Guyland: A divisive rhetoric of stereotypical privileged behavior
Michael Kimmel’s Guyland is a theoretical exploration into the social constructs of the concepts of masculinity and youth culture in America. Guyland is a conceptual world that praises all aspects of brotherhood, irresponsible sexual ventures, overconsumption, and the unwavering allegiance to all fellow “bros” in the world of Guyland. The book focuses on a niche of the guy culture that allows the reader to be hypercritical of the predominantly white college-aged male featured. The males that are introduced seem to be stuck grasping for eternal youth that mirrors the behavior of hypersexualized prepubescent children. Kimmel throughout the book alludes to the fact that American culture allows guys to never have to become men by excusing their behavior by adapting the age-old saying “boys will be boys” to “guys will be guys.” The “guy” is enabled by those around him and allowed to just be- free of responsibility for their actions and without repercussion for not maintaining obligation. Guyland is a figurative world that in actuality is a domain that gives these guys comfort in the praise they receive for the very behavior that would be looked down upon by the world that they are so adamantly avoiding. The book is a conflicting summary of modern masculinity and explores the tasks that each guy has to go through in order to fit in and receive validation from their fellow guys. The world of Guyland represents duality in multiple ways because Guyland is a safe space but is also hypercritical when upholding the image of masculinity. Kimmel explains that in order to alleviate the damage done by Guyland, society needs to face the culture where the “guy” becomes the over masculine man with compassion and understanding. Guyland is extremely toxic to the main culture in America but the book shows how the constant enabling of these types of guys contributes to a much bigger picture that can be alleviated by just paying more attention.
Evaluation of the Book
Guyland is very peculiar in the way it presents its story. Kimmel is a mastermind in the way he crafts the realm of Guyland- that is modeled after a specific set of young men. The main problems with the perspective that Kimmel gives is that it is very generalizing and comes across as applicable to all guys. The book is very informative and extremely capable of inspiring change the main point is muddled somewhere between the escapades of the guys and the overall horrible culture of Guyland. Kimmel attempts to expose the heteronormative social adaptations of the young men that identify themselves as being a part of the brotherhood and he does just that. There are specific chapters of the book that are cringe-worthy because even though the world is one that is theoretical the actions of the characters seem so real. There is a sociological confine that can make most readers try and pass the book off for just being a work of fiction instead of a political and social tool that can create change in society. Kimmel does a great job at conveying that even though he is the messenger he does not agree with the behaviors of the characters in Guyland. The literature is filled with documentation of gang rapes and sexual assaults that stem from the protective circle that engorges younger males with a false sense of entitlement. There were many things that could have been done better like instead of the general rhetoric that envelops the last chapters Kimmel could have formed a definitive solution to the problem. He claims that it is up to the individuals to make the change for the masses but he fails to arm the reader with anything but a deluded “call to action” without any of the necessary tools or steps to take to make an actual change. That notion is what separates this good book called Guyland from a potentially excellent book that offered actual solutions to the problems Kimmel was so passionate about.
Reaction and Application
Reading Guyland reminded me of what jock culture was like in high school. It is an amazing perspective to be able to think that for a very brief moment I could have been the token black kid in the world of an actual Guyland. The fraternization of boys that participated in sports was very judgmental and it- like in Guyland, was centered on who was stronger, who can be considered the alpha in the pack, who slept with the most girls or who had the hottest girlfriend. I of course never fit in because I refused to be ill tempered toward individuals that were not like me. The bully culture of high school hallways extending into pseudo adulthood is exactly the type of guy that would fit into Guyland. Just like book being affluent is simply not enough to join the circle it takes commitment and a willingness to conform to the standards set by the group. Constant hazing and making fun of each other is the way that these very guys I went to school with showed their affection for their friends. It would be considered “gay” to actually tell a guy friend that you care about them so instead the behavior that they exhibit is the only way that they can safely display their attention. I experienced firsthand the “guy code” and learned all of the ways not to break it but the confines of the code are so strict it removes any personal choice or individuality. The jocks are a unit and they move, act and feel as a team and the walls of their circle can be at times impenetrable because they have rule over their domain. They are not held accountable and rarely experienced any discipline because their parents were funding parts of the school and it was something that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with. It all felt so wrong not being able to be myself without fear of being outcast from the group of guys that are supposed to be your friends. The environment is as superficial and as fragile as the very masculinity that they are trying to preserve.
Men have historically never done anything that their entire gender has to answer for. American culture has primed generation after generation of men that have not had to be accountable for many of the things that they do, but more so held extremely accountable for how they are perceived. To say that being born a man in America is a benefit would simply put be an understatement. Although, it can be considered a benefit, many young boys and men are held to standards of traditional masculinity that has had detrimental effects on our society. The American man is hyper masculine and the American boy is raised believing that the only emotion he is allowed to experience is anger. What are the external factors that allow male children to become boys that grow up to be “guys?”
