I interview people for a living, so I get paid to talk to people. Usually we talk about what we are supposed to, but sometimes we get off topic. The other day I sat down with a female comic here in Chicago discuss feminism’s role in pushing the boundaries of comedy. We talked a lot about creating safe spaces for women, but we also veered off into discussing general feminist-y things, because that’s what happens when you put two chatty feminists in a room. You will discuss all the women’s issues.
Of all things, we ended up discussing Forever 21, whose title positions the store as an ode to youth, your carefree college years when you are still trying to figure it all out while you sober up in time for finals. As a society, we pride women on their ability to stay young and embody the ideals of youth culture. If not, we wouldn’t spend so much time paying attention to shows like The Hills or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. If Lauren Conrad were 50, would anyone have given a shit?
We might watch the Real Housewives, but we don’t want to be them. They are spectacles, self-parodies perfectly preserved in plastic.
That got us thinking. In society, men aren’t necessarily prided on their youth. Sure, youthfulness is a perk, but men are considered socially desirable well into their forties, whereas a sexy, desirable older woman is an outlier — the “cougar.” Men are prided on their power and success, their ability to be the master of their financial and personal domain. We want men to be the King of the House, the Holder of the Keys and the Master of the Universe, which are difficult to pull of at 21.
No man wants to be 21 forever. 21 is a time where you are constantly broke and still nervous around the opposite (or same) sex. Because you’re still figuring yourself out, it can be hard to talk to other people. You’ve had an ID for less than a year, and that hasn’t allowed a great deal of practice. When we think of frat boys, do we think of suave, put-together men? No, we think of Animal House.
In fact, Forever 21 has a men’s section. Are men aware of this? Do they shop there? Most don’t, because a) Forever 21 is a seen as a “women’s store” and as Quentin Crisp put it, “there’s no greater sin than being a woman” and b) it’s Forever “21.” No guy wants to be an insecure, beer-swilling loon who can’t get laid forever. That’s a prison. You want to be James Bond. There’s a man with pull.
This realization led to an inquiry. You have a clothing store and you want to market your product to men based on the ideology of an age. Which age do you use? Are you “Forever 25,” fresh out college and trying to prove yourself in a hostile job market? What about Forever 30 or 35, where you struggle with the pressures of having a career while you settle down and start a family? Perhaps 40, when you’re young enough to be a “fox” without being a silver? Or 50, the average age for S&P CEOs? 55, the median for Fortune 500 heads? What age speaks most to our ideologies about masculinity?
I have a hunch that it’s 30, a time when you’re entering the next stage of your life and (as the stereotype goes) coming into your power. You’re not in your twenties anymore, thank God, but haven’t hit 40 yet — the age where you’re old enough to joke about being “over the hill.” Thirty, for men, is atop the hill, without having conquered it yet. At 30, all you have is time.
Should we then create a “Forever 30s” for men? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer, because there isn’t one. However, I would love to hear from you on the subject. What do you think the ideal age for men is and why? What does it say about how we view men and what we expect of them? What does it also say about our expectations of women? Sound off in the comments. Let’s keep the conversation going.