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Slackers, Moochers, UberGirls and Equals

Young Men and Women Assess Each Other in a Changing World

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , Commentary, Various Authors, Photo: Ann Dabney/Flickr Posted: May 17, 2009

Editors Note: With young women outnumbering men on college campuses, and layoffs in traditionally male fields now placing women on the verge of becoming the majority of the workforce too, ripple effects are felt down to the high school level, where girls identify their male classmates as slackers, and their mothers unemployed boyfriends as moochers. When YO! (Youth Outlook) asked students from a variety of backgrounds to write about how these new social and economic realities were reflected in their academic and personal lives, their answers revealed an intense mix of emotions as the ground shifted under a generation raised without clear-cut gender norms on which to build their own expectations.

Both students at Urban High School a competitive, private high school for the college bound in San Francisco and young people from some of the Bay Areas toughest neighborhoods expressed frustration with the opposite sex. Younger and older men, young women wrote, were responding to womens ascendance by throwing in the towel whether the high school student imitating Judd Apatows slacker-heroes who make not trying look cool, or their mothers unemployed boyfriends who lived off the wages from her multiple jobs. But several young men challenged this, saying they did try, and even worrying that the slacker myth was becoming a gender stereotype that might thwart their future careers.

The following quotes were taken from short essays produced in a writing workshop conducted by YO! at Urban High School, and by interns for the youth media programs YO! and The Beat Within.

Lola, a 15-year-old Urban High School student described a fundamental clear-cut double standard when it came to caring about academic and professional success:

I feel like women are considered weird if they dont care as much about their education/job/overall success. Men, on the other hand, cant care too much, or they become a teachers pet/kiss-ass/workaholic. Guys are allowed to not care.

Sixteen-year-old Isabel concurred, adding that she saw the potential for long-term social changes in the shifting social mores of her high school milieu:

A girl would have a harder time getting away with slacking off than a boy would. A girl who slacks off is really unattractive, both to boys and other members of her community. A boy could still be attractive if he slacked off, and still have a chance at success.

Personally, I am not attracted to someone who does not strive for success. If they have no motivation in school, how can I be sure they have motivation in life? If this gender gap continues to progress, women may soon be the heads of households. For now, I see boys who slack off to be going through a phase that they will grow out of after adolescence. But if they dont, then older men may become less successful, and women will dominate the workforce. This would be a massive change in our society.

Do Guys Care?

Isabels 15-year-old schoolmate Al challenged the notion that guys dont care even while perpetuating the notion that some girls do in fact care more.

When I was in middle school, I did notice a sort of group of girls, who were to me known as the uber-girls: consistent note takers, flash card makers, excellent organizers, and multi-hour studiers. (But) as a guy, I feel that this idea that guys dont try is absurd. The point is that guys do try, and we do our best. We may not be uber-guys but we are striving for as much success as girls are.

Al wasnt the only young man to reveal some anxiety about current perceptions of his gender. Alex, 16, was concerned enough to fear that, despite doing well in school, his future career prospects might be thwarted not, as his fathers generation might have feared, because of affirmative action, but because potential employers might believe women were harder workers.

More and more in society, I see women portrayed as the hard workers and overachievers and men portrayed as the dumb-ass slackers, generally less successful. This got me thinking about what this means for my future and me. If the current trend continues, does that mean employers will want to hire a woman before they hire me?

I do well in school, but I dont brag about it like a lot of the girls in my class. As a sophomore, college is in the back of my mind. Im not worrying about it like so many of the girls in my class. Maybe thats why the female graduation rate is so much higher than that of the male. I have confidence in the fact that I will attend college and get a decent job, so I dont work as hard as I could. Hopefully this wont come back and bite me in the ass.

Ollie, 15, took a brighter view, seizing the advantage in being among a minority of boys who tried:

During lunch, the people who run off to finish or do the homework for their next class are almost exclusively male. As classes start, when teachers ask for the days homework, the majority of people who didnt know there was homework or who left it at home are guys.

