Michael Kimmel's GUYLAND is a masterpiece -- of manipulation and deceit.
Ostensibly a concerned but kindly portrait of young American males, the book is actually a scathing, unforgiving indictment. Indeed, an in-depth analysis of how adroitly Kimmel has crafted his monumental insult of young American males and impugned their dignity -- while patting himself on the back for being simultaneously insightful and avuncular -- is the stuff of a doctor's thesis with potential to run for more pages than the book itself. This review constitutes but a brief glance at a few of the salient points that such a thesis would highlight.
It is through a combination of neatly interwoven tacks that Kimmel navigates the tricky process of passing off a brutal -- and very shallow -- portrait of young males as a thoughtful assessment.
The overall structure of the book, in and of itself, constitutes Kimmel's primary tack. Focusing, in sequence, upon various unseemly aspects of Guyland -- the term Kimmel has coined to demark the social and psychological world of males approximately 16 to 26 years in age -- he carefully cushions his words with polite disclaimers.
The basic gist of what Kimmel initially tell us is this: The wonderful young man you care about probably is not like what you'll be reading here. But you should know about the "disturbing undercurrent" (p. 9) of the realm in which he spends much of his time.
Then, as the book progresses, Kimmel's disclaimers become less cautious. Eventually they are mere passing mentions and finally they all but completely disappear. In this manner, slowly over dozens of pages, Kimmel stealthily escalates his unwary readers' ire as he heats up his criticism. At last -- without our consciously realizing that the concerned analysis has turned into an excoriating diatribe -- we have come to understand that our beloved young man, at heart, is actually a scoundrel.
Kimmel saves his best for last, launching into a fevered discussion of the harassment and rape of women. At this point, unless we have been paying attention to the tack and putting up psychological defenses, we find ourselves maneuvered into the passive position of uncomplaining (and perhaps by now even supportive) witness to Kimmel's most impassioned passages -- collectively, an orgiastic thrashing of his subjects' now-unconscious bodies. Indeed, our blood may boil so indignantly that it may escape our notice that Kimmel does not even mention how young men, too, get victimized by the opposite sex -- with far-reaching consequences and, unlike victimized women, with no sympathy from the media or the criminal justice system (for one thought-provoking depiction of the phenomenon, I recommend It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered, by Don Yaeger with Mike Pressler).
Embedded within the structure of this screed of intellectual terrorism lie several additional tacks for seducing readers to agree with Kimmel's woeful conclusions.
One insidious tack for imbuing his writing with an apocryphal aura of credibility -- and thereby deflecting potential criticism that he is nothing but a pompous, finger-wagging scold -- is to state, every now and then, positive things about young males. But Kimmel artfully makes these concessions about their good qualities with extreme care -- backhandedly placing his upbeat statements within the chapter, paragraph or sentence structure to ensure that they are tinged with doubt, or, offset by some assessment or other of ignominy. Either way, Kimmel essentially wants us to understand that if we wish to praise young males for any reason, then doing so ought to leave a bad taste in our mouths.
Another tack -- that imparts to Kimmel's writing a simulacrum of broad-mindedness and simultaneously helps to protect him against accusations that his views are rigid or ideological -- is to acknowledge that, yes, alternative perspectives about young men do exist. Impliedly, Kimmel has been willing to give these other views his serious consideration while arriving at his own conclusions.
Indeed, the casual reader might think, what more broad-mindedness could Kimmel possibly reveal about himself than to include some of these alternative perspectives -- as expressed by the very young males that Kimmel interviewed and about whom he draws such scornful judgments? According to Kimmel, many of them feel browbeaten and violated in ways that makes it very difficult to live in comity with society at large -- a society that seems out to get them at every turn. "[A]ngy right-wing radio personalities," according to Kimmel, constitute a key source of "permission" for young men's "aggrieved entitlement." (pp. 161-63) Therefore, we are to understand, most of them are rash, selfish and unreasonable.
However, the careful reader will note, if a young man successfully expresses his angst in a cogent way about "substantive issues" (p. 162), Kimmel pays him no heed.
