Slacker Guys and Striver Girls

When lazy men become projects for career women

Meghan, a San Franciscan who clocked about four years with her last slacker boyfriend, has clearly put some thought into the whole "What is a slacker?" issue. She further divides them into categories of "resistant" and "responsive" slackers. Resistants, she says, are those who either refuse to admit they have slackage issues, or won't change or do anything about them; responsives are those who are open to growth, change, or improvement. Whatever flavor she's dealing with, Meghan describes the bottom line as whether the person is ready to change. "That's all there is to it," she says. "They have to want to do it and to grow up. And quit the Peter Pan shit."

Meghan, 41, describes her ex-boyfriend as the epitome of all slackers: a "fashion slacker," a "relationship slacker" (he was noncommittal), and a "professional slacker" (he was unemployed throughout much of their relationship). "He was a 360-degree slacker," she says. But it wasn't his unkempt, shaggy hair or his lack of interest in his appearance that bothered Meghan as much as the months he spent unemployed, especially because he had three master's degrees. "Six months went by without him getting a job, and then it was nine months," she says. "Then it was a year. And, then, you know, it blew me away."

Meanwhile, Meghan has solid striver credentials. She already had a career as a fund-raiser, focusing on grant writing and consulting, before she began attending the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism (the alma mater of this reporter). She's produced Web sites for PBS, and uses her spare time to tackle projects like knitting and making chocolate soufflé. It's safe to say she felt she and her boyfriend had a serious ambition imbalance in their relationship.

The Break-Up
The Break-Up
Knocked Up followed in the footsteps of Failure to Launch (2006), another movie pairing a slacker with a striver.
Knocked Up followed in the footsteps of Failure to Launch (2006), another movie pairing a slacker with a striver.

Meghan remembers the "aha!" moment when she realized it was time to think about breaking up with her boyfriend — and move forward by leaving romances with Homo sapiens slackerus in the dust for good. It was reminiscent of another recent slacker-striver romantic comedy, The Break-Up, starring real-life exes Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.

That moment came one night when Meghan — who now lives with three platonic male friends in San Francisco's Excelsior District — was cooking in the kitchen of the East Bay home she shared with her boyfriend in preparation for a dinner party. Simultaneously the doorbell started buzzing, the phone began ringing, their cats were freaking out, and "he just sat there," she says. Flashing forward to their future together, she saw a home complete with screaming children, dirty diapers strewn about the house, and endless nights making dinner with her boyfriend "sitting on his ass."

Their relationship didn't last terribly long after that night.

Meghan now has a loving new boyfriend, one who has dubbed himself a "fixer-upper" even though she says he's "fantastic." And yes, he's gainfully employed.

Of course, there are female slackers as well. But in the movies, it's the slacker dudes who are getting to be romantic heroes, so let's focus on analyzing just the guys for now.


University of California at Santa Cruz literature professor Carla Freccero, whose research focus includes contemporary feminist theories and politics, suspects the slacker-striver films reflect some men's feelings that their manhood is being attacked by feminism. "I don't like that genre of comedy at all," she says.

Freccero says the genre consistently revolves around male-focused plots, and is yet another example of antifeminist backlash. In this case, there's a presumed "economy of scarcity of men" who have their lives together, meaning successful women had better be willing to settle for serious slacker dudes. "It's not about truth, it's a perception," she says.

In recent years there's certainly been a lot of talk about the emasculation of the modern American male. There was the hand-wringing over the film Fight Club, when critics worried men were feeling so alienated that they needed to pummel each other bloody — or simply watch it on the big screen — to get back in touch with their masculinity.

"As the nation wobbled toward the millennium, its pulse-takers seemed to agree that a domestic apocalypse was under way," Susan Faludi wrote seven years ago in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. "American manhood was under siege."

No doubt, women's rights and the feminist movement have altered gender dynamics in this country over the past few decades. Those cultural changes have led to a significant shift in big cities — especially among Gen X and Gen Y folks. Increasing numbers of women are unmarried, working, and making strides to narrow the pay gap, according to a recent study by Queens College sociology professor Andrew Beveridge.

Beveridge conducted an analysis of 2005 Census data earlier this year and found women in their twenties who work full-time were for the first time earning higher wages than men in the same age range in select cities like New York, Dallas, and Chicago. (In San Francisco, there are nearly as many 21-to-30-year-old full-time female workers as there are men, although those women earn only 89 percent of their male counterparts' median wages. That's tied percentagewise with women in Detroit, and only four percentage points higher than women in Milwaukee.)

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2 comments
140seconds
140seconds

I've lived in San Francisco for 13 years and the majority of women aren't attracted to intelligent guys. I think they find it intimidating or possibly not masculine.  I was having a really intelligent conversation with a woman at a bar once, she was very smart, she turned to me and said "I can see this doesn't work for you, does it?" Then she went of with a guy who looked homeless. The women in SF are bad, bad, bad, Run the other way, guys. Find a girl in SLO or Sonoma. 

tortue497
tortue497

"any man who's lucky enough to be with you needs to know that he's the luckiest man in the world."

to me thats attitude towards men is the main reason divorce rate are pretty high these days!! girls thinking of themselve as princesses and expect to be treated by a prince.

im a man and hearing that kind of bullshit makes me sad.

 
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