Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men Hardcover – Aug 19 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
To a growing list of books about the myths and mysteries of American boys and young males, Kimmel, a sociologist and author of Manhood In America, adds this deft exploration grounded in research. Based on more than 400 interviews, over a four-year span, with young men ages 16–26, Kimmel's study shows that the guys who live in Guyland are mostly white, middle-class, totally confused and cannot commit to their relationships, work or lives. 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. Obsessed with never wanting to grow up, this demographic, which is 22 million strong, craves video games, sports and depersonalized sexual relationships. In the end, Kimmel offers a highly practical guide to male youth. (Sept.)
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“[A] deft exploration grounded in research....Kimmel offers a highly practical guide to male youth.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Engaging...provocative....The book raises important questions....A useful, highly readable overview of an important social phenomenon.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Michael Kimmel’s Guyland could save the humanity of many young men-and the sanity of their friends and parents-by explaining the forces behind a newly extended adolesence. With accuracy and empathy, he names the problem and offers compassionate bridges to adulthood.” (Gloria Steinem)
“Just as Reviving Ophelia introduced readers to the culture of teenage girls, Guyland takes us to the land of young men.” (Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia)
“An absolute bombshell of a book. A disturbing, but mandatory wake-up call for all of us who are boys, love boys or raise boys.” (Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids)
Kimmel calls on us all to see the boy in the pseudo-man, to break the silence with which we surround them, and do what it takes to help them grow into real men.” (Arlie Hochschild, author of The Second Shift, The Time Bind, and The Commercialization of Intimate Life)
“For anyone who has ever longed to know what’s really going on in a young man’s life, rejoice: Guyland is a compassionate, unflinching dispatch from deep in the heart of young masculinity. Required reading for people who raise, teach, and love guys.” (Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in GirlsRachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls)
“Every parent who is about to write a check for college tuition should read this book first and discuss it with his or her son...and daughter.” (Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys)
“Guyland takes up where Real Boys left off...a must-read for parents, teachers, coaches, young women who are so confused by the guys in their midst-and for guys themselves who yearn to break free of unwritten rules that leave them half a man, rather than a whole person.” (William Pollack, author of Real Boys)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What I don't appreciate is the shaming tone of the writing and the antiquated definition of a grown man. Marriage and children are not the only barometers for maturity. And as much as the bullies need to be held responsible for the violence they cause, "guys" including said bullies also need more real-life, healthy role-models and real compassion. The violence that erupts in boys most likely has very long roots. Think about it. Most boys are steered clear out of their feeling at about age 5 with the classic statement, "big boys don't cry!" and goes on from there. Factor in that boys receive less quality attention in general than their girl counterparts and the messages in popular culture and it's no surprise they're acting out.
I was also very disappointed that a little less than one-fifth of the book towards the end was dedicated to solutions. I've also got to believe that there are more stories of kids, like myself, who have led great alternative lives to "guyland" and who've never set foot on a sports team or a fraternity. I tried a number of times to enter these social groups in high school and college and simply found that their company was just not very entertaining.
My one small solution for helping guys in guyland and mankind in general is attending Men's Groups in the style of Robert Bly. I discovered my Men's Group in college in 1991 and have been attending them ever since. It's amazing what kind of support, learning, and healing can happen when few men meet twice a month to just talk about what's going on in their lives. In these groups I've met men who became the role models I'd longed for in my youth. In these groups I exorcised the many fears I had about wether I was "man" enough.
Principal among them was the desire to have more platonic affection with men, ie hugs. It took me a few years of groups to really let go of both the shame of desiring the warm embraces and fully letting in the pleasure it brought me. (For the record I am heterosexual)
As a full grown adult I hope to bring this compassionate awareness to other young men and let them know that being a man is a whole lot more than being successful with money and women and avoiding acting "gay." Hopefully someone can write that book.
A few of my observations are listed below:
1. As a social-science researcher I, too, wish that Kimmel would have been more specific in detailing his methodology. Those criticizing his research design, lack of comments about about Human Subjects committees, etc, could make the same claim for MANY other research-based books that don't want to bore the average reader this information. It is quite common for those conducting sociological research in more unexplored areas to use qualitative designs - those that just provide observations on a particular group of people. This doesn't make them unscientific, however we should be careful not to generalize these findings to all groups of young men. Kimmel does state early on that most of his observations were about young white middle-class men. Some readers and social-science researchers might like to know a little more about what he actually did. The book in many ways is a phenomenological study that has some limitations, but also much to consider. The "mapping" he has produced is a good starting point for further research.