One such fellow, a 22-year-old named Matt, does exactly that and is quoted at length. (p. 161) Kimmel's response is to ignore the issues completely and to carry on about "unacceptable" rhetoric instead. Kimmel apparently assumes that his smooth side-stepping of some meaty topics of discussion will go unnoticed. And, indeed, perhaps the casual reader, caught up in Kimmel's drama-by-distortion, will regard Matt's words simply as transitory, distracting static midst Kimmel's titillatingly hair-raising narrative.
But the issues that young Matt raises, along with many more, deserve very much to be pondered -- and there are some noteworthy writers doing so.
To be sure, Kimmel does not pretend to be the sole published author who writes about gender issues, and he makes approving reference to several writers, ranging from the famous (e.g., Susan Faludi and Carol Gilligan) to the obscure (Norah Vincent). Therefore, it is inconceivable that Kimmel is unfamiliar with writers whose perspectives differ markedly from his and, at their core, have sympathetic understanding for young males' feelings. But he will discuss only one such author -- Christina Hoff Sommers -- and it is for the sole purpose of trying to discredit her widely-praised book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men. Kimmel pooh-poohs Sommers's concerns, maintains silence about the successful programs she describes for improving boys' academic performance, and dismisses her out of hand with a jaw-droppingly ludicrous mischaracterization of her conclusion.
Here is how Kimmel does it. The old chestnut, "boys will be boys," according to Kimmel, gets invoked mindlessly by society at large to excuse young males' wrongdoing. Sommers invokes the phrase too. Therefore, Kimmel tells us through innuendo, this means she believes that bad behavior is acceptable and normal. Obviously, then, with this bit of perversity as Sommers's salient point, the woman must be a nutjob.
But Sommers makes no such barbaric claim, and she means something totally different by writing "boys will be boys": young males' unique personal energy and joie de vivre deserve to be acknowledged and honored -- so these qualities can be channeled productively.
With his below-the-belt strike at Sommers, Kimmel takes an audacious gamble with his credibility -- because some readers may actually have read THE WAR AGAINST BOYS too. Whether or not they agree with the thesis of Sommers's book, Kimmel's willfully duplicitous re-framing of Sommers's writing will be instantly recognizable -- and they would have to be nutjobs to believe that Kimmel is being forthright.
But Kimmel dares not risk even passing mention of certain other writers with perspectives different from his own -- and it is for good reason. Inadvertently prodding unfamiliar readers' curiosity about them could not only make him look dishonest and foolish but could prove catastrophic for him. Specifically, Warren Farrell's seven books present a wealth of data and statistics that would prove the majority of Kimmel's specious contentions to be embarrassingly inaccurate -- especially his repetitious carping about male "entitlement." Additionally, two books by McGill University professors Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young (part of an ongoing development of a series about misandry) not only express views very different from Kimmel's but embody the highest standards of probity and intellectual rigor. GUYLAND, in contrast, would seem as nothing but a bundle of sanctimonious rodomontade and flapdoodle suited, at best, as source material (especially its catchy title) for a sensationalistic miniseries on Lifetime TV.
Kimmel is far too smart to tell very many outright lies in GUYLAND. Instead, he cherry-picks facts in support of his contentions while ignoring, trivializing, or mischaracterizing facts that militate against the book's disheartening conclusions. Kimmel follows this tack with such wild abandon that, for any reader who possesses a full-spectrum education on gender issues, it is blatantly obvious. But for the less-informed reader, Kimmel's writing may seem very convincing. And, in these readers' minds, why should Kimmel be perceived as proffering anything besides clear-minded truth? After all, Kimmel is the father of a young son himself (a fact repeatedly affirmed throughout the book). Would such an author not have his own scion's best interests at heart?
But, as explained above, Kimmel does not content himself with arousing readers' concern. For Kimmel, concern is merely the launching platform from which he seeks to propel us into stratospheric realms of outrage. Alas for Kimmel, sometimes he ham-handedly contradicts himself in the process.
