The night I eviscerated Michael Kimmel

Today I came across an article by Janice Fiamengo in my email inbox titled, Masculinity Studies as Man- Hating.

One of the people Janice focused on in this piece was the renowned feminist Michael Kimmel.

Michael Scott Kimmel is an American sociologist specializing in gender studies. He holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University in New York and is the founder and editor of the academic journal Men and Masculinities. Kimmel is a spokesperson of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism and a longtime feminist. In 2013, he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, where he is Executive Director. He has also written a number of books.

One evening, seven years ago, I was sitting at my computer browsing. I was reading an article titled, Feministing Erases Female Sexual Predators by Nicolai Rublev on the A Voice For Men website.

In the comment sections below, I noticed a woman had written that she had enrolled in Kimmel’s Sociology of Gender class back in 1998.  She made some scathing remarks about the content of his lecture

If you click on the link above you can read her comment in full. It is quite an eye-opener! (Natshultz)

Let me quote her.

He went into the whole sociology of why society is anti -gay. A number of reasons came up, but guess who was really behind the ‘anti -gay movement?”

Answer: Straight white men. According to Kimmel, gay men are victims of straight men’s patriarchal hatred of women. Not just some sexist men either. No. According to Kimmel. Every single straight male on planet earth has one goal and one goal only: to control all the power structures and all the wealth, and therefore keep women out of the workplace, barefoot and pregnant.

I am not joking. He seriously said this :that every single male had one goal: to NEVER allow any women to break through the glass ceiling. Apparently, (most) gay men are feminists and they must be stopped by straight men because they undermine the patriarchal privilege of straight men. 

I had never heard of Michael Kimmel but I noted that he was a professor at a prestigious New York university. The girl’s comments appeared to be slightly hyperbolic even to an avowed anti-feminist like me, but I thought it would be worthwhile to at least attempt to communicate with Kimmel and see what he had to say about this girl’s allegations.

I found his email address on the university website and sent him an email saying.

Dear Michael,

this is just a small extract from a lengthy comment a former student of yours wrote. (I included the quote I cited above) and concluded my email with these words:

Is it true? If it is, you are surely as hate filled and bigoted as any Nazi or KKK member who walked this earth. I look forward to hearing a refutation of all this girl has written. If there is no refutation, shame on you.

Sincerely,

Mark Dent

Two hours later I was stunned to see a response from Kimmel in my inbox. I had been writing letters and emails for years and rarely received a response.

I will reproduce extracts from his email as we ultimately engaged in a long, drawn out debate over a period of hours. I cannot reproduce the entire email exchanges because this article would become a book.

Thanks for writing, Mark.

As a professor, I try to be as clear and evidence based as possible. There is, alas, no way to control how students receive the information or process it-let alone how they remember it 15 years after the fact. I would never have said anything so preposterous. I make clear distinctions between individual people and the institutions they inhabit and the larger social structures that both constrain and enable behaviour…

If you want to know what I really think or actually say in class, you can check out the text I wrote especially for that class: The Gendered Society.

It saddens me to see my lectures remembered in such a distorted way, but it’s a sociological axiom that we understand the world through various ideological filters.

Michael Kimmel

Okay-I was impressed by the fact he responded so promptly and the reasonableness of what he had to say. It seemed to confirm my gut reaction to the girl’s initial comments, which appeared rather too extreme for any educated, respected professor to speak.

There were however many other assertions made by his former student and they were written with such passion and genuine anger I felt less convinced by Kimmel’s response with each passing minute.

Why would this girl so outrageously misrepresent Kimmel’s words?

So, I wrote to him again.

Hi Michael,

Thanks for taking the time to respond, I appreciate it.

I take you at your word, but I am genuinely at a loss to understand how a young woman could be left with such a powerful and emphatic impression that you held straight white males responsible for anti -gay feeling in our society.

She said she was excited to be in your class, so why would she choose to make up such outrageous statements and choose to misrepresent you in such a deliberate manner? I certainly understand that she may well have misunderstood some of your more subtle theories but clearly, the overwhelming message was MEN are to blame.

Many other statements she attributed to you were very specific.

I then went on to explain that here in Australia, there are a number of female University professors who do make hateful, bigoted statements about men in their gender studies classes so it is easy for me to believe that similar language is used in America.

I asked him if he, or any male professor at a University in America or here in Australia would survive one day in his job if he was to make any hateful, denigrating statements about women. Of course, we know the answer is-no. Given this indisputable fact I asked Michael to explain why a society he claims is patriarchal and oppressive to women allows women in positions of influence and power to denigrate males, yet men in positions of power will automatically have that power taken from them for merely criticizing a woman, let alone the entire female gender.

