Don't much care about the men: Man problems edition

What about the menz is weighing on me this week.

So everyone’s talking about how *gasp* men and boys are dealing with body image issues. Due to a recent story in the New York Times, the CBC’s Q did a segment yesterday morning looking at boys who were overly focused on working out, asking whether or not the issue of boys “reshaping their bodies and fitting a muscular ideal” should be getting more attention.

Douglas Quenqua, the author of the Times article, writes:

Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that only genetics can truly confer.

He goes on to write:

Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements — or, worse, steroids — to supercharge their results.

Ring the alarm! “Just like girls” who spend their entire lives learning that their bodies are commodities and learning to obsess over and hate their bodies, which will never, ever be perfect, but should be; boys who work out too much are in danger, danger.

To be clear, I’m not saying that steroids aren’t dangerous. Because they are. And I’m not saying I want boys and men to have body image issues like girls and women do, because I’m not sure how that would help girls and women not to hate their bodies, but I am giving this whole “Alarm bell! Men and women have the same problems!” thing a big meh.

Hanna Rosin noted in a recent article responding to the Times piece that, in fact, this wasn’t really the new and frightening phenomenon it was portrayed to be:

I’m sure that things have changed for teenage boys, around the edges. We have social media now, so boys can post Tumblr pics of their favorite ripped athletes under the heading “fitspo,” the Times story reports, which is a rip-off of the “thinspo” tag banned from many sites because it promotes anorexia. They can also post progress pics of their own workouts and their friends can judge. And maybe steroids are easier to get now—I have no idea. That said, I distinctly remember my brother being obsessed with Joe Weider protein shakes when we were teenagers in the ’80’s. And wasn’t Charles Atlas (“Hey Skinny! Yer ribs are showing!”) the original Situation back in the ’20s?

This whole men having body issues thing was also addressed by Richard Cohen in The Washington Post who is worried about all the time that Daniel Craig had to spend at the gym in order to play James Bond in Skyfall. “Chasing youth”, he calls it. Cohen goes on to lament that, back in the good old days, “sex appeal [was] won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have.” Humphrey Bogart won Ingrid Bergman (who was 15 years younger than him) in Casablanca, due, not to pecs, but to “the experience, the confidence, the internal strength that can only come with age”. You know, the way it should be. Young, taut, beautiful woman seeks wise old dude regardless of intellectual compatibility.

Jill Filipovic points out the ridiculous sense of entitlement demonstrated by Cohen and men of his ilk over at Feministe, writing:

Women are actually human beings and not prizes you win or deserve for the hard work of being a middle-aged white guy who happens to drink good whiskey. Also: Middle-aged men who only want to date 23-year-old women almost always have serious issues with egalitarian gender relations, maturity and self-esteem.

As I’ve likely mentioned once or twice, middle aged men who seek out much younger women are pathetic. And sure, some men, as they move closer to middle age, experience “anxiety about [their] own diminishing attractiveness”, as Hugo Schwyzer put it, but so what? Does that make us even?

Women go suddenly from hypersexualized to invisible as they cross over into middle age, losing any imagined power they had in the ability to hold men’s attention (see: b.s. argument that strippers are empowered because men want to do them) and are simultaneously pathologized by a society that sees, in particular, single older men as swinging bachelors and single older women as sad, lonely, and neurotic.

And now what? The erasure of older women from the world is suddenly something experienced by men too because 25 year olds no longer want to fuck them? What Schwyzer points out about this so-called anxiety men are experiencing is that, actually, it doesn’t have much at all to do with aging; rather it’s a fear that, once they hit middle age, they will no longer be attractive to women in their 20s.

To this I say: Wah wah, boo hoo, and grow up creepazoid.

As a person in their 30s, I’ve noticed that I am interested in dating people who are also in their 30s. And NO, ‘don’t-shame-me!’ crowd, I’m not saying there are hard and fast rules about who you can or should want to date, but I am saying that men who are intentionally trying to date much younger women or for whom it’s a pattern, are not only sad and pathetic, but don’t have any desire for egalitarian relationships with women.