To cite one example, Kimmel bashes males first by invoking a stereotypical view of masculinity that he calls "The Guy Code," lamenting its notion that men should "show no emotions at all." (pp. 49-50) The fact that suppression of emotions is necessary for the self-sacrificing role that society expects males to fulfill -- as providers and protectors -- does not warrant mention in Kimmel's analysis.
Next Kimmel tells a personal story in which he ridicules young men who do show emotion (specifically, anger) -- by describing them as "angry white males." (p. 60) Kimmel even puts the phrasal epithet in quotation marks, ensuring that readers will recognize the derisive insult for what it is and enhancing his chances of provoking readers' deepest contempt too.
But why should we feel appalled by young men's anger, and why are they wrong for feeling the way they do?
According to Kimmel, the emotion is unjustified -- and utterly inexplicable -- except to the degree that it arrogantly arises out of frustrated "entitlement." Kimmel uses a fascinating rhetorical sleight of hand to try to prove his point.
In this specific instance, Kimmel was a featured panelist on a TV talk show with the inflammatory title, "A Black Woman Stole My Job." On the air, Kimmel mocked and taunted the men by asking: "Where did they get the idea it was 'their' job? Why wasn't the show called 'A Black Woman Got a Job,' . . . ?" (p. 60)
But a far more honest -- and compassionate -- line of questioning would have been: Where did they get the idea that, by putting loaded language in their mouths, the show's producer had any intention of hosting a rational debate on affirmative action? Why couldn't the guests have foreseen that the show might as well have been called 'Let's Have Fun Tricking and Skewering Naive Young Men'?"
Apparently oblivious to the irony, Kimmel begins the section of his book wherein he relates his smug, self-satisfied anecdote with the statement, "Many young men today have a shockingly strong sense of male superiority and a diminished capacity for empathy." (p. 59)
So who is Kimmel and why does he present such an outrageously slanted, calculatedly awful portrait of young males?
Kimmel answers the first part of this question himself: he is "a sociologist" specializing in "the study of men and masculinity," which is "a relatively new subfield of the study of 'gender.'" (p. 22)
There is a long explanation behind what Kimmel is telling his readers about his place in the academic world, and it is provided in detail by Professors Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge in Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies. According to these authors, gender studies -- a.k.a. feminist studies -- is not so much a field of serious scholarship and learning as a highly politicized "academic arm" for the women's movement. Like Kimmel, these authors consider gender to be a legitimate basis for research into numerous aspects of the human experience. But in the postmodern academe, these authors regretfully report, research and analysis in gender issues seldom get undertaken with any regard for scholarly integrity. Even the most basic standards of objective writing -- like substantiating conclusions with concrete evidence -- all too often get set aside in favor of more subjective "ways of knowing," which are supposedly superior. But, again, the primary purpose of feminist studies is not so much education as persuasion -- for the espousing of a specific worldview as well as for unquestioning acceptance of feminism's pre-determined prescriptions for correcting human flaws. GUYLAND is a book very much in this vein and is remarkable for its excellence in disguising its monumental deficits so readers will think that it is something it is not.
Indeed, it is more than passing interest to note, near the end of GUYLAND, that Kimmel openly acknowledges he is a feminist. And he affirms how sweet life would be for the recalcitrant young males of Guyland if only they would become feminists too: "Feminism loves men enough to expect them to act more honorably and actually believes them capable of doing so." (p. 264)
But what kind of richness in life does Kimmel believe men will experience when they embrace the "love" that feminism extends so generously to them?
Strangely enough -- judging from the tone of Kimmel's writing -- it apparently means that males' greatest fulfillment and self-actualization is to be found in a state of shame and embarrassment that arises out of stoop-shouldered self-abnegation and hand-wringing obeisance to their betters, i.e., to females.
Writing of feminism's "love" for men in a book about 16-to-26-year-old males seems downright bizarre when we consider that one of the most vicious feminism-inspired slogans of the last decade -- a multi-million-dollar blockbuster for the company that coined it -- was directed at the subjects of GUYLAND when they were children: "BOYS ARE STUPID, THROW ROCKS AT THEM!"
