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Guyland, Michael Kimmel

2011/05/28

This particular book is a precursor to some which I have recently reviewed, in particular, it laid the groundwork for Kay Hymowitz’s “Manning Up,” and was also referenced in Whitmore’s “Why Boys Fail.” The book is prefaced with a poem harshly criticizing America’s “boys will be boys” attitude towards the irresponsible, reckless, violent, and even criminal ways that many boys express themselves throughout adolescence and carried over into early manhood. The author begins by looking at a number of college and post-collegiate young men, some hardworking and studious, some carefree and partiers and notes that most of the young men that he interviewed are educated or being educated, and come from middle to upper class families. He then describes the extended adolescence of these privileged young men, who have the luxury of no commitments, no pressing responsibilities: “Guyland is the world in which these young men live. It is both a stage of life, a liminal undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood that can often stretch for a decade or more, a place, or rather, a bunch of places where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life. In this topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary” (4).

Kimmel examines the social, cultural, and economic changes which have created the opportunity for the emergence of Guyland, pointing to the commonly accepted life-stage events which lead to adulthood: leaving home, completing education, beginning a career, marriage, and parenthood (24), and how many, possibly most, twenty-somethings and even thirty-somethings have yet to attain a majority of these milestones. This has been noted across the board in terms of gender, race, and class, but Kimmel focuses on how this has contributed to the continued appeal of Guyland, citing the attitude of “What’s the rush?” He also looks at the “guy code,” asking dozens of men, “what does it mean to be a man?” then explores how this is expressed throughout high school, college, and young adulthood. He also looks at the trappings of Guyland — games, pornography, sex — as well as the women who venture in. Finally, Kimmel looks at what happens on the other side of Guyland, when guys finally grow up and become men, and the negative repercussions of it, as well as what can be done to help them deconstruct Guyland into a healthier, empowering experience.

Some of the stories that Kimmel uncovers when interviewing teens and young adults are horrifying, and he observes that normal, regular guys are capable of both committing terrible crimes, and, through the Guy Code, the culture of loyal, complicit silence, becoming conspirators with those who commit the crimes: “the bystanders may think that they withdraw their support — by turning away, leaving the scene, or just standing stoically by — but their silence reinforces the behaviors anyway” (67). He relates stories of sexual and physical abuse, of bullying and tormenting others because of their beliefs or sexual orientations, of men who use and abuse alcohol and drugs. He reiterates the fact that by accepting these behaviors and shrugging it off by saying “boys will be boys,” we as a society are equally to blame for not only the crimes, but the loss of these young men and their potential. As parents, educators, employers, by making excuses for these guys, he argues, we are only encouraging and prolonging their stay in Guyland. This really is an excellent study of early manhood in contemporary society, and is highly recommended for those interested in the subject.

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