Let’s be real. This older man-younger woman phenomenon isn’t about the fact that middle aged men just happen to be more intellectually and sexually compatible with women in their 20s, because that’s bullshit. This is about ego. Schwyzer quotes one 28 year old woman who said of her experience with online dating: “I see lots of men online over 35 who are looking for women 18-30. I wish they knew how big a turn-off that is. If you can’t handle your peers, then you can’t handle me.”

Having made the mistake of dating a significantly older man once (never again!), it’s clear to me that this man was 1) Interested in younger women because women his own age didn’t fall for his crap, and 2) He wanted to show off to other men. That, you know, ‘Look at this prize I caught! It’s 25!’ thing. Gross, I know. But also, ego. All ego.

And I know what defenders of this phenomenon will say. They will say I KNOW A 45 YEAR OLD WOMAN WHO DATED A 25 YEAR OLD MAN. And next they will say: BUT EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY. But those people are wrong. This is a gendered phenomenon — middle aged women, en masse, are not after men in their 20s (I like to remind people, when it comes to discussions of gendered phenomenons and sexism, that the exception isn’t the rule). And evolution blah blah blah. Are you trying to make babies in your 50s? Unlikely. So it really doesn’t matter if the woman you’re sleeping with is fertile or not.

One of the problems with evolutionary psychology is that, often, it finds what it’s looking for. So, as Martha McCaughey‘s The Caveman Mystique, shows: “Popularized evolutionary discourse, or pop-Darwinism, offers men a scientifically authorized way to think about — and live out — their sexuality,” as well as “enabl[ing] some men to rationalize sexist double standards about relationships”. So, evolutionary psychology, particularly in as far as it is interpreted and regurgitated for mass consumption, tends to seek to prove ‘natural’ what are often social phenomenons.

(Rebecca Watson demonstrates this practice well in a recent talk at Skepticon, if you have 45 minutes to spare):


I’m not saying that no one in the world is allowed to find people who are younger than them attractive. I’m saying that, when looking to start an equitable relationship, youth doesn’t matter. And if youth is your priority then it is not an equitable relationship you’re looking for, it’s a malleable trophy.

Sigh. Man problems.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Amy

    Can’t run to the bookstore fast enough to buy the Caveman Mystique. So excited to read a teardown of evopsych.

  • I love how everyone cares about body image shit now because ‘boys are impacted, too!!” I mean, girls are getting eating disorders before they hit puberty for christ sakes! Evolutionary psychology is seriously fucked. I am so tired of hearing people spout off about it and acting like it is anyway relevant to reality.

  • My parents split up about five years ago and my mom did the online dating thing for a little while – she stopped when she started noticing that the only men interested in a woman her age (she’s 60) are 75 and up. All the men her own age are looking to date 40 year olds (this was my mother’s re-intro to feminism. me: “mom. that’s sexism.” she: “oh, so it is!”). So my attractive, highly intelligent, artistic, engaged and talented mother gave up looking for a man (which i was secretly relieved at anyway). My dad, needless to say, is dating a 40 year old.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Men are the worst.

  • Grackle

    Seems like men want to take “being reminded that some guys work out more and therefore some women like how they look” to be the same thing as “being taught since childhood that your appearance is the most valuable thing about you and that it’s your responsibility to be as beautiful as possible (but you never, ever will be, by the way, and everybody is happy to remind you of that) or you’re pretty much worthless–oh, and your natural body requires constant maintenance and decoration just to meet basic standards of acceptability. Also, once you hit 30 or so, it’s over for you.”


    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s totally the same! See? SEE?! Men work out, ergo sexism is over.

    • Anonomega

      “Seems like men want to take “being reminded that some guys work out more and therefore some women like how they look” to be the same thing as “being taught since childhood that your appearance is the most valuable thing about you and that it’s your responsibility to be as beautiful as possible (but you never, ever will be, by the way, and everybody is happy to remind you of that) or you’re pretty much worthless–oh, and your natural body requires constant maintenance and decoration just to meet basic standards of acceptability. Also, once you hit 30 or so, it’s over for you.””

