Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Stony Brook sociologist Michael Kimmel seeks to understand contemporary coming of age of young men.  The result of his example-gathering is Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men: Understanding the Critical Years Between 16 and 26.  Perhaps I could reduce Book Review No. 5 to an epigram: if the subtitle has a subtitle, you probably know what the conclusion isThe shame is that Professor Kimmel concludes with a laudable proposal.

In the end we need to develop a new model of masculinity.  Young men must understand on a deep level that being a real man isn't going along with what you know in your heart to be cruel, inhumane, stupid, humiliating and dangerous.  Being a real man means doing the right thing, standing up to immorality and injustice when you see it, and expressing compassion, not contempt, for those who are less fortunate.  So much of Guyland encourages cowardice -- being a passive bystander, going along with what seems to be the crowd's consensus.

John Wayne and Spencer Tracy got that, but we're not going there.  The opportunity to rebut the Susan Faludi of Stiffed or the Christina Hoff Sommers of The War Against Boys, two volumes that got into the Cold Spring Shops library before the Superintendent got into the Fifty Book Challenge is there, but apart from brief mention of their arguments, there is little systematic or organized reaction, let alone rebuttal, to their suggestions respectively that the information economy upends some of the ways once available to men to demonstrate their usefulness, or that expanding opportunities for women too often has a zero-sum basis in which the men must be held back.  Professor Kimmel notes the yob phenomenon, something that Yob Nation notes involves destructive behavior by men and women, but his excursion into Guyland looks at a different social phenomenon than soccer mobs, public shagging, and excessive drinking.

It's easy to observe "guys" virtually everywhere in America -- in every high school and college campus in America, with their baseball caps on frontward or backward, their easy smiles or anxious darting eyes, huddled around tiny electronic gadgets or laptops, or relaxing in front of massive wide-screen hi-def TVs, in basements, dorms, and frat houses.  But it would be a mistake to assume that each conforms fully to a regime of peer-influenced and enforced behaviors that I call the "Guy Code," or shares all traits and attitudes with everyone else.  It's important to remember that individual guys are not the same as "Guyland."

In fact, my point is precisely the opposite.  Though Guyland is pervasive -- it is the air guys breathe, the water they drink -- each guy cuts his own deal with it as he tries to navigate the passage from adolescence to adulthood without succumbing to the most soul-numbing, spirit-crushing elements that surround him each day.

Not that there's anything new about spirit-crushing elements.

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.

In Professor Kimmel's view, the conformity so obtained is not that virtuous: beer, sports, babes, sports, internet smut, beer, sports, video games, beer, crude music, babes, gadgets, sports, beer.  The closest approximation I can come up to for a working hypothesis behind such apparently self-destructive behavior is the identity-politics notion of resentment.  See page 166.

They're tired of "being made to feel like losers," as many of them put it.  They're tired of feeling that the game is over before they've even started to play.  They're tired of putting the damned toilet seat down every time, of saying "he or she" on their term papers, of calling people of color "people of color."  They're tired of feeling like there's no mobility -- or if there is, someone else is climbing over them on the ladder of success.

As if affirmative action didn't exist.  As if mandatory rape awareness sessions didn't exist.

And as if the Sixties didn't happen.  Much of Guyland focuses on the minefield that is male-female interaction in the era of the hook-up.  The young ladies have lots of opportunities, and lots of confidence.  But too many of them for Professor Kimmel's liking still play the roles assigned to them by the light beer commercial, and his new age sensibilities apparently predispose him to ignore the possible evolutionary stability of Guyland.

Professor Laurie Rudman, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said: 'Our findings demonstrate that men encounter prejudice when they behave modestly.'

They also raise the possibility that men may avoid behaving modestly because they risk backlash when they do.

Changes in gender roles that have afforded women more financial independence have not yielded relaxed demands for men.

'Men are still required to uphold masculine ideals that require chronic exhibitions of strength while avoiding signs of weakness.'

Likewise, his discontent with the b**ch or slut dichotomy of the Guy Code fails to recognize the possible influence of the Sixties.  Abortion and contraception were never primarily about rape, incest, or life of the mother: women say yes to men who say no was an antiwar slogan.  Under the new dispensation, a Guy has no reason to believe that a babe who turns him down is doing so as a general principle.

Ultimately, then, Professor Kimmel's sensibilities are likely to keep Guyland from changing many people's minds.  Collect the grossest examples of fraternity initiation rituals and call them homoerotic: a reader with older notions of propriety and perversity is unlikely to be more favorably disposed to the new dispensation.  Show your new age bona fides:  a reader who gets the point of Rush Limbaugh's new castrati schtick will nod.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: academic, cultural studies, current events, feminist
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