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Posted at 2:58 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Hey, 20-something men, get off the couch!

By Alexandra Petri

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, is probably not in the workforce -- or on the market. In all probability, he is sitting on a couch playing Mario Kart.

A book just emerged pronouncing that 20-something men are bound up in a form of extended adolescence, living like slobs, failing to cook, clean or enter the workforce, and generally acting like improperly packaged cheeses and failing to improve with age.

It doesn't seem fair.

The last time I heard about this trend of Twenty-Something Tergiversation or Millennial Malaise or whatever we're calling it nowadays, us girls were included. We all had straggled out of college with no idea what to do with our lives, landing in our parents' basements, where we watched reruns of "Criminal Minds" and kept notebooks labeled "Great Thoughts." They were, by and large, empty, except for the phrase "human piano?" which we'd immediately crossed out. "We're thinking long-term," we would explain, when our parents came downstairs to complain about the fact that all our furnishings consisted of still-unpacked boxes and a painting of Paul McCartney sensually eating a banana. "This generation is all about the long-term, about careers, and, uh, being really educated and fixing, uh, things." We offered them some cold pizza. "It's a shame about -- that place where those things are happening and the people are so angry," we ventured, conversationally. "Madison? Or Libya?" they asked. "Yeah," we said.

But apparently that isn't the case.

Somewhere down the line the men all slipped off on their own to go have fun. It's like the last time I tried to have a barn-raising. We all showed up, but the men suddenly disappeared to smoke behind the building and read particularly moving passages from JUGS.

In the most inspired bait-and-switch of all time, the guys are out of it.

We women have taken over. Thirty-four percent of us have bachelor's degrees, compared to just over a quarter of men. And more of us have jobs. We are working hard to keep a glass ceiling over everyone's heads. We have, as Gloria Steinem said, become the men we once wanted to marry. The archetypal example of this discrepancy is apparently Katherine Heigl's character in "Knocked Up."

Whenever I hear that the archetypal example of something is Katherine Heigl's anything, I become nervous and distrustful. The gap between Katherine Heigl and the average person is roughly analogous to the gap between teddy bears and actual bears, except that if an actual bear watched a movie about teddy bears he probably wouldn't demolish the theater in a Berserker-like rage and leave angry voice mails for everyone responsible.

But Heigl or no Heigl, they might have a point. After all, I am in the workforce! In order to get into the office, I had to cross eight picket lines and wrestle a mountain goat. The effort to understand health-care reform has prematurely aged me, causing people on the street to mistake me for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Meanwhile, my male contemporaries are living the life of Riley. Whoever this Riley guy was, he seems to have played a lot of video games and had poor taste in clothes.

To call this extended adolescence might be a generous term. For example, a male friend of mine spends his time composing original songs about penguins and posting them on YouTube. Another is trying to start a social-media-based health site, which is Millennial Code for jobless. The rest are "committed to improv." Which is universal code for jobless.

Not us girls! First we fought for the right to vote. Then we fought for the right to wear pants. Then we fought for the right to wear pants while voting. Then we fought for the right to work while wearing pants and voting. It was a lot to keep track of! We even went through an uncomfortable phase when our default response to someone's opening a door for us was to spit in his eye.

"Okay, okay," the men said.

While we were fighting for these things, they slunk back home, settled on the couch, and popped in Super Mario. Who do they think they are, Tom Sawyer?

"Look how fun it is to paint this fence," they said. "I'm enjoying being in the workforce so much. I wouldn't give it up for anything! And voting sure is a blast!"

Now they scarcely do it anymore. Women are more employed, more educated, and vote at a higher rate than men. And, due to some strange physiological quirk that I have difficulty explaining, somehow we still have to give birth.

Remember when the saying was that women had to do everything men do, but backwards and in heels? If only! Now the men are sitting on the couch eating Ho Hos and we're waltzing by ourselves.

By Alexandra Petri  | February 22, 2011; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Seems Suspect  | Tags:  kids these days, men, millennials, women  
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When you create a system that rewards educating and hiring women and make it easier for women to get that education and exert societal pressure for women to have careers then you get this result.

It's simple economics. I'm not saying it's a bad thing but we do need to step back and look at why this has happened. And maybe, just maybe, think about reducing the level of affirmative action provided for women.

It isn't that men have become lazy but rather if you are a women you will have an easier time getting into college. You will get more money to go to college and you will get more academic help when you are in college. As well as an easier time getting a job after college. All because of your gender.

I'm not here to debate whether this is fair but rather to point out reality.

Posted by: BradG | February 22, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I'm not entirely certain that an easier path for females seeking education and employment is reality. As far as I can tell I haven't had an better or worse luck than my male counterparts of similar intelligence and talent.

I do however think this cultural trend has to do with two things:

1. Women have an anthropologically founded sense of urgency to make it happen in our twenties. If we don't get into the work force and establish a career in our twenties, the chance that we will end up working a job that is probably unfulfilling but allows us to be home in time to pick up the kids we decided to have instead is pretty real.

2. Men, especially white men have been bred into a culture that allows them to take their time. Your twenties is a time to be young, unattached and uninhibited while your future wife is out creating the foundation of her career so it can withstand the childbearing years of her thirties. You have the time-without the ticking of a biological clock, so why not take it. I certainly don't blame you.

Posted by: erinKkeane | February 22, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

There are far too many variables to analyze this argument. The author speculates for the most part regarding what it is like for ALL men. What about race? ethnicity? religion? Some have families, some don't. College may have been paid for or in other cases paid through a loan. I don't understand why stamping all males in a target age group as lazy is fair.

As a college student myself, I know that many other students at my school pay for their bills and tuition by themselves or with loans. I also know others who don't and get help from their parents (and understandably so, college is extremely expensive and anyone in their right mind would accept financial assistance).

American culture has changed in so many ways since my parent's generation and even my older brother's. It reflects the rapid change in technology and the effect it has had on the way people conduct themselves.

Communication is so fast-paced and the federal and state governments have expanded student loan and university budgets to a significant degree that is has become a norm. Higher education has become more of a right it seems than a privelege, and this ultimately has changed the way people commit themselves to society after high school. The sad part is that a significant portion of the population cannot be afforded this opportunity and ultimately suffer. While people are out of work and struggling to stay afloat, men are not simply sitting around playing video games.

Posted by: phishishere | February 22, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

I blame this whole thing on that commercial in the 70's that went like this:

"I can put the wash on the line,
Feed the kids, get dressed, pass out the kisses,
And get to work by five to nine.

I can bring home the bacon,
Fry it up in a pan
And never, never, never let you forget you're a man...
Cause I'm a woman..."

Come on women. You let me forget I'm a man. Now the only way I can prove I'm a real man is to kick some video game butt!

Posted by: divtune | February 23, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

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