Michael ignored my comments on the patriarchy but did say he disagreed with some of the more outrageous comments made by these self-proclaimed man haters.

He must have gone and read the complete comment from the AVFM website as he wrote:

That woman is clearly unhinged. I hope she gets some help. What she remembers from my class is so misguided I don’t know where to start. She spelled my name right.

 Sheila Jeffreys (one of the Australian feminist Professors I quoted) probably thinks I am closer to Paul Elam than to her. She’s no fan of my work.

Sorry to be perfunctory. I can’t speak for the others to whom you have written, but I get several hundred messages every day, and several are from women like this one.

I try to answer everyone who seems rational, but the volume is pretty overwhelming.

Best,

Michael

I am still relatively impressed with the responses (and the fact that he is responding at all), but there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind.

I went onto You Tube and watched a few brief clips from his lectures and my blood began to boil. I also found some comments attributed to him which sealed the deal.

So, I wrote a third email.

Michael, I am not stalking you, but I have done more reading and it is clear to me (despite your courtesy) that you are indeed a gender bigot. This is very sad. It breaks my heart to think of the countless boys and young men who are being or will be damaged by your twisted belief’s about masculinity and why men need ‘fixing.’

 In fact, this one comment was enough to make clear to me how bigoted you are.

“Nine years ago, Kimmel reports, at Zachary’s (his son) naming ceremony, we each offered a wish for our newborn son.  When it was my turn, I quoted the poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote, “If I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women.”

I continued:
If the genders were reversed, we would get a clear understanding of just how outrageous and stupid such a statement is. Imagine your own reaction to a man saying proudly, “If I could have one wish for my daughters, it is that they have the courage of men.”

You would be apoplectic. It would be denounced as gender bigotry. How can any man, let alone a Distinguished Professor who “operates on ideas supported by clear evidence” make such a ridiculous, unscientific and demonstrably stupid statement?

Courage is a human quality which has no relationship with or connection to gender. How dare you suggest that females, by virtue of their sexuality, have any quality, let alone courage, that men do not possess to the same degree. Substitute the word woman for white or black and see how horrendous it sounds. That is how we see statements for what they are,

If I could have one wish for my sons, it is that they have the courage of white people.”

Disgusting isn’t it? Ridiculous too.

Yet you proudly boast of making this wish at a special naming ceremony for your son!

Shame on you, Michael. Perhaps that girl’s “unhinged rant” was far closer to the truth than your careful and courteous responses.

Sincerely,

Mark Dent

Michael responded:

Oh, for heaven’s sake! Why don’t you read something I actually wrote instead of having someone massage it into something it was not.

I did not quote that line from Adrienne Rich’s poetry in the abstract. I was using it to say something about my wife. Not as theory, but in the acknowledgements section of the book.

My wife Amy, to whom all my work-indeed my life-should be dedicated, is simply what I envision when I imagine the words, ‘life partner’ might actually mean-critic, cheerleader, collaborator, co-author, co-parent, companion.

Nine years ago, at Zachary’s naming ceremony, we each offered a wish for our newborn son. When it was my turn, I quoted the poet, Adrienne Rich, who wrote, “if I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they have the courage of women.”

I wished nothing more for Zachary-that he would have Amy’s courage, her integrity and her passion. I hope for that still.

Quite different, isn’t it? It was about my wife, a way to thank her. Your so-called friends misread my words deliberately, and you believed them rather than check the source.

I think I may have over estimated your capacity for independent thinking. My mistake.

Michael.

My response:

Michael, if it was a tribute to your wife then why didn’t you write, “I wish my son could have the courage of my wife, Amy?”

That would have been a wonderful tribute. Instead, you chose a quote which refers to the entire female gender. Why did you need to use such a bigoted statement at such a special time? The fact that you knew of the quote and its author indicates that it holds some significance for you personally. I think you require some of the courage you hope your son will acquire and own what you put in print.

Do you believe Amy is courageous because she is Amy or because she is a woman? I adore my best friend and soulmate, Maggie. When I write tributes to her, which I have done in poetry and in a book, I use her name. She is a beautiful, courageous person who happens to be female. The qualities she possesses have nothing to do with her gender. Her name is all that is required. What do other women have to do with your beloved Amy?

Do you know any men who are courageous? Would you have felt just as happy writing “I hope my son one day possesses the courage of men?” If not, why not?

If courage is not absent in men, why would you be willing to draw a distinction between the two genders by referring to the courage of women as though it is something unique and special?

Writing women instead of Amy makes the statement a bigoted one.

