Elevate Difference

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.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, December 11th 2008

"Sounds like the world of Guyland is somewhere that I inhabited - or more accurately, was exposed to, since I was never able to perform my masculinity to the standards expected - while I was at university. It's definitely not just a USA thing, it exists over here in the UK too."Really, I'm still at uni here in the UK, and I have never heard of anything like this kind of culture. I was going to comment about that, but I figured maybe it was a USA thing.The guys I know who watch porn together, do it to see hot naked women having sex, and to bond, by talking about how hot she is, and how they'd love to have sex with her. The only guy I know who watching extreme and or nasty porn, claims not to get off on it, but is merely curious, and whether or not he is telling the truth he watches both men and women doing 'unpleasant' things, so it's clearly not a sexist thing.The one homophobic club in town is reviled by everyone I know, and homosexuality, metrosexuality, polysexuality etc are all openly and freely practised with pretty much no criticism.The only thing that I've ever seen (and I've seen a hell of a lot of it) that I feel internet feminists would probably dislike, are the huge numbers of ironic or not-serious 'racist' 'homophobic' 'sexist' etc jokes that are made on a daily basis by everyone I know. Given though, that these jokes aren't really funny except when told by/involving a complicit member of the group being 'disparaged', and that it's all for comic effect, rather than airing of secretly held opinions, most all of these are told by members of those groups. And unless you're a member of that group yourself, I don't think you should take it upon yourself to be offended on their behalf.

Sounds like the world of Guyland is somewhere that I inhabited - or more accurately, was exposed to, since I was never able to perform my masculinity to the standards expected - while I was at university. It's definitely not just a USA thing, it exists over here in the UK too.

i remeber about a month or so back the guy that wrote this was on msnbc or something. i haven't read it (and may not ever) but i'm intrested in the premise of it. of copuse every young white male isn't like the author describes, but there defenitly is a culture of knee jerk machismo and homophobia, although i don't think its aprevalnt as it was when i was a teenager/young adult, which was well over 12 years ago. i think the civil right movement and womons rights movemnts of the 60s and 70s put a lot of white males on the offensive, and a lot of that resonated even with my generation in the 80s and 90s, which may be some of wht the author is talking about in his book...

In my opinion this kind of writing IS absolutely a ridiculous collection of stereotypes. It sounds as if the writer, feeling left out by all the popular kids when he was around the age in question, simply imagined what they were up to and how they acted - then vilified them to convince himself that he never wanted to be one of them in the first place - after all, they're all ignorant woman-haters who cannot possibly see females as anything but a cheap sex toy, future gang-rape victim, or "accessory". I also fail to see how the author's assertion that most young men are harmless in any way excuses anyone's behavior - this particular assertion is absolutely correct and excuses only the INNOCENT! Some of this stuff is part of the exact same old double-standard game that has kept women down since the dawn of time. Young men are terribly guilty for disinterest in committed relationships, but young women are just exercising their right to be independent and not tied down to one man or any man. No one ever has a problem with a young woman's decision to remain single. Also, sorry to burst anyone's ridiculous-sexist-stereotype-bubble, but i have never observed a significant difference in the percentage of young men and women interested or disinterested in committed relationships at their age. Some people desire such a relationship desperately, others haven't reached that point in their life yet - GENDER HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!Bottom line: this author is talking about a kind of personality, not a gender. He's simply reinforcing negative and inaccurate stereotypes about young men that are already way too pervasive.

Thank you for the kind words, Lawrence! Sanday's work only gets a paragraph mention and instead of referencing the book, Kimmel talks about how Sanday did her research in the years after the gang rape on the UPenn campus, where she was ironically teaching at the time. He briefly summarizes her research conclusions that gang rape bonds individual "brothers to the fraternity body." Kimmel references a lot of studies he has run or those to which he has been a contributing researcher.I didn't expect to be so sickened by the book, but I also think I read it too fast and too late at night. Those factors never seem to help.And in a shameless plug for FR, if you follow the links in this post to buy the book via Amazon, your purchase funds a few new reviews in the future (mostly the postage on the items getting to the writers). Gotta love referral programs that keep us afloat.

That was a very competent review, Brittany, very well written, and I'm intrigued now to get/read the book. I'm curious whether Kimmel cites the 1990 book by Peggy Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape. I used that in a gender studies course once, but despite many benefitting from having read the book, the number of previously terrorized young women was too high to consider using it again. Ditto, when I tried to teach about eating disorder issues in gender studies and medical anthropology courses: there were too many young women (and one memorable young man, boy, really) who just hurt too badly over this. Our culture is so incredibly messed up. Anyway, cheers. Lawrence Hammar