      Or maybe its your interpretation. Maybe what you see as “being-taught-since-childhood-that-yourappearance-blahblahblah…” is really just “being reminded that some women take care of their appearance, and therefore some men like how they look”

  • Thank you for this article! I am just so sick of this whole “but the mehnz go through this toooooo!” I seriously blame the Liberal school system, not teaching our young to be media literate and to accept everything that is thrown at them!

  • CM

    On a more related note, this trend is not new. Remember when everyone flipped their shit because girls were surpassing boys in test scores? Education was suddenly failing men!

    Who cares, let them have the societal pressure that results in eating disorders and lifelong body dysmorphia (god their “issues” are so offensively specific compared to women’s body issues.)

  • Me

    This is why I don’t read the in-print news much and never watch TV (where I can’t even choose to take stuff in as slowly as I can digest it).

    I’m a bit annoyed every time I read a mention of “a beautiful” 25 year old this and that. I mean, do the writers know these women personally? No? Then how can they say if they’re beautiful or not if they don’t know them? Sexed up maybe, but beautiful?

    Wife’s made friends in a weaving and handcraft group, it’s something she found out on her own she loves to do. The are rarely any men there and the women tend to be older. From her descriptions and from the few times I’ve visited, the atmosphere’s engaging, lively and respectful. It’s no wonder she likes it.

  • Vouchsafer

    If men are feeling bad about themselves based on their encountering other males who look physically more appealing than they do, that’s too bad.
    They should try having every TV screen, billboard, record cover, and touchscreen everywhere they go filled with images of others of their gender who look physically more ‘perfect’ than they do.
    Women are bombarded with hyspersexualized images of young female nudity or some derivative thereof constantly from the time they first blink open their eyes, and navigating through the tidal wave of these images while retaining the fragile thread of one’s self esteem is like swimming upstream through rapids with a marshmallow clutched in your hand.
    Kudos to every woman out there who is still hanging on to theirs : )

  • Hari B

    Hey Meghan!

    Keeping up the awesome work, I see. At this time, I can’t think up anything to say that hasn’t already been said on this topic by you and all these other smart feminists…so I’ll give ya’ll a general salute of recognition and appreciation. No, wait, I thought of something 😉

    Dear Menz, I just have no time to be worried about yer terrible troubles. I’m just way too busy connecting with other womyn in the endless work of trying to address the actually life-threatening issues that womyn and our children face daily in the world of patriarchy. But hey,feel free to get in line–I might find a few minutes for you later…much, much later.

    Also wanted to say, Meghan–you can find me on facebook as Jai Kalidasi. I don’t do anything on my own page, just use it as a way to connect with other feminists and participate in various feminist fb groups. But I’d love to have that connection if you’re interested.

    Either way, looking forward to hearing more from you here and elsewhere!

    • marv

      Welcome back Hari B. I missed you.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes! Welcome back Hari! I’ll find you on fb. (And nice to see you that VRR event, Marv!)

        • marv

          Meeting you again Meghan was on my bucket list. Many thanks!

      • Hari B

        Hey Marv–I wondered if that was you 🙂 Hail, hail, the gang’s all here, eh? Nice to see you again, and look forward to more good discussions.

  • Max

    Is there something else at stake here? Could it be that a younger partner brings less baggage along with them?

    I recall reading an essay a few years back (and I wish I could remember who and what publication, ’cause it was a nice bit of writing) by a woman re-entering the dating scene at 45. She said she yearned for a younger partner for the lack of complication, saying that at her age all men were (and I paraphrase) “confirmed bachelors, selfish and ill-suited to relationships, or bruised divorcees with a litany of hurts and hang-ups”.

    Not saying that every guy dating a younger woman has that in mind; but I’d say that lower level of complication would be a mighty big drawcard for me if I were in that situation.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Uncomplicated people are irritating.

