Thursday, December 11, 2008

When men become boys, they pass through what Michael Kimmel calls "guyland": It's all about drinking, sex, video games, sports, music videos, shock jocks, porn, pizza, and beer. It's also, Kimmel says, about date rape, party rape, and gang bangs.

Serious and disturbing stuff. Kimmel is a sociologist and one of the leading authorities on men and masculinity. His books include Manhood in America: A Cultural History, The Politics of Manhood and Changing Men. His newest book, Guyland, is about this transition from boyhood to manhood, and it isn't pretty.

He's talking about young men, mostly white and middle class, from the ages of 16 to 26. Kimmel makes an important point: Many young men do like sports, video games, pizza, and beer. And some of them commit crimes against women.

But Kimmel doesn't seem to qualify his broad, unhappy portrait. "Guyland is the world in which young men live," he says, without qualification. Some men? Most men? Kimmel doesn't say, leaving the implication that they all pass through this unpleasant--and criminal--stage.

And here's where Kimmel really rankles: Who is responsible for boys being attracted to guyland?


His favorite example of how fathers fail their children is an anecdote about "Josh," a 21-year-old college student. Josh calls home, and his father answers. "Hey, Dad, how are you?" Josh asks. His father says, "Hold on, I'll get your mother."

That's sad. And I'm sure, in some homes, it happens. But I doubt it's common. I don't have any evidence to suggest it's rare; but my criticism of Kimmel is that he doesn't have any evidence to suggest it's frequent.

"Many dads willingly check out of their sons' lives far too soon," he says. How many?

"Their sons live out the lives that they, the dads, wish they could have lived until they turned 30." How many dads wish that?

After a description of predatory sexual behavior by high school boys who had sex with girls as young as 10, Kimmel says their mothers were outraged. But their fathers "seemed almost proud."

How many fathers were "almost proud" that their sons were having predatory sex at 10?

A friend of mine knows Kimmel and assures me that he doesn't mean to say that all boys are rapists, or anything of the sort. I don't know him; I only know his book. And I don't like it.

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