startups such as Mochi Media have emerged to solve the problem and allow casual game makers to focus on creating a good game and preserved the business model by having the ads travel with the syndicated game.

Where else? Where you get the girls. The one thing that I feel this article completely overlooks is that not all men are being driven to become Xbox-playing, Maxim-reading, hookup-craving pigs. This is also the first generation of men who are raised by women very vocal about wanting empowerment. If there is a crisis of masculinity, it is also partly because men are constantly being assualted by messages such as “men are immature sexist pigs.” And yes, some of us are, but some of us also believe in female empowerment, don’t expect you to quit your job stay home and raise our children, and would like a little credit. Today more than ever there is a segment of men who do enjoy shopping at ExpressMen & Kenneth Cole, who do read books, who do engage in self-reflection, and who watch Sex & the City. So where should you be going to market to SYMs? For the first time, the marketing tactics that you’ve been using on women – TV & Magazines, just might have a shot with this “elusive” demographic.

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