Manly men, Girly men and Peter Pan

I’m seeing pieces of a puzzle, but I’m having a problem discerning a larger pattern (maybe there isn’t one). Here are the pieces, and I’d like it if you’d chime in with what I’m missing.

It starts with Marines. The first piece of the puzzle is that Marine show I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. This was the unexpected PBS show that presented Marines as people of incredible training, strength and resolve. They’re mostly men (sorry, ladies) and they are men who get things done. As one of the talking heads on the show said (I’m paraphrasing), “Marines aren’t like other people. They’re trained to run to the gun.”

Somehow, having seen that show, I got Marines on the brain, and I started noticing things. First of all, I remembered how, in Iraq, the Marines are constantly sent in to clean things up, with Fallujah being the obvious example. You can rely on them to do the jobs others can’t do.

Next, I heard a small piece of a Dennis Prager show that focused on maturity. As the Townhall blurb sums it up:

Guest Dr. Steven Marmer, member of the clinical faculty at the UCLA School of Psychiatry and psychiatrist in private practice in Brentwood, CA outlines what it means to be mature. He asks three key questions of his patients: how much anxiety can you tolerate without having to do something destructive to yourself or others; how much are you able to live in the present; and do you like undertaking obligations.

I tuned in just as Prager and Marmer were talking about reliability. Prager mentioned that when he once had a call-in show asking women to state what they most value in a man, the number one answer was reliability. “Hmm,” I thought. “A mature man is reliable, he handles stress well, he’s willing to undertake obligations, and he lives in the moment. Sounds like the Marines on that PBS show.”

And the last thing in the Marine strand is something I’ve recently noticed about the contemporary romances I read. (And all of you who have stuck with me for awhile know that I have a weak spot for romance novels.) One genre of romance novel is the romantic thriller. I cannot tell you how many times, in a romantic thriller, the reader learns about halfway through that the mysterious hero who partners with the spunky heroine is either a former or current Marine. Marines are just shorthand in these novels for handsome, strong, reliable guys on whom you can always count in an emergency.

In other words, Marines are manly men. This doesn’t mean, of course, that every individual Marine is a manly man, or that other men, whether in the military or not, aren’t manly men. It just means that Marines seem to exemplify the mature male.

The thing is, I’m a little confused about where Marines stand generally in terms of educating our young men about male maturity. While we know that Marines stand for those virtues, and we know that women like the qualities Marines seem to embody, the world outside my door seems to be preparing two different kinds of man: Peter Pans and Girly Men.

The Peter Pan thing, I admit, is an observational thing. I think the way young suburban men (age about 16 -24 ) dress is infantile. They wear unlaced shoes, baggy pants that fall down, oversized t-shirts, and have their caps on backwards. It’s bizarre watching a bearded slacker wearing precisely the same clothes my son wore when he was 2 (minus the diaper, of course, unless the guy’s an astronaut). I wasn’t too surprised, therefore, to hear on that same Prager show the observation that young women complain that men in their own age group are exceptionally immature.

What’s most bizarre about this current fashion is that it originated with gang bangers — guys who pride themselves on being tough, cool and deadly. DQ thinks perhaps the original statement is that these guys were so bad, they didn’t need to worry about functional clothes that would enable them to run from enemies and law enforcement alike. If you can strut around with your shoes falling off and your pants falling down, rendering you incapable of escape, you’re not scared of anything. That toughness, of course, is totally lacking in the young men in my neck of the woods. They’re tough only in the fantasy world of video games, where toughness is a matter of running through a cyberworld and bashing people.

My last puzzle piece is the metrosexual. Actually, I don’t know if that’s a real piece at all, or just a chimera. As you may recall, last year (or maybe two years ago) the New York Times did a big article about metrosexuals — men who claim to be straight, but who preen like women. Yes, I know that’s nasty, but these are men who are pretty boys (what Ah-nuld calls “girly men”). As someone who has her haircare and make-up routine down to 10 frenzied minutes, I have my doubts about the pleasure I’d get out of a male company who likes luxuriating about with a cucumber face peel, clear nail polish, and eyelash dye. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but my instant response is “ick.”

You’ll notice that I’m just pointing things out, but I’m not going anywhere. The fact is, I don’t have anywhere to go. Are the above types of American guys just three strands in a huge modern society, strands that don’t intersect, and that really don’t portend anything? Are they the difference between red state and blue state? Are Marines the past, with the Peter Pans and the Girly Boys the future? I’d like to tie everything into a neat package, wrap a bow around it and draw a wonderful conclusion about male maturity in America, but I’m not sure I can. Do any of you have any ideas? I’d like to hear them.

UPDATE:  Maybe it does all start with Mom.  Check out this post about who raises a Marine. | digg it