Monday, September 8, 2008

From Manhood in America to Guyland

A cool book review/excerpt from the Oxford University Press blog. Looks like an interesting book, and one I will be adding to my wish list at Amazon.
From Manhood in America to Guyland
Filed in A-Featured , American History , Media , Sociology on August 26, 2008

Between the ages of 16 and 26, male development often evolves and explodes into such problematic behavior as binge drinking, fraternity hazing, and female-directed abuse—particularly on college campuses. To better understand these trends, Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and leading gender scholar, has just published Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Drawing from hundreds of interviews with 16-to-26-year-olds across the country—and traversing locales from high schools to frat houses to sports bars—Guyland is a riveting look inside the intriguing incubators of modern manhood.

Kimmel is the author of several popular and acclaimed Oxford textbooks, including Manhood in America, Second Edition, which provides an engaging cultural history of masculinity by examining such cultural constructs as advice books, magazine columns, political pamphlets, and popular novels and films. In addition, he is author of the best-selling The Gendered Society, Third Edition; coeditor of The Gendered Society Reader, Third Edition , and Sexualities: Identities Behaviors, and Society; and editor of Classical Sociological Theory, Second Edition . Below is an excerpt from the epilogue of Manhood in America which put Kimmel on the path to deconstructing Guyland. Be sure to tune in to the Today show (NBC) on Wednesday, August 27th to see Kimmel talk about Guyland. He will also read from Guyland on Tuesday, September 9th at 7:00 PM at the Borders Store at Columbus Circle.

The presidential election of 2004 revealed a nation deeply divided about politics, war, and economic issues. Red and blue states possess different visions of what America is and what America should be. And it’s equally true that there are two disparate visions of American masculinity. As this new century unfolds, the pace of change accelerates, and the world grows ever more integrated, it remains to be seen what ideals of manhood will prevail both in the short run and in the longer run.

Personally, I believe that in the twenty-first century, we need a different sort of manhood, a “democratic manhood.” The manhood of the future cannot be based on obsessive self-control, defensive exclusion, or frightened escape. We need a new definition of masculinity in this new century: a definition that is more about the character of men’s hearts and the depths of their souls than about the size of their biceps, wallets, or penises; a definition that is capable of embracing differences among men and enabling other men to feel secure and confident rather than marginalized and excluded; a definition that is capable of friendships based on more than common activities (what among toddlers is called “parallel play”) or even common consumer aesthetics; a definition that centers on standing up for justice and equality instead of running away from commitment and engagement.

We need men who truly embody traditional masculine virtues, such as strength, a sense of purpose, a commitment to act ethically regardless of the costs, controlled aggression, self-reliance, dependability, reliability, responsibility—men for whom these are not simply fashion accessories but come from a deeply interior place. But now these will be configured in new and responsive ways. We need men who are secure enough in their convictions to recognize a mistake, courageous enough to be compassionate, fiercely egalitarian, powerful enough to empower others, strong enough to acknowledge that real strength comes from holding others up rather than pushing them down and that real freedom is not to be found in the loneliness of the log cabin but in the daily compromises of life in a community.

Recall again the postscript to that vicious campaign of 1840. Taking the oath of office on one of the most bitterly cold days in the entire nineteenth century, William Henry Harrison refused to wear a topcoat lest he appear weak and unmanly. He caught pneumonia, was immediately bedridden, and died one month later—the shortest term in office of any president in our history. Believing your own hype may be dangerous for your health let alone the health of the nation.

The deep divisions between red and blue America parallel the deep divisions in red and blue gender politics. On the one hand, it appears that about half the country subscribes to older, more traditional notions of masculinity; the other half subscribes to a version that is more protean and responsive to social change. While it’s surely a caricature to suggest that one side swills burgers and beer (not microbrew) while watching NASCAR and the other sips chardonnay and nibble imported brie, every cultural arena does present us with a variety of images from which to choose. The increased polarization of the nation does lead these images to equally become more polarized.

So, for example, where once Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant could capture the same audiences as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, today one is unlikely to find many fans of the fey Leonardo di Caprio or the earnest Toby Maguire at a film starring The Rock or Vin Diesel. Yet these new iterations of the last action hero are cartoons of hypermasculine inarticulateness; they make Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis seem positively emotional. And their young male audiences are as likely to laugh at their verbal grunting as they are to marvel at the special effects.

1 comment:

GUY said...

This book is worthless. It is an attack on young men by someone who knows nothing about them, except as an "observer." Perhaps he doesn't like being one.