Guyland: Expanding Feminism to the Human Experience
July 21, 2010
I’m tired of talking about women. I am. Admittedly, women’s voices are so disproportionately underrepresented in society at large that my individual focus on women benefits the whole. But in the scope of one person’s life, focusing on one gender to such a degree can grow tiresome. Which is exactly why Paradigm Shift’s Guyland lecture last week was so refreshing.
On Wednesday night, curious feminists of New York filed into Theatre 80 to listen to Professor of Sociology at SUNY Stony Brook Michael Kimmel. A leading researcher and writer on men and masculinity in the world today, Kimmel is the author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, a best-selling examination of young people’s lives today, based on interviews with more than 400 young men, ages 16-26. Reflecting on his research and writing at the lecture, Kimmel painted a grim picture of modern “manhood.”
Lacking the guidance of their elder brethren, he explained, today’s white, middle-class young men look to one another to navigate the recently prolonged limbo period between boyhood and manhood. As the Guyland website describes, “Although they seem baffled by the riddles of manhood and responsibility, they submit to the ‘Guy Code,’ where locker-room behaviors, sexual conquests, bullying, violence and assuming a cocky jock pose can rule over the sacrifice and conformity of marriage and family.” In essence, young men in Guyland withstand overwhelming pressure from one another to adhere to childish and wasteful self-indulgence. And young women suffer their fair share of the culture’s negative effects by adhering to its demeaning “bros before hoes” mentality. Chloe Angyal at Feministing further outlined Guyland’s harmful resulting male entitlement, anger, and invisible privilege in her blog post on the event.
After Kimmel’s summary of this toxic environment, Progressive Women’s Voices alumna and national feminist organizer Shelby Knox aptly moved the conversation from theory to reality. Serving as moderator, Shelby questioned Mr. Kimmel on the political implications of his research, particularly as it relates to women political candidates.
In response, Kimmel explained that the media improperly condones Guyland culture in the political realm by accepting its sexism with a nonchalant “boys will be boys” attitude. For example, during the 2008 election, the media failed to adequately cover the rampant sexism displayed at one of Senator Clinton’s campaign events when two men began shouting to her “Iron my shirt.” Why didn’t this outrage the media? Kimmel asked. If white audience members, Kimmel noted, had shouted “Shine my shoes” to Senator Obama, wouldn’t the media have rightfully thrown a fit? So why not throw a fit for this atrocious incident and the countless other examples of sexism against women political figures? “Boys will be boys,” I guess.
In addition, Kimmel explained, the media not only accepts but encourages Guyland culture in public discourse by constantly playing up the “battle” between the sexes. For example, The Atlantic’s recent cover story “The End of Men” implied that women’s rise in the education system will bring the downfall of men. But as WMC cofounder Gloria Steinem noted in an interview with Katie Couric and Michael Kimmel pointed out in his response, men in egalitarian relationships report happier, more satisfying lives across the board. The rise of women does not necessitate the fall of men. Girls are doing better in school? “So what?” Kimmel responded. It’s not a war. Feminism benefits us all. By falsely portraying women's progress as an assault of men's welfare, the media diminishes women's chances of being able to reach political leadership roles.
Overall, I was enthralled by Professor Kimmel’s lecture and his pioneering effort to expand the feminist circle. By focusing so narrowly on the interests of women alone, we have inadvertently lost sight of the end goal of feminism - equality. We do not seek to privilege either gender over the other, but to reach a society where men and women collaborate as equals. Professor Kimmel’s lecture reminded me of this crucial fact.
That being said, however, I wish Professor Kimmel’s research could be expanded to include an even larger circle. Faced with an audience member’s criticism of his narrow focus on a white middle-class population, Professor Kimmel explained that he wanted to focus on the masculine culture that is so widely broadcast and portrayed by mainstream media. We must not, however, accept the media’s failure as justification for our failure. In our expansion of feminism to men, let us also open ourselves up to understanding the experiences of men of color, of immigrant men, of low-income men. They too must be included in the conversation.
So while I wholeheartedly applaud Professor Kimmel for introducing this crucial perspective and am undoubtedly adding Guyland to my reading list, we cannot let the conversation stop there. It’s our collective responsibility to take his crucial expansion of feminism and run with it. Maybe then I can spend my day talking about not just the woman experience, but the human experience.