If I had a dear black friend named Joe who I loved and admired, do you think a quote attributing his qualities to all black people would be in any way acceptable?

“I hope one day my son will come to have the kindness and generosity of black people.”

It sounds rather offensive and silly doesn’t it?

You obviously believe that women do possess a kind of courage which is unique to them (not just Amy) or you would never have chosen that quote. Therefore, we are back at square one. Choosing it is a form of bigotry.

Regards,

Mark

Michael’s response is quite terse.

As I said, I over estimated. Sorry.

As a poet, you should know how one uses a line of poetry as a general statement in order to suggest the personal meaning it has for you. To praise one group is not to criticize others. THAT’s bigotry.

When you’ve actually read what I think rather than what you are told I think, we can have a meaningful conversation.

Otherwise, keep your uncharitable mischaracterizations to yourself.

Ouch!

Me

Michael, you have passed comment on a number of my emails without having read my book or poetry which I’m sure would give you greater insight into the person I am. This however is not relevant to our discussion.

I have been commenting on a quote (provided by you) which was complete and in full context. I was not relying on inaccurate, second hand information. Yet, I still found the quote to be offensive. Why should I read any more of your material in order to gain deeper insight into your thoughts on men?

I think you are being very evasive.

To suggest that praising the qualities of one group is not criticizing another is absolutely untrue and disingenuous. I am a teacher, as are you. I might attempt an experiment next week. I will stand in front of my class and say,

“I have a deep admiration for the fantastic work ethic of the boys in this room,”.

I can guarantee that all of the girls in the room would be affronted (and rightly so). People can be condemned by omission, just as you can lie without speaking a word.

How can you as a person who lectures and teaches not know the truth of this?

I would love to have an opportunity to talk with you for a few hours and really unravel your thoughts on a range of issues. I’m sure you are quite relieved that will never happen. I love people, Michael. I don’t think either gender has a monopoly on any human quality. Do you?

Regards,

Mark

Michael is now becoming angry.

Mark, you have been amazingly arrogant. I’ve tried to reply carefully and stick to what I’ve written. You’ve accused me of bigotry and several times sought to shame me. You’ve accused me of things without actually having done your homework.

What if your student turned in an essay on a text based on an unhinged Amazon review? That’s what you have done. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the bigot, if by bigot we mean someone who is prejudiced, that is, prejudges.

I’ve made no judgement about your work which I have not read. I wish you’d extend the same courtesy. Raising your own work is a false symmetry-just like your other false reversals. Had I written to you about your work, and had you told me you were misunderstood and misquoted, my next stop would be to check out your actual work, not to some political website. I’m sure you are a great teacher, but it seems to me you’ve forgotten how to be a student-a dangerous position for those of us who teach.

Your first message let me know that I need to be more careful in my lectures because there are some unstable people in my classes ( I “know” this, but need to be reminded.) I appreciated that. I do not, however, appreciate being accused of bigotry and shamed. I’ve tried to engage with issues you’ve presented, but I don’t need your unfounded accusations. You want to know what I think? Read my book. If I want to know what you think, I’ll do the same.

Me

But Michael,

I have just stated that my recent emails have all been in regard to a passage you sent to me because it was complete and in context. I have not prejudged you at any stage. When I first wrote to you because of the alleged comments you had made in a lecture I said I was writing in order for you to confirm or deny the words attributed to you.

How is that prejudging?

When you clarified what you believe you said I accepted you at your word and finished by thanking you for your courtesy and promptness in replying.

I then read more about you, including that quote which you said was completely out of context. Having read the completed version of the text sent by you, I wrote that I still found it deeply offensive. This was not prejudging you. This was a judgement made after you had provided me with the original quote in full.

Why do I need to read your books before I can make a comment or judgment on the quote in question? It makes no sense to suggest I should.

I have accused you of bigotry based upon a statement you made. I have provided very clear and concise reasons for labelling your statement a bigoted one, none of which you refuted with a logical, rational rebuttal.

You wrote that praising one group does not mean you are criticizing another and I showed you exactly how doing this is harmful, and bigoted. You made no reference to my arguments nor did you make any attempt to refute them. You simply called me “amazingly arrogant.”

In all honesty, Michael, if a student attending one of your lectures said:

“I admire men because they are so brave and adventurous and they are great at inventing things,” I am quite certain you would pounce on such a statement and hold it up as an example of prejudiced thinking. You would talk about the courage of women and give examples of their adventurous spirit and perhaps invite the student to rethink their original statement. Am I wrong?

I may well read one of your books, Michael. I hope there is no underlying message suggesting young men should be ashamed about who they are or require “fixing” of any kind. That would be ironic given your anger at what you considered to be my shaming of you.