2. Although this book might describe the majority of white young men, there was little noted about the exceptions to the problems. There are young men out there who live differently...who aren't getting drunk every weekend, hooking up with a different sorority girl each weeknight, or playing video games until 4 in the morning. How do we explain what's going on with them? Probably beyond the scope of the book but readers shouldn't give up complete hope on young men...there are some who are making different choices than those described in the book.
3. Some may criticize the fact that the book lacked Solutions. However, I don't think this was the intent of Kimmel's book. Actually, I would have been disappointed if Kimmel's last chapter was something to the effect of - "Kimmel's 10 steps to better manhood." This is a complex sociological, psychological, economic, educational, family, and dare I suggest, spiritual problem. Solutions won't come from one man or woman, but rather groups of interested parties who are willing to put their jobs and reputations on the line to push for changes in how we interact with boys and young men.
As a 30-something guy who has experienced much of what Kimmel wrote about, I found the book a little spooky. Were his observations about today's young men or did he pull out some data from the years I was in college? At moments, I wondered if Kimmel was writing about my experiences as a fraternity member and college athlete in the early 90's. His observations are not just about today's generation... much of this has been happening for decades. However, the "conspiracy of silence" Kimmel talks has kept many men in the closet about what we experienced or in denial... defensive and pissed off when someone attempts to provide a different understanding of the experience.
Potential readers should be warned. If you think everything is great in Guyland - that American young men are in perfect shape (emotionally, spiritually and physically) with no need to change and you aren't open to reading about patterns of behavior, that are troubling in the least, then don't bother reading this book.
However, if you're like me, someone who's trying to make sense of the young men in your lives - personally or professionally - then this is a must read. More importantly, I think this is a book that people should read with their spouses, colleagues and in the classroom as a way to promote discussion on a very important topic.
This is all established psycho-babble thanks to "Real Boys" and "Raising Cain" and "Reviving Ophelia" (trendsetters that all are mentioned in this work), but Mr. Kimmel takes us from the merely melodramatic to the outrageously insane: to defeat the culture of entitlement (it is true that white middle-class males are all incredibly spoiled), the culture of silence (no one likes a rat, right?), and the culture of protection (is society too tolerant of the misbehavior of males?) that help to spawn the nefarious bleak world that is Guyland, Mr. Kimmel proposes massive school, family, and government intervention. Mr. Kimmel accepts that a large part of urban youth cynicism has to deal with the flagrant irresponsibility and crass greed of America's political and financial elite, and so why would he argue that much of the answer is giving more power to authority figures to dictate how our youth think and behave? The thinking in "Guyland" is just as contorted and confused as the writing.
But on other hand, should all men devote their entire lives to work, work, work to provide for their families as soon as they step out of college for good? Maybe they start wearing neat, well-pressed suits with neckties around the house even in middle of the summer? Then the future generations to come will live happily ever after. :P
Seriously, most kids will always find their entrance into adulthood daunting. That is normal and natural, of course. And they will always find "temporary" sanctuary in lots of pizza, beer, video games, sports, and pretty girls before they are able to take on the responsibilities and demands of adulthood. BUT! -
First, NOT all young men can be squeezed into the culture's current "ideal" mold of what a "real" man should be: a selfless, well-built "Mr. Mom" gentleman with an impressive-looking McMansion housing an IMAX-sized home theater, two gigantic SUVs with all the bells and whistles to keep kids entertained, two well-behaved dogs in the park-like backyard with a mammoth-sized swimming pool, etc. by age 30 or younger any more than a woman can "have it all."
Second, men aren't "required" to get married or have kids these days, let alone have a girlfriend if they aren't interested. And of course, women aren't just baby machines waiting for "Mr. Right" to one day come along and cater to their personal needs, either.
Finally, men can have any kind of interest they like: video gaming, football, Transformers, My Little Pony, anime, even porn, anything - as long as these hobbies don't seriously interfere with a guy's personal life, work, relationships, marriage, parenthood, health, etc., of course.
That aside, boys and young men all need positive role models/messages about their approaching manhood that will not give them a "discouraging" view of the future as well as freedom to be themselves against the staggering (and even lethal) pressure to be "manly" through drinking contests, hazing rituals, and womanizing in college as well as gay-shaming, "toughing it out", and remaining silent when a woman is sexually attacked by one of the so-called "guy" friends - for the sake of "brotherhood", of course. :P
Guyland, by Dr. Michael Kimmel, offers a promise of such understanding, but does not deliver.