      • Max

        Complicated people are narcissistic jerks who think their problems are so much greater and more important than anybody elses, and won’t miss a chance to tell you so. Every setback is a calamity, every minor victory their own personal VE Day.

        Uncomplicated people avoid such histrionics.

        Jus’ my take.

        • Meghan Murphy

          That’s a really stupid thing to say, Max. Having life experience (which necessarily means you have ‘baggage’, if you want to call it that), doesn’t equate to being a narcissist.

          • Max

            Sorry – that was flippant and off-topic.

    • Me

      There are actually two unrelated statements in the example you gave. One is that middle-aged single men are typically not people to date, and two is that relationships with younger partners are less complicated. I think the first one is true but the second isn’t. The reason why these two are presented as related and that story gets a lot of press is because it legitimizes predatory male behavior and excuses the men for ruining their earlier relationships. It’s not uncommon to find a woman quoted to that effect. “Uncomplicated” often sounds a lot like expecting feigned idiotism and infantilism from your “partner”. In a culture like this, people will have issues and relationships will develop issues. It’s stupid to expect otherwise.

      Does anyone else have issues with “the dating scene” and “dating” more generally? I don’t know of any good relationships that would’ve started that way. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole concept sounds creepy or divorced from reality.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Exactly, @Me. That middle aged men desire young women likely has A LOT to do with the fact that they have immature expectations around people and relationships. Wanting to be with someone ‘uncomplicated’ is a fantasy — and, of course, the middle aged man who wants a woman in her early twenties wants a fantasy, not reality. That’s the whole point.

        • Max

          @megan – I can only speak from watching male friends and acquaintances after the breakdown of a marriage/LTR. From what I’ve seen, by the time they’re ready to date again, they’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what they want out of a relationship. They think back to when they were happiest, and it tends to co-incide with when they were young and carefree and in love with their ex-partners. I can’t help but find it understandable that they would (unconsciously) project a desire for a return to that happiness onto a younger partner. Immature – well, maybe; but understandable. Why so uncharitable?

          At any rate, what’s so terrible about thinking that a relationship with a woman in her 20s who doesn’t have kids and/or the emotional baggage of a failed marriage/LTR might be less complicated than a relationship with a woman in her 30s or 40s or 50s who does? How does having to negotiate a relationship not only with a partner, but also with her children make you “more mature”? I’d argue that it makes you a sucker for punishment if there’s an alternative. For that matter, isn’t a little honest introspection a sign of maturity? To look into your own faults and failings and see the scars of your failed relationships? If such introspection brings you only a sense of self-loathing, why would you find such scars attractive in a partner?

          For that matter, say you found a woman of your own vintage with no kids or failed relationships behind her? Could it be that finding a meaningful place in such an independently-minded life might be a struggle?

          • Meghan Murphy

            You’re totally erasing the gendered aspect of these relationships, Max. Also I don’t see the correlation between ‘introspection’ and choosing a younger, supposedly less complication mate? Why would you do all this introspection only to come out deciding that you want a ‘relationship’ with someone you can’t relate to?

          • Max

            Why can’t you relate to a younger partner? I have friends in their 40s and friends in their 20s. I have a friend who’s about to turn 50. I relate just fine with my employees who are 10-15 years younger than me. Sure, they listen to funny music, have terrible haircuts and wear stupid clothes, but we still have more in common than divides us.

            On the flipside, there are plenty of people my own age I have absolutely nothing in common with at all.

            I wouldn’t be so bold to say that “age is just a number”, but I don’t think it means that you can’t relate to each other as equals. I think the differences can be fascinating if you’re open-minded about them.

          • Grackle

            “They think back to when they were happiest, and it tends to co-incide with when they were young and carefree and in love with their ex-partners. I can’t help but find it understandable that they would (unconsciously) project a desire for a return to that happiness onto a younger partner.”

