Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them
They're unemployed, romantically challenged, and they're everywhere.
By Jessica Grose
In the Noah Baumbach movie Greenberg, out in limited release this Friday, the eponymous main character is having trouble being a man. The 41-year-old Greenberg, played by Ben Stiller, tells his 25-year-old love interest that when he was a kid he dreamed of being an astronaut. Now he can't even drive, much less pilot a shuttle. He sabotaged his career as a musician, so he's trying the old-fashioned, manly pursuit of carpentry. He pretends not to care about his new line of work—he tells his friends he's doing "nothing for a while"—yet Greenberg is seriously wounded when an ex-girlfriend tells him she doesn't remember the bed he built for her. All she recalls are his anxiety attacks.
Greenberg is pretty much the fictional representation of the masculinity crisis that Susan Faludi outlined in her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Men like Greenberg, Faludi argued, were led to believe as boys that they were "going to be the master of the universe and all that was in it," that they'd be astronauts conquering the final space frontier or, at the very least, that they would master a lifelong stable job and a healthy family. But by the '90s, Greenberg types found themselves "masters of nothing." The latest recession is only making it more so, as job security becomes a fantasy for many, and marriage rates plummet.
And yet men are still tragically unable to retool. The image of the American woman has gone through several upheavals since the 1950s, but the masculine ideal seems fixed in cultural aspic: Think slick ad executive Don Draper in Mad Men and the WWII heroes in the Tom Hanks-produced HBO series The Pacific. So his confused, paralyzed counterpart is cropping up in ever-more variations on TV and in movies: the omega male.
Doing Nothing Men are Increasing!
That reminds us we need to call the ex and wish him a Happy Birthday......