At its outset, GUYLAND purports to try to "enable guys" to "steer a course with greater integrity and honesty, so they can be true not to some artificial code, but to themselves." (p. 8) But feminism itself -- at least Kimmel's version of it -- constitutes an "artificial code." In one of his most blatant misstatements of reality, Kimmel claims feminism is about "equality." (p. 263) Ironically, one of the most dramatic aspects of inequality that exists between the sexes -- with which feminism refuses to grapple and Kimmel does not even acknowledge -- manifests itself during the very period of males' lives that is the specific focus of GUYLAND: males' obligation to register for Selective Service and to live thenceforward knowing that, if called upon, they must subject themselves to the draft. No woman in American history has ever experienced the phenomenon, nor would any sane one want to, whether in the idealistic spirit of fostering "equality" or for any other reason. Would it not make sense, in at least a few of the hundreds of interviews Kimmel claims he conducted, to ask how "the guys" face and then carry through on fulfilling their extraordinary burden? If feminism really wanted gender equity -- and not just privileges for women unaccompanied by obligations -- then Kimmel would not have done his subjects this highhanded disservice.
Another area of inequality that feminism fails to address is in the realm of male/female personal relationships. Despite females' supposedly "liberated" status, the male is expected, as in the days of yore, to handle all the difficult work of initiating relationships as well as to finance their progression into something long-lasting. Maybe the enormous amount of casual "hooking up" on college campuses -- which Kimmel disparages -- arises not so much out of males' sexism as males' brass-tacks level inability to afford dating. Especially because unprecedented numbers of women earn substantial paychecks nowadays, why shouldn't equality -- in the form of shared responsibility -- be promoted in this realm?
But feminism does not teach women that they should even think that new -- and sometimes very considerable -- burdens might exist as inherent accompaniments to women's expanding lifestyle options. Instead, feminism teaches women that their lives should in every respect be enjoyable and personally fulfilling, and it is not part of the deal to perform any of the onerous duties traditionally belonging to males.
So if it is true, as Kimmel claims, that many young male denizens of Guyland do not respect young females, perhaps to some degree it is because "the guys," like any normal person, find it very hard to feel respect for someone who relates to them in ways that are hypocritical. Maybe, despite all the "minuses" that Kimmel describes about Guyland, young men tend to bond with their male peers instead of their female peers because their relationships among themselves tend to be inherently more honest.
But even if males accept the fact that they must do all the initiating and paying in relationships with females -- because females simply will not do it -- males' chariness in the face of potential long-term commitment is perfectly understandable in light of the recent track record of females' behavior. In divorces where both husband and wife have college degrees -- the vast majority of potential marriages among the population under Kimmel's discussion -- 90% are initiated by the woman. With an overall divorce rate of 50%, this basically means that, for the males of GUYLAND, investing one's life in a marriage is akin to investing all one's savings in a speculative "flyer" on the stock market. Maybe young males' reluctance to marry is not a sign of "aversion to adulthood" (p. 205), as Kimmel claims, but, instead, a sign of intelligence.
Selective Service registration and responsibility for initiating and financing male/female personal relationships are but two of many important issues for young males that Kimmel will not touch with a ten-foot pole. So it is utterly preposterous to state that he advocates on behalf of "equality" and wishes to "steer guys" in a helpful way.
So, returning to the second part of the question above and rephrasing it: Why, then, is Kimmel -- to put it bluntly -- so mean?
I have no idea and can only speculate that Kimmel's motives may have something to do with the glory that he experiences as one of America's foremost voices in public discourse on gender issues. For better or for worse, the discourse is presently dominated -- with uncompromising ferociousness -- by dogmatic feminist perspectives.
The words of author/philosopher Francis Baumli come to mind:
"These feminist men -- the squalling hysterical type -- for all their protests against male power actually garner a great deal of power for themselves by thus setting themselves up as the archetypal protectors of women and feminism. They are, in their own minds at least, and in the ranks of their (relatively few, we hope) cohorts, the alpha males. It is a parasitic status, of course, and a pathetic power. But it is real, nonetheless, and they pride and preen themselves with it, although they would be the first to deny that they are feeling power, even as they glory in it."