            Then why don’t we see more older women with younger men–not in real life OR in media? Your theory would only make sense if a) this wasn’t such an obviously lopsided gender issue, and b) outside of the greater context of a society in which women’s value as they age depreciates at a rate totally incomparable to men’s. Meghan isn’t being “uncharitable” so much as she’s being realistic.

          • Andrew Pari

            As a male going through this now, and doing some introspective work of my own, I can’t agree with Meghan and Grackle more.
            We only see this, typically, going in one direction.
            It’s been irritating to me that many of my friends joke about me connecting with young girls rather than a person I connect with.
            I don’t put an age limit on myself but I’m certainly wary about what I’m thinking or getting into if she’s more than a few years younger…or older.

          • Max


            “Yes Max, that’s exactly what we’re saying here. Wanting to be with someone you find physically attractive is wrong and shameful. That’s the whole issue here. Come on.”

            You’re arguing a bunch of things; but one of the things I’m reading loud and clear is “It’s creepy when old dudes date young women. The dirty old pervs. It’s sad and immature and it’s because they think they can own women”.

            I’m saying: Youth correlates with attractiveness. Attractiveness matters in partner selection.

            Sure – assume away that that 40 something guy with the 20 something girlfriend has a bent idea of ownership of the “pretty young thing”. But maybe he just think she’s hot, and more fun to be around than his cohort of “age appropriate” women. That’s probably not that mature, but it’s far from pathological. Anyway – a life of constant po-faced maturity is a bit of a drag.

            “You’re giving your male perspective on an issue that is vastly different for women.”

            It’s the only perspective I’ve got. I‘m trying to avoid mansplaining, so I’ll stick to what I know.

            What I do know is that as I age and grow less attractive, I get less “hotness privilege” (for want of a better term). Obviously, as a guy, it’s insignificant compared to that suffered by women – but I get an inkling of what it’s like and I can try to empathise. But at the same time, I am aware that becoming less attractive as I age is an inevitability, and my pool of potential partners who value looks shrinks correspondingly.

            Now; I’d never argue that for a second that it’s not the case that women get a lot of their value as humans placed on their beauty. What I would argue is that you can’t stop men from being attracted to, and desiring, attractive (young) women. As long as men desire attractive women, they’ll have a crack.

            Why is it different for women? Why don’t you see older women walking arm in arm with fine young men? Dunno. There’s plenty of very cool and attractive 30, 40 and 50-something women out there. Taking a guess from a young guy’s perspective, maybe they find older women’s intolerance of their bullshit too intimidating to be attractive.

  • riv

    I think what they have in mind is someone who is as close as legally possible to a child. I think most men will push that as much as they are allowed, and they ARE allowed by our society: very small women, and very young women.

  • Max

    …and while I’m mouthing off – what’s so reprehensible about wanting a physically attractive partner? All other things being equal, we’ll always take a partner who’s nice to look at.

    Younger people tend to be better looking. Hell, when I was 24, you could bounce rocks off my stomach and butt, I had a full head of glorious auburn hair, smooth tanned skin and boundless energy. Ten years later, I’ve worked hard at staying in shape, but I’m not the specimen I used to be – I sag in places, I’m bald (god I miss my hair!), my skin is rough and freckled from working outdoors and I lack the vitality I once had. If “young” me and “now” me stood side by side, I’m certain I know who would catch the eye – even if “now” me is more confident, wiser and a better conversationalist. I’d find it hard to resent anyone who went for the younger model (though I’m sure it would grate after a while – he was a bit of a whiny jerk). Give me another 10 (or 20. Or 30) years…well!

    Am I selling you folks on a partner in their 20s yet? Tight-bodied? Full of energy? Filed with the enthusiasm of youth and perpetually keen for a roll in the hay?

    Oh yeah. People in their early 20s are almost always terrible at all aspects of actual relationships.

    Swings and roundabouts, I guess. I’d say that the 40-something guy dating a woman in her early 20s pretty soon realises that he bought the ticket for the whole ride (so to speak). If he wants a partnership with someone on an equal footing (and much as you’d like to think it’s not the case, most men do want this) he’s gotta find someone closer to his age.

