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The Demise of Guys

In record numbers, guys are flaming out.

By Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan

Everyone knows a young man who is struggling. Maybe he’s undermotivated in school, has emotional disturbances, doesn’t get along with others, has few real friends or no girl friends, or is in a gang. He may even be in prison. Maybe he’s your son or relative. Maybe he’s you.

In record numbers, guys are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls, and failing sexually with women.

Asking what’s wrong with these young men or why they aren’t motivated the same way guys used to be isn’t the right question. Young men are motivated, just not the way other people want them to be. Society wants guys to be upstanding, proactive citizens who take responsibility for themselves, who work with others to improve their communities and nation as a whole. The irony is that society is not giving the support, means or places for these young men to even be motivated or interested in aspiring to these things. In fact, society — from politics to the media to the classroom to our very own families — is a major contributor to this demise because they are inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.

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Consequently, many guys lack purposeful direction and basic social skills. They’re living off, and often with, their parents well into their 20s and even 30s, expanding their childhood into an age once reserved for starting a family and making a career.

Many young men who do manage to find a mate feel entitled to do nothing to add substance to that relationship beyond just showing up. New emasculating terms such as man-child and moodle (man-poodle) have emerged to describe men who haven’t matured emotionally or are otherwise incapable of taking care of themselves.

Hollywood has caught on, too, to this awkward bunch of dudes, who appear to be tragically hopeless. Recent films such as Knocked Up, Failure to Launch, the Jackass series and Hall Pass present men as expendable commodities, living only for mindless fun and intricate but never-realized plans to get laid. Their female co-stars, meanwhile, are often attractive, focused and mature, with success-oriented agendas guiding their lives.

The sense of being entitled to have things without having to work hard for them — attributed to one’s male nature — runs counter to the Protestant work ethic, as well as to the Vince Lombardi victory creed (“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”) These guys aren’t interested in maintaining long-term romantic relationships, marriage, fatherhood, and being the head of their own family. Many have come to prefer the company of men over women, and they live to escape the so-called real world and readily slip into alternative worlds for stimulation. More and more they’re living in other worlds that exclude girls — or any direct social interaction, for that matter.

Over the past decade, this pattern has escalated into adulthood where grown men remain like little boys, having difficulty relating to women as equals, friends, partners, intimates, or even as cherished wives.

We believe this demise can be traced to the rise of technology enchantment. From the earliest ages, guys are seduced into excessive and mostly isolated viewing and involvement with texting, tweeting, blogging, online chatting, emailing, and watching sports on TV or laptops. Most of all, though, they’re burying themselves in video games and in getting off on all-pervasive online pornography.

We are focusing primarily on guys investing too much time and energy in the last two factors: playing video games and watching freely available Internet porn. Video game production companies are in fierce competition to make games that are ever more enticing, more provocative and, now, in 3-D. The same is true for pornography. Pornography is the fastest-growing global business, with production companies churning out daily doses of porn flicks in seemingly endless variety. The high-definition 3-D porn wave may also be coming (pun intended). The combination of excessive video game playing and pornography viewing is becoming addictive for a lot of guys. The next phase we imagine is transferring the player’s viewpoint onto the body of the protagonist to mesh realities and make digital environments totally egocentric.

There are also other factors contributing to the demise of guys: widespread fatherlessness and changing family dynamics, media influences, environmentally generated physiological changes that decrease testosterone and increase estrogen, the problematic economy and also the dramatic rise of gals.

Zimbardo has been a Stanford University professor since 1968. His latest book is The Demise of Guys, published by TED Books.

Philip Zimbardo has been a Stanford University professor since 1968.

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