Regards,

Mark

 Kimmel’s response

Mark,

No fewer than three times you’ve called me a bigot. Several times you have instructed me to be ashamed. I’ve tried to be reasonable, but this tries my patience.

Your misinterpretation of my homage to my wife strikes me as shallow. (note that I am not calling YOU shallow, jus your interpretation as you’ve written it, is shallow.)

If I had quoted Nelson Mandela praising the courage of South Africans through the years of struggle would you say I was criticizing white people?

What if I quoted this line?

“I salute combatants of Umkhonto We Sizwe (the ANC’s military wing) who paid the ultimate price for the freedom of all South Africans”

And then said I was inspired by that courage.

Were I to have written I was inspired by the tenacity and compassion of gay people in the face of the HIV crisis, would you say that I should say that I am inspired by straight people’s tenacity and compassion also?

Would you see it as a criticism of straight people? Why is anything said about group A ipso facto a way of criticizing or ignoring group B? What sort of collective narcissism insists that everything is “actually” a comment on us?

I praised my wife’s courage and resilience, and wished it for my son. It was praising her and being rather self -effacing about me. It says nothing about men.

Guyland would be a good place to start. It has been deliberately misread by your pals at A Voice For Men. It’s a work of compassion for young boys, whom I see struggling to conform to truly arcane and crazy-making ideas about masculinity.

If it’s an indictment of anyone, it’s an indictment of grown-ups for not understanding the world they live in and the terrible pressures they feel to conform lest they be gay-baited and bullied.

Of course, the MRAs see it as an indictment of men.

I want to end this conversation now, please. I’ve refrained from calling you names and shaming you. I don’t care to engage with people who are so arrogant as to prejudge one’s ideas, sling epithets, and insist on shaming.

I do however agree with you. One of us should be ashamed to have behaved so disrespectfully.

Michael Kimmel

SUNY Distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies

Executive Director, Center For the Study of Men and Masculinities department of Sociology

Stony Brook University

ME

Oh Michael,

You are being less than forthright. You cannot rewrite history.

You did not praise your wife’s courage and resilience and wish it for your son. You could have done just that but you chose instead to write about the courage of women.

When I wish to pay tribute to a friend or loved one, I use their name.

Call me strange.

You said, if you were to quote Nelson Mandela praising the courage of black South Africans, would I think you were criticizing white people?

Of course not. Because the context of the statement is very clear. He is praising a very specific act of courage in the face of a very specific act of oppression.

That is an entirely different proposition to the one we have been discussing. As I have written before, if you had selected a quote praising the courage of black people with no context, I would find it to be a stupid and bigoted statement.

No race or gender has a monopoly on any vice or virtue. I’d suggest you may not necessarily agree with this viewpoint.

The same can be said for the courage and compassion of gay people in the face of the HIV crisis. I believe even that would be a very broad and probably inaccurate statement. I have had cancer and I often tell my kids that being seriously ill doesn’t automatically make you a brave or compassionate person. I saw individuals whose courage made me cry and I saw other terminally ill patients whose anger, selfishness and lack of compassion for others astounded me.

I’m sure the same would apply to people in the gay community. That is why I would never refer to the courage of gay men or women as if it was a universally acknowledged fact. We are separate individuals, some braver than others and our gender has no relationship to this or any other quality.

So if you had written that you admire the courage of women who have endured the loss of their children and battled on or raised a disabled child on their own, I would be understanding of such a statement, but even then I would say there are just as many men who battle on bravely in the same circumstances.

I live in Australia. I was once a boy and I faced the “Guyland “ years you have written about. I played footy with typical, knockabout Aussie men and I loved them. I have never encountered a homophobe or woman hater in all my years involved with this most masculine of pastimes.

I have seen our male community rally together in the most moving manner when a member of our boys’ team took his life. Fathers and sons formed a circle in the changerooms and as we sang the club song we wept openly with the father of the dead boy and with our sons and mates, while a photo of this beloved boy was placed on the floor in the centre of our circle.

A young man who outed himself in our local football competition was universally accepted and embraced.

I have had countless moments of love and support from my many male (and female) friends. Australia is regarded by many as a macho, blokey world. I live in it and I love the men I know with great passion.

When someone attacks my gender, even under the guise of wanting to “fix it”, I take offence.

I like the way you regard anyone who doesn’t respond positively to the points you raise as having been dishonest in their approach to them!

I am a very honest man. Your attempt to suggest I am not is very disappointing.

End of conversation.

