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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.
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.)
Beveridge attributed the rise of women's incomes relative to men's in part to a gap in education. Men, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, are less likely than women to get bachelor's degrees, and generally take longer to finish college, according to Department of Education statistics.
Anecdotally, Beveridge says women make up the majority of his stellar students in the classes he teaches at Queens College. "I really do think there's something weird going on with men," he sighs, adding that during a recent talk r
adio show he was trying to explain the statistics when the male host stopped him and asked, "Are you saying that the minute the patriarchy was dissolved, men just gave up?"
But has the patriarchy actually been dissolved?
I believe the answer is no. After all, while the pay gap is narrowing, it still exists. In addition, UC Berkeley sociology professor Arlie Hochschild points to the country's current patriarch — President George W. Bush — and the massive wave of outsourcing that has taken place under his administration. "I think there is a [portion] of male society that is downwardly-mobile," says Hochschild, whose book The Second Shift explores work and gender roles. "Not because of women, but because of outsourcing."
But, Hochschild says, the media often fall back on an old pattern: blaming women. That could be the neurotic and nagging wife — like Debbie, the slightly scary older sister who seems to hate her husband in Knocked Up — or the ball-busting female boss in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. And even many of the romantic comedy heroines — in Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and Failure to Launch, for example — need to lighten up a bit. (Did somebody out there decide that while feminism has helped women have successful careers, it has somehow sucked out their souls and senses of humor in the process?)