Michael Kimmel, a leading sociologist and scholar in the study of masculinity, recently released his new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. In his latest work, Kimmel investigates "Guyland," a new development stage in young men's lives that encompasses the years from 16 to 26, where young men experience a prolonged adolescence filled with excessive partying, promiscuity, and aimlessness.
As some of you might know, I studied Gender studies in university and am a big geek for this kind of stuff. So I was naturally very interested, especially because I think that men as a whole have not had the same opportunity to critically examine their gender and masculinity as women, to some extent, have been able to do through the various feminist, anti-patriarchy, and women's liberation movements.
I had the opportunity to attend a book reading/signing with Kimmel in New York City this week and after listening to him speak, I was left with several questions as to this supposed "Guyland" and how it effects and relates to the gay community.
I haven't actually read the entire book... which probably would prove helpful. But I've taken the liberty of summarizing Kimmel's presentation last night, and to arrange my thoughts after the jump. Be forewarned it's a bit long, but I think it'll be a great launching pad for discussion. I hope y'all will take the time and read it and respond! I'm very anxious to see what everyone else has to say!
Summary and Comments after the jump...
Men (he disclaims that his research is primarily inquiring into the lives of predominantly white, straight, middle-class, college educated men although he also interviewed many men across racial, ethnic, and sexual orientational lines) are experiencing a new stage in the developmental process, roughly between the ages of 16-26, where they leave the rigid and structured lives under their parental supervision and into the completely unsupervised lives as "guys" during college and onward. In this "precarious world where boys become men," we have 19 year olds telling 18 year olds how to be men, "and that can't go very well." Guyland is dominated by excessive drinking, "bros before hos" brotherhood mentality, and a pervading need to "keep up" with the imagined excesses of one's peers (be it "hooking up", consuming alcohol/drugs, partying, etc.).
Kimmel also relates this development to women's relative rise in social standing and their supposed "equality." Because women are involved in almost every area in these men's lives (administration, their classrooms, academia, student organization) and are often running circles around and surpassing them, these men retreat into the safety of the brotherhood of Guyland and drift through their studies, merely passing classes but without a great sense of direction in their lives.
Women are also forced to navigate Guyland by conforming to certain expectations. In many universities, fraternities are the only Greek organizations permitted to have access to beer/alcohol at their parties, which puts them in decisive power over women's social lives. Kimmel also cites documented instances of traumatic sorority rituals called "Circle the fat" where incoming pledges are made to strip to their underwear, blindfold themselves, and lay on the floor while fraternity brothers humiliate and use permanent markers to circle the parts of their bodies deemed "needing work." So in some ways, women are forcing each other to comport their bodies into shapes that enable them entree into Guyland.
Guys drift from colleges into what Kimmel names "serial jobonomy," or the constant employment in dead end jobs with little to no momentum or aspirations. Desiring to continue the party regimen of their college years, these Guys are unable to find themselves meaning in their work or their shallow social lives. These years result in a stagnation of emotional and social development, as they continue to live in apartments after graduation with the same group of college friends, partaking in the same college antics of Guyland. Kimmel claims that most men tend to phase out of Guyland by their mid to late twenties either through recommitment to their careers, relationships, families, etc.
On one hand I really appreciate Kimmel's research into the development of masculinity in these formational (or rather, non-formational) years in young men's lives. I think that men on a whole have never had the opportunity to really discuss or critically think about gender as women have been able to, through the various women's lib, feminist, and anti-patriarchy movements.
However, I am a little disappointed with Kimmel's focus on almost exclusively white male middle class men. While a study in hegemony is helpful, I, personally, am more interested in how more fringe groups deal with or navigate this "guyland."
Kimmel talked briefly about this:
In regards to the culture of "Hooking Up", Black and Latino men tended not to follow the same Guyland cultural scripts as many of their white male counterparts when in communities where they were numerically weak. However, this seems to change in high minority communities like Howard University and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where black men do engage in more Guyland-esque behavior. The reasoning behind this is that when there are fewer black people in their communities, black men are reluctant to engage in similar Guyland behavior with their "sisters" for fear of getting a negative reputation in a relatively small pool of potential partners. These nonwhite men are similarly constrained from participating with their white friends and seeking white female partners for fear of reprise from their nonwhite male peers.
Kimmel found that Asian men and Christian students did not engage in similar scripts, but rather followed more traditional "dating" behaviors. (Although, why this is is not particularly well expounded upon. I would contend that Asian men suffer from a pervasive sexual racism that exists which labels them as unmasculine, undersirable, poorly endowed, asexual beings. I remember reading a study on Asian students at Duke University that found that Asian women enjoyed relatively unencumbered social mobility where dating behavior was concerned. But Asian men were chiefly confine to other Asian women for partners. Couple this with significant cultural and family pressure to continue the family line, especially an Asian family line, it is no wonder that Asian men are more likely to seek Asian women in a more long-term marriage/nuclear-family arrangement).
More so, I am concerned with Kimmel's assertion that the most viable exit/salvation from "this perilous world" is through a return or adherence to the pervading script of the heterosexual, nuclear family structure. While Kimmel was quick to acknowledge that the form of the family does not equate the content of the family, there still seems to be a heavy emphasis on the raising of children and the seeking of capitalistic status and stability through attainment of wealth and career as the fundamental components of "manhood."
I also am keenly interested at how this supposed "Guyland" effects gay men. Is there a GayGuyland? A Fayland, as it were?
My own experiences lend me to believe that a Fayland, if even possible, would only be viable in an environment with a certain critical mass of gay men. So, if Fayland were to exist, it could only be created in gay-enclaves, most likely centered around urban areas and larger schools where the sheer size of the institutions would mean a large enough contingent of queer men to sustain such a community. Also, given the relatively late sexual awakening in many gay men (some well into their college careers, where most heterosexual men have been sexually aware/active since their high school and middle school days), it would seem to suggest that Fayland would have a longer and more fuzzy beginning and end, perhaps extending from one's 20s to their mid to late 30s or beyond.
Some of Kimmel's findings definitely seem to relate to Fayland... Gay men, especially in gay enclaves definitely become engrossed in this extended adolescence characterized by promiscuity, excessive drinking and drug use, partying, bar crawling, etc. But additionally, Gay men also seem to exhibit many of the qualities of women navigating Guyland, with an obsession on one's body and weight, up-to-date fashion, a need to exhibit an "effortless perfection."
So, has Fayland created a double vice for gay men: caught between the privilege of a gay brotherhood of endless fun and excess, while simultaneously being the cause of their own victimhood to the endless self-policing of body image and weight issues? And what, then is our saving grace, our escape from Fayland? Is it the eventual obsolescence of our beauty that forces us to become "serious" and resign to "manhood?" How does the newfound prospect of legitimacy through marriage/civil unions as an escape from Fayland? Is the replication of heterosexual family models a viable answer to this prolonged adolescence?
Please let me know what you think! I'd love to engage in a real conversation about these topics!
I received an email from Michael Kimmel, the author himself in regards to this very post and our conversations. He's given me the permission to post his email here so that he might become more involved in our conversations here:
I appreciate your thoughts about my book. I considered the question of "Gayland," or "Fayland" and actually do talk about it. And I do not ghettoize the discussion of gay boys, but make it foundational. After all, I consider homophobia the foundation of heterosexual masculinity, so the question of homosociality, and, of course, homoeroticism figure qUite prominently throughout. At the end of the book, I argue that gender non-conforming guys are actually the true heroes of the book (P. 271). I hope when you've actually read it you'll see that many of your concerns are addressed. Yes, studies of hegemony are useful, but they're best when they also consider those upon whose backs that hegemony is built.