Reviewing books like Guyland is challenging because one has to not only analyze their claims, but also the context in which they are written in light of current cultural attitudes surrounding young men. We can and will quickly enter emotionally-loaded territory in the race element, so I will avoid the petulant bickering that is currently poisoning identity politics. Approaching this book with an open mind, as suggested by other reviews here on Amazon, does not mean that the science and data behind the book are above scrutiny.
Let's first do a quick overview of the thesis. According to Kimmel, young men aged 16 to 26 experience extended adolescence according to a debaucherous fraternity subculture. Kimmel speaks of this "Guyland" as if it is a territory, but the parallels go only as far as to say that Guyland is governed by a malevolent "Guy Code" that allegedly perpetuates hyper-masculine flavors of peer pressure and the Bystander Effect. Outside of that, Guyland has no observable borders or governance structure—although Kimmel appears to believe that both are present in the form of a nebulous social system. The text's message captures the imagination of concerned parents everywhere by saying that insecure, codependent or naive young men (and women) gravitate to Guyland in an attempt to "fit in" with the wrong "almost-men."
Kimmel defines collegiate masculinity almost entirely in terms of the frat boy, as opposed to the average student. Kimmel admits near the beginning that "most guys aren't bad, they just know bad guys," but apparently this minority of bad guys are still universally influential in everyone's adolescence. Again, Kimmel never draws borders for Guyland. This bizarre scope is never justified, yet I suspect Kimmel uses it because it fits with the popular and unhealthy notion that masculinity is predatory, privileged, entitled or hedonistic.
In many ways Kimmel appeals to the concerned parent in a way that for some reason reminds me of Jack Thompson. Kimmel suggests that video games, sports and radio, create "spaces" where men can retreat from women (pg. 127; 134; 143; 151; 161). and that women's beauty or independence either provokes men into violent retaliation (pg. 229) or strips them of any desire to grow up (pg. 31). These wild speculations are only easy to swallow because of Kimmel's ability to appear both concerned and open.
The book shows no evidence that the examples of corrupted masculinity cited therein are anything more than picked cherries designed to sell broader speculations. Also, nowhere in the book does Kimmel ask perfectly reasonable questions like "Do young men lash out because they feel misunderstood?", "Do young men withdraw because video games are easier that dealing with the pressures we unknowingly place on them?" or "Why do some young men confuse recklessness with adulthood?" Instead, Kimmel presumes on the character of young men in particular—women never face any constructive criticism at all—and spreads a new flavor of the tired meme that masculinity enforces gender roles and a power structure, all at the expense of women, minorities, children and the kind of man Kimmel imagines as worthy of designation as an adult. Does Kimmel ever give a nod of recognition to young men who take their studies seriously and compare their future social influence to that of Guyland? No. Apparently the future philanthropist playboy is no match for the Stifmeister-types in Kimmel's dystopian fantasy.
To be fair, Kimmel has decades of activity in his background regarding masculinity. However, unlike a scientist, Kimmel speculates, then seeks confirmation. He does not discuss many contraindicators to Guyland as a meme (such as women's social influence through the April 4th directive by the Department of Education--Please study that, it affects everyone), which suggests to me that Kimmel manufactured the context such that critics look wrong, even if they are not.
The powers of Guyland seem to change according to Kimmel's topic. How can a subculture of men be reckless enough to literally drink themselves to death, powerful enough to impose a way of life, and still weak enough to lose all of their influence when a man or woman decides they have nothing to prove to frat boys? The power structure makes no sense!
Kimmel haphazardly substantiates his meme with a heap of selected anecdotes and limited data sets begging for additional context. I cannot help but think that Kimmel's years of experience went to cherry-picking, but I suppose that won't hurt book sales so long as he beguiles the public with his trendy "social scientist" title.
Guyland is a meme that is now required reading in many masculinity studies courses, which, in my view, are not mature or stable enough in terms of peer-review to constitute quality science. Guyland is a product of an academic counter-culture that is only a few decades old, and so far I see little more than speculative texts of the same tone.
Given my experience in social activism and my readings in both epistemology and political science, Guyland is only a pertinent text without the necessary gravity to live beyond the ideological forces that merely wish it's truth into being. It is a beneficiary of the Woozle effect, given the major in-group bias evidence in the list of citations. I could go on, but I suggest to everyone here that they read Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies (ISBN-10: 0739104551) to learn the methodology and biases behind books like Guyland.
I assume that you, the reader, want to understand men. Excellent! But if you read this book, do not think you have digested anything remotely representative of the adolescent male experience. This is a book that sells a message to people who already took a side. If you want to know young men, go get to know some without letting this book install a filter into your head that teaches you to ignore and disrespect the cool young men who have an amazing future.