Thursday, March 4, 2010

Be a Man, if you Can...

Michael Kimmel is a masculinities (pro-feminist) scholar and author of Manhood in America, along with many other books, essays, articles etc. Yesterday he spoke at DePaul. He over-viewed ideas in his newest book, Guyland. The gist is this: there is a new stage of development into adulthood that occurs between ages 20 to 30. This stage is more predominant in men (hence the title Guyland). Women are more focused and knowledgeable on what they want out of life and where they see their future whereas men seem to drift into maturity without really any sense as to how they got there.

He says that this new stage of development stems from several factors. 1) Helicopter parenting—where the parents hover over their children, over-protect them, force them into over-achieving, perfectionism etc. which leads to rebellion and a later search for one’s own identity/transformation in the college age years—when there are few adults supervising any initiations into manhood.

2) We live longer these days and thus are taking our time moving into maturity—which he seems to think maturity is somehow equated with old-school ideas of marriage, children, career, but I won’t go there right now.

He says that there is a pressure cooker to prove ones masculinity. He says that to prove you are a man (this is from a sociological scholarly perspective) you must follow these rules.

1) No sissy stuff (don’t be at all feminine)
2) Be a Big Wheel (have lots of money, status etc)
3) Be a Sturdy Oak (always reliable, emotionless etc)
4) Give them Hell (aggressive, assertive etc.)

I just want to pause for a moment to ponder.

Yes. I agree there seems to be a new developmental stage. And I agree that there seems to be a crisis with masculinity; men are perhaps a little resentful that women are gaining confidence and are invading into what used to be all-male territory (law school, medical school, golf etc). And I even like the idea that Kimmel is studying the center—what we can call the default—or what’s know as the highest level of privilege—white middle class men—and he is studying the center so as to de-center it, to move us beyond this norm into something less problematic. But, can we move into this issue a little deeper.

Why do men feel the need to prove they are masculine and why are these rules still the norm for that proof? If our developmental stages are shifting why can’t there be a shift in what we consider being “a man” and being “a woman”? The biggest problems seem to exist within the ideas of proving oneself within those four rules—why can’t we change those rules?

Kimmel suggests three important ways to keep men from having a masculine crisis during the “guyland” phase of their lives:
1) Have a charismatic adult friend that gets you
2) Have close same sex friend one where you can share your deepest feelings, thoughts, ideas emotions with who can validate your masculinity
3) Have an opposite-sex close friend—so as to personalize women

Kimmel talked about a UCLA survey that has been given for 30 years. For the first couple of years there was a question that stated “If you knew you would never get caught would you rape a woman.” About 19-20% of the men answered yes. The question later changed to read, “If you knew you would never get caught would you force a woman to have sex with you.” In those 30 years 50-60% of men said yes. How fucked up is that? There is definitely a problem with masculinity in this country. And no wonder women are scared.

There was another statistic that men who are married are happier than single men, and that single women are happier than married women. Hmm. He also said that in his point of view, though there needs to be more studies done, egalitarian marriages produce the happiest people. I don’t know how they measure happiness, but it’s easy for me to believe that people living on equal terms with one another feel less pressured, less anger towards the other, and are quicker to enjoy one anothers intelligence, thoughts and ideas. Which is not only how people should behave in relationships but what they should attempt to do within themselves--find balance--a balance between that which is masculine and feminine so as to be a more complete person.

It makes the most sense, but men in particular, feel the need to hold on to something that is barely there anymore—a power that is based more on a fear of losing it than on doing anything good with it, a power that won’t make them happy because how can you be happy when you’re hurting yourself and others along the way?

Would being equal be so hard? Kimmel claims that every day we’re becoming more and more gender equal—becoming more equal—doesn’t that just sound funny? Can one really be “more equal”—it reminds me of Animal Farm—“we are all equal, just some are more equal than others.” And I guess, right now, that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be.

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