Girls make honors classes, score well on tests, and compete for the top. For guys, [there is] much less competition. I am one of probably 15 driven guys in my grade. All the power goes to us. We get good grades, good leadership positions, and probably will get into good colleges. If guys are willing to make the sacrifice to try hard, there is a more positive payback.

Men and Women are Equal

Interns at YO! (Youth Outlook) and The Beat Within many from some of the Bay Areas poorest neighborhoods weigh in on the gender gap as it played out in their own lives and families. With many coming from families where women were already taking the lead in earning money and supporting the family, the issue of who tried and who cared sparked an equally heated response among this group of young writers.

Eighteen-year-old Sean described himself as part of a generation for whom female breadwinners were the norm a situation that, while it intimidated some of his contemporaries, had left him genuinely comfortable with the idea of gender equality.

Men and women are equal. They both bleed the same and die the same so it is very ignorant to believe that a certain gender should make more money than the other. Men are taught that if they werent providing for their families with money, then they werent men. Thats not true: I believe that you can provide for your family emotionally and protect them without a job. But truth of the matter is that, in the time we live in, women are independent and that can intimidate a man and make him feel insecure.

In my community, and even my household, the male figures are gone, so the women had the responsibility of raising children and paying the bills.

I dont distinguish between men and womens roles when it comes to money because both sexes can provide for their families if faced with the challenge. It kind of depends on the individual and his or her determination to provide. Where Im from, women just want men to see their kids for a few hours.

Overall, I do feel that women are becoming dominant in the work force and theres nothing wrong with that its just a change.

The young women who addressed this question were far less comfortable with what they had witnessed growing up in households where women were the ones who went to work and paid all the bills dynamics they worried were being replicated in their own generations romantic relationships. Sixteen-year-old Breanna, whose mother was supporting an unemployed boyfriend, complained that boys her own age who get girls to support them or buy them things are Jr. Lowlifes a combination of grievances that several other young women echoed.

Jazmin, 17, sees men as mooches across generations:

In my family, my mom is bringing home the money. She has five kids, plus a big 34-year-old kid (her boyfriend). She has to support everyone and pay the bills. Her boyfriend is okay with being broke and mooching off of my mom. This is bad because I cant take my moms money because he takes it all. I think my mom will keep supporting him because they have kids together and she wants him to be around.

I think this trend does affect relationships between men and women because I dont think it makes a woman think positively of a man that she has to take care of. I think its okay for women to pay for men sometimes, but not to make it a national habit.

I see boys my age asking girls for money and I think they are moochers. I believe in being treated like a lady and that your man should take care of you. News flash to ladies who are paying for their boyfriends: you are not his mother!

Nineteen-year-old Kendra said her Christianity led her to want a traditional family with a man as a provider and a woman as homemaker values she was hard-pressed to find reflected in her own life.

Even though this is what I want, its not really what I am seeing in my family and even in my own relationships. My mom was getting really tired of her husband not doing anything, and she felt that everything was on her and she couldnt handle it. Ive also had a boyfriend who expected me to buy things for him and complained that I didnt do nothing for him. I responded by telling that he needed a job. After that he got mad and we didnt talk.

There is Hope

Amid the grievance and confusion they expressed, however, some young commentators offered more hopeful visions for gender reconciliation an ideal in which men and women might weather the economic storm together in relationships that were neither divided along traditional gender lines nor based on strict 50/50 equality, but rather on mutual support and acceptance of each others strengths.

Rather than being threatened by womens drive and ambition, 19-year-old Amanzi suggested, tapping into it might well fuel the economic recovery both men and women desperately need:

Even though the economy is going sour, I dont think its unusual for women to maintain a job more than men. Back when the Great Depression hit, men were the ones jumping out of buildings.
In my case, I was raised by my mom and she taught me to take care of my manly duties. Me and my girl both have jobs, and she makes more than me, but with the right compatibility we are able to join incomes and make it work for whatever the household needs. When we go out she pays or I pay it depends on whoever is treating whom.
I dont believe in the old school, 20th century living where the man brings home everything and the wife cooks and cleans -- basically the Leave it to Beaver lifestyle. I think thats old and played, because women want to flaunt it in corporate America and anywhere for that matter. We should let them, because they might just save the economy themselves.

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