Guyland and faces in tree bark

I am a 24 year old male college student who dedicates a lot of time working with men who want more than anything to be understood. During my time as an activist specializing in male college students, I’ve worked with students from New York University, New Mexico Tech, Fordham Lincoln Center, Georgia State University, Queen’s University, Madison Area Technical College and Bangor University—to name a few. Since then I’ve started Zen Men, LLC (formerly KSU Men, CSO), a nationally-recognized men’s rights organization that specializes in male students.

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men deserves special mention in my reading list because it speaks to my target demographic of male students aged 16 to 26. Recently I met the author, masculinity studies academician Dr. Michael Kimmel.

Kimmel’s Guyland is a pertinent addition to a sensationalized conversation where school shootings, Greek life and aggressive promiscuity are the lions, tigers and bears of collegiate masculinity. The thesis is that young men experience extended adolescence as dictated by a debaucherous fraternity subculture called “Guyland.” Guyland is a territory of sorts, but only insofar that it is governed by the malevolent “Guy Code” preaching stoicism to bros before hos.

In Guyland, calling a young man a “pussy” or a “faggot” is enough to make him drink himself to death, assault women, trivialize crimes against minorities, or retreat to a land of video games, sports and porn (pg. 127; 134; 143; 151; 161). Insecure, codependent or naive young men and women gravitate to Guyland in an attempt to fit in with the wrong “almost-men,” a term Kimmel comfortably borrows from Michael Kaufman on page 179.

Guyland guys are somehow both reckless enough to invite alcohol poisoning and powerful enough to derail adolescence. On the other hand, Kimmel suggests that defeating Guyland means not trying to “prove” one’s masculinity. It would be excellent if the book’s only suggestion was to avoid peer pressure, but conjecture pads the pages. Ultimately, the text appears to be something other than a road map to adulthood, let alone a product of the scientific method.

Guyland defines collegiate masculinity almost entirely in terms of Greek life fraternities, which causes me to suspect selection bias in Kimmel’s surveys. Kimmel admits near the beginning that “most guys aren’t bad, they just know bad guys,” but apparently this minority of bad guys are still universally influential in adolescence—until people ignore them.

As someone in Kimmel’s subject age bracket, I think that Kimmel is perpetuating the sadly popular notion that collegiate masculinity is predatory, irresponsible, privileged, entitled or hedonistic. A written statement to this effect is that women’s independence disincentivizes men from growing up (pg. 31), apparently in the same world where women’s sexuality is a reward for men who grow up in their relationships! I recall in Kimmel’s recent speech that men would have more sex if they supported gender equality in relationships. The subtle irony of describing angry white male entitlement while using women’s sexuality as an object of control in the same speech appears lost on most.

Kimmel posits numerous negative effects of Guyland, citing data as if to suggest that his selection of surveys are predictors of what men want. In doing so, Kimmel casts social phenomenon typical of adolescents—such as peer pressure and unwarranted entitlement—and makes them appear male. If in any case Kimmel admits that vices are not exclusively male, his only criticisms to women involve their holding up a male power structure with “guy-like” behaviors, namely hazing.

My personal frustration with Kimmel using picked cherries to represent young men aside, do note that he ultimately argues that his selected stars form a constellation—rather, that his selected respondents form a social system.

To put it another way, Kimmel sounds like he is describing a face he saw in a tree’s bark. Features in the bark and branches might give the appearance of a face, but trees don’t actually have faces, just like the dreaded Guys of Guyland don’t have a natural inclination to uphold the Guy Code. The nature of things does not always match the perception we have of them.

Kimmel’s response to this basic lesson of science seems to be “Hey, not all trees have faces, but most trees are near other trees with faces,” right before claiming how tree faces indicate Native American resentment towards white colonialism or something. No, that doesn’t make sense, but then again, neither does his book.

Science is not about seeking confirmation, putting it on paper, and calling it “empirical data” to back conjecture like that shown in this passage:

[Journalist Tim Beneke] looked at the language men use to describe female attractiveness. Women are “ravishing,” or “stunning,” she’s a “bombshell” or a “knockout”; she’s “dressed to kill,” a real “femme fatale.” Men describe themselves as being “blown away” and “knocked out.” As suggested in metaphor, women’s beauty is perceived as violence to men. Men use violence to even the playing field, to restore equality.

–Dr. Michael Kimmel, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, pg. 229

Violence against women is retaliation against beauty? How did any scholar get to this part of the book without thinking it is one big opinion piece?

That is part of the required reading for many masculinity studies courses. I’m looking at the same tree, and I’m sorry Dr. Kimmel, I just don’t see the face. Please don’t say “privilege blindness,” because that hurts falsifiability.

Remember that Guyland is a contribution to fields that are not particularly mature in the sciences. Just ask Martin Fiebert, Erin Pizzey, Adam Jones, Susan Steinmetz, Richard Gelles and Murray Strauss about their adventures in publishing evidence that men are not as privileged as we are led to believe.*

Given my experience and research, Guyland appears to be a vehicle for salient Woozles populating the endnotes, and no human being has the time for a full deconstruction of the text. So in the interest of brevity, let’s revisit the big picture: understanding male students and helping them grow into healthy adults.

If you, the reader, want to understand men and boys and the way they grow up, then first understand that Kimmel preaches to a choir that assumes college males are as insecure and impressionable as grade school children. The same rhetoric that brought us unwarranted fear of Judas Priest, Marilyn Manson, and Grand Theft Auto turning teenagers into heathens is now targeting college fraternities.

Given my experience being a male college student, I felt no desire to entertain peer pressure from men or women. I think that the debauchery Kimmel casts as “male” is one part an escape from the pressures imposed by elders, and another part an impatient curiosity to experience gratification reserved only to those over 18 or 21 years old. This is not masculinity gone wrong, it’s rebellious youth feeling tired of people telling them how to behave.

If and when debauchery reaches dangerous levels and causes death, sexual assault and torment, our job is not to validate our feelings of distrust and antagonism under a pretense of understanding in the way Kimmel does. If you want to know young men and help them grow into functional, calculated adults, you must notice that Kimmel’s science is actually politics.

As a male student omitted from the contrived context built in Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, I ask that you please take the time to understand your sons instead of letting strangers understand them for you.

For more on Kimmel’s methodology, see Peter Allemano’s review of Guyland.

* The named academicians were subjected to bomb threats, verbal abuse, death threats and other terrors from feminist activists and scholars. These same activists succeeded in either delaying or outright stopping publication of data showing how men can be victims of women in the same way that women can be victims of men.

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