Michael Kimmel has just written a book called, “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men,” and from the reviews I’ve read, it sounds right on the money. Kimmel basically propogates the theory that young men in America aged 16-25 “fiercely defind their right to an extended adolescence” – an extension that is making them entirely miserable.
In the 1950s, over two thirds of American men had, by the age of 30, “completed their educations, left home, started work, married, and fathered at least one child.” Less than a third of men in the U.S. can make the same claim today. Basically, Kimmel is saying that all of the social and economic changes of the past half-century have isolated men – pushing them into a defensive & unified position, where they huddle together until the last possible moment. Feeling backed into a corner by the relatively recent shifts in the power balance between men and women, fighting to regain some of the 17% drop in their wages (for men aged 25-34) since 1971, guys are trying to figure out what their collective “new identity” is. They no longer feel safe and comfortable in their role as “Top”, “Breadwinner”, “Rock of the family”, etc., so they spend their youth performing their version of strong, masculine heterosexuality for each other. In other words, according to Kimmel, they spend much of their young lives trying to prove “constantly and repeatedly that [they’re] not gay.”
This group identity crisis has resulted in a lot of dangerous and reprehensible behavior, however, such as binge drinking, gay bashing, and date rape – all under the header “boys will be boys”. There isn’t much recognition of the fact, however, that taking away someone’s right to say “no!” is NEVER an acceptable or appropriate adolescent right of passage. These guys aren’t only damaging themselves, they’re hurting everyone around them.
I think that, as women, we need to support these guys. I don’t mean we should support the ridiculous performances and posturing that can lead to violent and disturbing behaviors, but rather we should look towards confirming our guy’s masculinity. We get so focused on the women’s revolution, and on wanting to overcome centuries of being oppressed – rightly so! – that we lose sight of the need for BALANCE. The guys need the help and the support just as much as we do, and maybe if we could occassionally confirm that need, we’d see a little less of this craziness.