That’s What She Read: Guyland by Michael Kimmel
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 07:02
When I was in Kenya over interim, we held a female-only discussion with local Maasai about women’s issues, and at the end we asked if they had any questions for us. After much conversation about female circumcision, they asked: when do we know when a girl has become a woman?
We struggled to pinpoint the exact moment when a person reaches adulthood. In our culture where youth is so idolized, it makes sense that people want to stay young for as long as possible, but what does that mean for our generation?
In the terminology of growing up, girls become women and boys become men. But recently, the terms of adolescence have stretched to include a new step for males – being guys. In Guyland, sociologist Michael Kimmel uses his experience interviewing hundreds of 16 – 26-year-olds to determine the parameters of “the perilous world where boys become men.” He outlines the inhabitants that populate guyland and the guy-code they live by, which serves as an ideological precursor to the maturity expected of manhood.
It wasn’t always this way – adolescence used to cover the two years in between childhood and adulthood – but now it has stretched so far that occupying your time with sports, video games and porn is the norm for anyone between puberty and late-twenties. Jobs and responsibility are forgone in favor of not settling down; relationship commitment is sacrificed for hyper-sexualized porn and hook-up culture. There are things so engrained into campus culture that we’ve stopped questioning them – walks-of-shame, fraternity rituals, athlete idolization. There exists, in this guyland, a sort of Peter Pan-attitude, where growing up and leaving Neverland is to be avoided at all costs.
Obviously, no cultural movement happens in a vacuum. Parents, popular culture and, particularly, girls (or women) all have their own roles in this world. Kimmel covers how our entire generation exists intertwined with guyland—we’ve all seen female classmates who sacrifice their relationship expectations and play into the hook-up game. Or, alternatively, when girls try to beat the guys at their own game by acting like “bros” and attempting to drink them under the table. As Kimmel points out, neither of these are ideal; in fact, the existence of guyland doesn’t seem to benefit most people involved. So why does it exist?
Kimmel tackles this topic in a methodical and engaging way. He does not take the opportunity to condescend to our generation, but to understand and inform. There are times when he gets a bit caught up in statistics, but on the whole this book offers a fresh perspective on the behavior we’ve normalized. The sociology study reads less like research and more like friends sitting around sharing “This one person I know…” stories. In fact, these stories may be your own – there’s even a student quoted from Lafayette.