All the best

 Mark

 KIMMEL

I lived in Guyland too. I was in a fraternity in a college. Yes, there was much bonding, friendships that live to this day. And a lot of sexist and homophobic and racist stuff that provided the glue for that bonding. It seems to me that the difference between us is that I do feel ashamed that the glue was so toxic, even if the bonds remain strong.

You seem to have built a life in defense against that shame. That’s why you think yourself entitled to keep trying to shame me.

I think I know the difference between honest disagreement and ad hominem attack. You began with the latter, accepted your mistake and moved to the former. But you’ve backslid, in my view, and I will no longer reply to you.

ME

Michael,

Your hypocrisy is breathtaking.

You have just told me that I have built a life in defense of the shame of being a man, for, according to you, the glue which bonds men is toxic, consisting of racism, sexism and homophobia. What a frightening and rather disturbing belief.

It seems you believe only men are capable of being sexist, racist or homophobic.

I am truly shattered to think a man of your obvious intellect is out there causing so much damage to our young men with your notion of the toxic nature of the male gender.

You tell me I have attempted to shame you and indicated what a terrible thing this is.  You then proceed to shame an entire gender!

Apparently, you are entitled to shame all men but I am not entitled to shame you for doing just that! Incredible.

You don’t know me, Michael. If it comforts you to portray me as a man who has built his life in defense of my shame at being a member of the male gender, you are terribly mistaken. I have spent my life loving and receiving love from countless males. None of them are perfect, but none are any more prone to racism, sexism, homophobia or violence than any female I have ever known. In fact, none of my friends have displayed an intolerance for gays, other races or violent behavior. They would not be my friends if they did.  

That is where we differ.

You have drawn a neat line between two genders and labeled one of them, toxic.

If I am the caricature you are attempting to depict, I am puzzled by the fact that I have many deep and loving relationships with women and girls, many whom I have worked with as a colleague or teacher. I love easily. I love people. I don’t think a man who spends his time defending racism, sexism and any other “ism” you care to throw at me would have even one female soulmate, let alone many.

You lived in a very warped world if you and your friends bonded through racism, sexism and homophobia.  That says more about you than it does me and my friends. We bonded over things like shared passions, kindness, humor and being there for a mate when he is in trouble.

Maybe they do things differently in America.

I am a very happy, contented man, but my heart pumps in outrage whenever I encounter divisive, bigoted behaviour. I have watched snippets of you on You Tube and I must say I would be standing up in that lecture theatre and condemning your words just as quickly as I would if a man was talking about “fixing” the problem with females.

You say you are objective because you are a man and the boys in your classes are stunned when they realise you are a feminist. There are countless women (and the number continues to grow) who choose to speak in defense of men and boys and hate feminism. Clearly, they must be objective too, given your definition. Perhaps you should pause for a moment and consider the idea that you are misguided, mistaken (or worse) in how you choose to view the two genders.

Anyway, this exchange has given me a clearer insight into who you are and how you operate. You are slick. I suppose that could be considered a compliment by some. Rather than fire back petty, self-pitying putdowns you could have directly answered the points I raised.

Eg. The context of the statements you provided about Mandela and AIDS sufferers as opposed to the lack of context for your “courage of women” statement.

Not a word.

If you could at least put your hand up, declare your clear bias, and then argue in defense of it, I would still disagree but respect your honesty. You veil your resentment and anger for men under the guise of concern and wanting to fix them.

I’m glad you wrote back one more time, even though I had written “end of conversation” at the completion of my last email. You had also stated you would not be conversing anymore. From my experience, busy people like you don’t take anytime out of their schedule to reply to nutters, abusers and ranters. They write back when someone has presented a thoughtful, articulate argument which gets under their skin and stays under it, and no matter how much they want to fob it off, they just have to respond in some manner to hit away that uncomfortable feeling of being nailed to the wall.

I thank you for your unintended compliment.

Cheers,

Mark

PS

Unlike you, Michael, I have maintained the common courtesy of signing off and wishing you well after each of my emails.  It must be the feminine side of me coming out.

KIMMEL

Thanks for writing.

Good luck.

Michael Kimmel

When I read this impressive resume, Kimmel is a superstar in the sphere of high-powered, socially acceptable discussions of gender.  He lectures all over the world, liaises with government ministries, and was the first man to deliver the International Women’s Day lecture at the European Parliament. He is beloved by public figures like Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, and when we read about his version of masculinity, we understand why.

It becomes abundantly clear, that it doesn’t matter who is selling the snake-oil.  The product is a sham, a fraudulent fairy tale, sold with a slick, sly patter and some convenient lies. When forced to stand and defend this twisted ideology, it collapses like a house of cards.