    Say a woman in her 30s.

    Or is he still being immature? Does he have to find a woman his own age to have a “valid” relationship?

    At this stage, I’d add that it takes two to tango. The woman isn’t a shop mannequin here – she’s half of the relationship. All these younger women spurning their age cohort to partner up with these sad, saggy, leering, anti-feminist old letches must be getting something out of it. I’m sure the MRA wall of derp would start hissing about gold-digging; but could it be that there might actually be something to like about these guys?

    Maturity? Confidence? Worldliness? Sophistication? Things that their own cohort don’t offer?

    Well…why don’t younger guys go for this? Probably because young dudes tend to be pretty immature in comparison to younger women (as a trend, not as a rule…) and they don’t value such things. In fact, they probably find them intimidating and alienating.

    For what it’s worth, sadly I’ve seen four of my good friends’ marriages fail. None were cases of abuse or cruelty, and only one featured any infidelity. Interestingly, the two men in that group subsequently married truly awesome women their own age (mid-30s). Of the two women, one (early 30s) left her husband for an older, divorced man in his late 40s; and one (late 20s) broke up with a sweet but gormless man-boy she’d been with for 6 years, went on to date a number of unsuitable men her own age, until around three years later when she met a much more mature divorced man in his early 40s who she’s very happy with. I don’t think anyone is with their new spouse/partner for any reason other than that they are right for them.

    • Grackle

      “and while I’m mouthing off – what’s so reprehensible about wanting a physically attractive partner? All other things being equal, we’ll always take a partner who’s nice to look at.”

      Yes, Max, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Wanting to be with someone who you find physically attractive is wrong and shameful. That’s the whole issue here.

      Come on.

      “I’d find it hard to resent anyone who went for the younger model (though I’m sure it would grate after a while – he was a bit of a whiny jerk).”

      You’re giving your male perspective on an issue that is vastly different for women. It’s insulting. Maybe if, from day 1, you were taught that your worth as a human being was entirely based on your youth and appearance and that you dry up and disappear the closer you get to 40, when life experience and all forms of media demonstrated that to the point that you never even noticed it and it became a part of your reality, when you noticed that as you aged, you became more and more invisible to others, when you were told that your younger self was not only more attractive but a more worthwhile and complete human being (attractive and sexually appealing is what a woman IS, after all) maybe then you’d feel a little less jovial about it.

      • Missfit

        Yep, that’s what we need, a male perspective. Because our perspective is wrong, see? What is wrong with wanting an attractive partner (and by attractive, we mean young, right?)? Older men have maturity, confidence, sophistication to offer and that is pretty valuable. While older women… well… What is wrong with wanting an attractive partner?

        • Andrew Pari

          Yeees! Irony quota met.

        • Max

          Yes Missfit – by attractive, I mean attractive in a purely physical sense. Youth and beauty correlate – not absolutely, but they do correlate.

          Older women have the same maturity, confidence and sophistication that comes with age as men do. Young guys just don’t dig it as much I guess.

          Some older guys don’t value maturity, confidence and sophistication as much as they value attractiveness and energy – thus the pick younger partners. For some it’s because they think they can leverage their experience into ownership, but for others it’s because they find youthful attitudes preferable. Maybe it helps them to feel youthful themselves. What’s wrong with yearing for youth, which was (well, for me anyway) a less complicated and responsible time.

          • bella_cose

            I just have to say, everything this guy has written has proven every point brought against him, and yet he’s still completely oblivious.

  • Me

    Max, you’re so full of shit I guess I should thank you for making everyone’s point here that young women should run like hell from older men.

    • Max

      Well, thankfully young women are free to run like hell from these crusty old letches (and let’s face it, youth gives a speed advantage).

      But, again, why are these young women (who, being young and desirable can have their choice of mate) partnering up with older men if there’s nothing to recommend them? Why are these wizened old creeps not rejected out of hand? Why is this even an issue?