If Baumli is correct, then perhaps another way to characterize GUYLAND is to say it constitutes a pseudosensitive man's personal form of chest-pounding.
The power that Kimmel experiences as a thoroughgoing feminist evidently feels so rapturously intoxicating that he is even willing, in GUYLAND, to sacrifice his own son at feminism's altar. "Nine years ago," Kimmel reports, "at Zachary's naming ceremony, we each offered a wish for our newborn son. When it was my turn, I quoted the poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote 'If I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women.'" (p. xvii)
Although the story, by early 21st century standards, might seem like a sweet-little-nothing, in the context of a book about gender issues, it deserves to be examined carefully and objectively.
Although human nature is universal, we nevertheless traditionally associate certain qualities more with one sex than the other. Sometimes it is because of stereotyping, and sometimes it is because our culture tends to provide one sex with more dramatic ways to manifest certain virtues than it provides to the other sex. Kimmel himself acknowledges these differences in GUYLAND. (p. 270)
In our culture, for a variety of reasons, courage is a virtue we traditionally associate with the male sex. Zachary is male. But by quoting Adrienne Rich, Kimmel is cruelly denying for his son a strength that society affirms for Zachary, and Kimmel is claiming that to develop courage, the boy should look to the opposite sex for inspiration.
If this somehow feels "all right" for us, then it is worthwhile to pause and apply the gold standard for determining the presence or absence of gender bias: reversal. Let us imagine that, instead of naming a baby boy, Kimmel and those close to him were naming a baby girl. Imagine the reaction had Kimmel found some corresponding quotation from a male poet and invoked it on the baby's behalf: "If I could have one wish for my own daughters, it is that they should have the nurturing ability of men."
If Kimmel dared repeat the story in writing, indignant cries of "bigotry!" and "sexism!" would be heard far and wide across the land.
Indeed, in American culture today, especially in academia and among those entrusted with the formation of public policy, feminism occupies an unassailable position -- supreme and inviolate -- akin to an officially-sanctioned religion. Dissidents and would-be reformers are either coerced into silence or shown the way to society's periphery. There, any criticism they may publish about feminism -- regardless of how constructive -- more often than not gets ignored. And if some of the heretical blasphemy does wind up getting widespread attention (like Sommers's THE WAR AGAINST BOYS) and feminists must acknowledge its existence, they could hardly be more scoffing than if they were commenting on Unabomber rants.
Kimmel -- by toeing feminism's ideological line with a zeal that exceeds even that of many female acolytes -- guarantees his continuing occupancy of an exalted position in the pantheon of the feminist establishment. So, for the foreseeable future, Kimmel can safely write whatever atrocious folderol he wants with impunity -- no matter how much hurt he perpetrates against males or how much animosity and mistrust he fosters between the sexes. Indeed, the higher the barriers that Kimmel and his fellow mainstream "gender experts" construct to forefend genuine understanding in the realm of discussion that they control, the more in demand these venal rogues can assuredly find themselves in the future. Whether as status-building talking heads on TV talk shows, fee-generating members of blue-ribbon assessment panels, or authors of additional misleading books and articles -- as long as we remain in their thrall, there will be no end to their tsk-tsk-ing.
But the insanity of the present, of course, is unsustainable. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., "Life cannot be fooled."
Someday -- maybe several generations hence -- male-bashing will inevitably cease to be considered "enlightened" behavior and people will look back with aghast bewilderment at the taken-for-granted anti-male Zeitgeist of our era, of which Kimmel is a guiding light. If, at that time, someone establishes a Museum of Misandry with which to document the phenomenon, then a copy of GUYLAND will deserve to sit in its own glass display case, at the center of one of the institution's exhibit halls.
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This review is dedicated, with deep gratitude and affection, to my magnificent young friend Andrew -- one of "the guys" -- whose boundless lovingkindness and camaraderie, as much as his professional expertise, have been among the most precious gifts that life has bestowed upon my middle years. -- P.A.