Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men
Guyland is less of a place than an attitude, a realm of existence. Occupied by young, single, white men, its main demographic is middle class kids who are college-bound, college co-eds, or recent graduates in the United States. They live in communal housing with fraternity brothers or other recent grads. They work entry-level jobs but act aimless. They have plenty of time to party like they did in college and subsist on pizza, beer, and a visual diet of cartoons, sports, and porn. They hook up with women, but rarely form meaningful relationships. Sociologist Michael Kimmel might sound like he’s stereotyping, but years of research confirm what many of us already know: Guyland, as described in the book of the same name, is a world occupied by a specific type of privileged, entitled, young, white male, one who probably watches _The Man Show _on SpikeTV and listens to gangsta rap with no hint of irony.
Kimmel has written extensively about this culture with no name, a culture that appears so ubiquitous on large, public U.S. university campuses, it can seem redundant to label it at all. Yet in Guyland, Kimmel deconstructs the many problems associated with this lifestyle, and perhaps most importantly, how it can stunt the growth of young men (and women) with true potential.
The critique of Guyland includes a laundry list of offensive behaviors and attitudes. Crude male bonding encourages a specific type of homosocial behavior that dictates strict masculinity, which makes gay baiting a common practice. Women who reject Guyland lads are suspected lesbians, and female friends are treated as accessories or potential “friends with benefits,” assuming they don the required baseball cap and oversized sweatshirt so as not to unnecessarily tempt their male buddies. This gender policing also exists in athletics, where even when cross-racial bonding occurs, you still prove yourself “guy or gay.” The “jockocracy” ends up extending into many facets of young men’s lives, making violent athletic culture norms everyday experiences, cultivating competition, silence, and fear.
Men in Guyland watch pornography in large groups, not to get off, but to discuss humiliating the women to whom they feel entitled. Binge drinking and partying all weekend are common behaviors, both in college and beyond. No one acts particularly interested in committed relationships, though many men interviewed assume they will one day marry and have children. The contradictions continue throughout the entire book, as entitled young men voice to Kimmel their desires without introspection about how to reach them.
While thorough, the main problem with Kimmel’s assessment is that in trying to be fair, he ends up excusing behavior. While individuals and their actions are clearly different from the harmful whole of Guyland’s influence, continuously explaining that most young men are good and harmless reinforces the privilege associated with men who defend the actions of other men. There may not be any efficient way to draw a line between violent offenders and naïve college guys who get caught up in a culture of complicit silence, but defending them is demeaning and deeply offensive to those who are hurt by their actions.
Kimmel also spends much time explaining that the men he writes about are generally middle class and white, yet never once is the phrase “white privilege” used. Perhaps I’m taking issue where some see none, but in order to fully address a problem, it must be named. To constantly skirt around the issue, to name race without defining the system that holds its power in place, does a disservice to the problem at hand, as well as the author’s otherwise insightful analysis. This truth may be difficult for the population at large to swallow, but in omitting key elements from his text, Kimmel failed the groups his book could otherwise benefit: women, people of color, and people who identify as LGBTQI.
Guyland should come with a warning for those who have lived – personally or indirectly – through the trauma that can go hand in hand with a violent male culture: those who have survived assault, those who have done permanent damage from binge drinking, and those who have lost their identities trying to keep up with the expectations of men. The statistics and stories recounted in Guyland are often terrorizing, and despite helpful suggestions for turning things around, this isn’t always a narrative of hopeful rehabilitation.
Despite its flaws, Guyland is highly informative, especially for those who haven’t been living in the midst of young white guy culture for the last decade. It picks up where books like Stiffed and Female Chauvinist Pigs left off, exploring the nuances of male bonding, sports culture, and hazing. It credits feminism for helping men bounce back from their time in a pornified wasteland and offers hope that, as a culture, we can begin turning things around for young men, beginning as early as middle school. It isn’t light reading to pair with a Glamor magazine, but it does take a necessary look at an increasingly pervasive part of our culture and names ways we can all begin to change the status quo.