Many years of research has been conducted on where do boys learn to act like boys and the answer has never anything less than their social environment. Sociologists believe that gender is a social construct that was developed by humans. This ideology is an elaboration on the social learning theory coined by Albert Bandura. A form this theory that has now been documented by empirical evidence is a modern construct that explains how and why boys police each other’s masculinity (Reigeluth, C. S., & Addis, M. E., 2016). The concept of policing gender norms is considerably destructive towards esteem by using insults that are homophobic in nature because according to adolescent males being gay or exhibiting “gay behavior” is the antithesis of what it means to be a man in America (Reigeluth, C. S., & Addis, M. E., 2016). The bullying starts early and never actually dissipates but merely evolves into hateful and bigoted manhood. Exploring why such behavior is necessary leads to a theoretical dead-end because the enforcers that are upholding this ideal of masculinity are aware that their behavior is ill-advised but boys are consistently not held accountable for their actions. Social learning is an imperative in the survival of modern masculinity.
When boys become teenagers they are met with an entirely new set of rules to prove themselves to their peers. Modern film within the last few years has thrived off of exposing the bonds that men create with each other because those very bonds are oxymoronic and paradoxical in nature. Heterodoxy is the concept of being heterosexual and affectionate within specific confines that are opposed to but for the tradition of heteronormativity (Brook, H., 2015). The movie The Hangover (2009) one of the highest grossing films of that year and it was centered on a group bromance that was overwhelmingly heteronormative in its consistent display of sexism and homophobia. The main men that were portrayed in the film were exclusively upper-middle class white men that made grandeur displays of their complete lack of fear for consequences (Brook, H., 2015). There is a contemporary concern with what being a real man is and the development of kinship is extremely evident when analyzing modern media and the portrayal of men. The very same way teenagers are policing each other’s masculinity, mainstream media gives young boys examples on how men are supposed to act and the men that do not meet those standards are unappealing to women and outcast.
“White men have set the standards for hegemonic masculinity that all others are expected to abide. In their pursuit of hegemonic masculinity, Black men internalize the supposed power of White men and in turn attempt to construct an ideology of an acceptable male existence. Regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious background, basic human needs are safety, food, shelter, clothing, sex, and acceptance as shown by a sense of belonging (Totten, P., 2015).”
Belonging has historically been difficult for black men in America because the system of what it means to be a man in America was constructed around white privilege. If modern masculinity is considered to be fragile, then black masculinity is no stronger than an eggshell. Social expectations are very destructive to the self-image of black men. When speaking about violence against women like domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, it is never just a man problem if the assailant is black (Totten, P., 2015). It becomes a conversation about the sub culture and what is wrong with black men instead of exploring why “according to the World Health Organization, physical and sexual violence against women by domestic partners produces female victims at a rate of more than 70%”. Masculinity is almost solely based on power and the control over others you gain from power. Power according to Totten comes with a solid foundation of identity. Black men unlike their white counterparts do not possess a strong sense of identity. The media paints black men as aggressive, physically strong and hyper sexual- that is the identity that they are given. Black fraternity culture is extremely similar to the culture that white fraternity students are notorious for but black students stick to stricter confines of masculinity because of the lacking sense of identity. Homosexuality is not tolerated in many black fraternities and neither is weakness (Totten, P., 2015). They stick to meeting all the stereotypes of fraternity life including sexual prowess.
“Social expectations that males utilize physical strength as the primary tool to triumph over an adversary combined with expectancies of multiple sexual conquests are powerful concepts that may perhaps lead to impertinence towards women with whom they are sexually involved (Totten, P., 2015).”
Men’s violence against women is not a race problem fueled by the hyper-aggressive and overtly sexual nature stereotyped by modern media. Men are just overall more violent against women and is empirically backed by the World Health Organization. When looking at the statistics it can be very easy to muddle the information that they provide but it clearly states that men a twice as likely to be violent than women. Researchers that have finally began to explore the problem provide that “male hormones coupled with societal influence creates an aggression in men that leads to gendered disparities (Fleming, P. J., Gruskin, S., Rojo, F., & Dworkin, S. L., 2015).”
Looking further into how the problem of male violence due to a hyper masculine culture can be remedied can be a great place to start for additional research. Boys are exposed to masculine standards from early on and are policed by their peers to abide by these so called “man laws.” Then those very boys grow up with a consistent standard set by the media that shows them how real men are supposed to act. Affluence and a lack of accountability contributes further into the expectation of a constant display of fraternization and “bro standards” that cultivates a young man that is never expected to really grow up. Lack of display of emotions causes internal aggression that later in life causes violence against women and interpersonal violence and much higher rates than women. Ultimately, this pattern of upbringing and enforcement cultivates eternal guys that never mature to be men.
Brook, H. (2015). Bros before Ho(mo)s: Hollywood Bromance and the Limits of Heterodoxy. Men And Masculinities, 18(2), 249–266. doi:10.1177/1097184X15584913
Fleming, P. J., Gruskin, S., Rojo, F., & Dworkin, S. L. (2015). Men’s violence against women and men are inter-related: Recommendations for simultaneous intervention. Social Science & Medicine, 146249–256. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.10.021
Reigeluth, C. S., & Addis, M. E. (2016). Adolescent boys’ experiences with policing of masculinity: Forms, functions, and consequences. Psychology Of Men & Masculinity,17(1), 74–83. doi:10.1037/a0039342
Totten, P. (2015). A Man Should Never Eat a Pickle in Public.Creative Approaches To Research, 8(2), 4.