Michael Kimmel on male entitlement, anger and invisible privilege

On Wednesday night, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a lecture from one of the giants in the study of men and masculinity, Michael Kimmel. Kimmel, who you might remember from his Feministing Five interview last year, has been studying and writing about gender for decades now and is about to release a collection of essays entitled Reframing Men, about how the media so often gets the story wrong when they write about men and masculinity. At Wednesday’s event, which was presented by Paradigm Shift, Kimmel was speaking about his most recent book, Guyland, which came out in 2008. (Check out Courtney’s book review.)

Guyland is about the experiences of young men between the ages of 16 and 26 as they try to find their place in the world – a more difficult task that we sometimes give them credit for. Kimmel argues that the pressure on young men to prove their masculinity has never been greater, and that the version of masculinity with which they’re presented is one that is increasingly violent, misogynistic and sexualized. He also argues that for those young men, as for all of us, the problems they face have a solution: feminism.

On Wednesday, Kimmel talked about what led him to write Guyland,
and what he discovered when he did. After his lecture, he spoke in
conversation with Shelby Knox, the
fourth-wave feminist activist, who opened the evening with a story about
her her own Guyland moment:being turned away from a frat party
at UT Austin for being “too fat.”

It was a truly fascinating lecture and discussion – I’m sure I wasn’t
the only one in the theater who found herself envying Kimmel’s
undergraduate students at SUNY Stonybrook, where he is a Professor of
Sociology – and there was almost too many fascinating points made to
recap them all here. I expect that Paradigm Shift will post video
footage soon, which will give you a far better sense of what went on
than I can. But there was one particular point that Kimmel made that I
wanted to share with you all.

One of the great achievements of feminism, he said, was to make women’s
gender visible. Most women today understand that it is possible for them
to be victims of gender-based discrimination, and most men are aware of
that phenomenon, too. When a woman looks in the mirror, Kimmel said,
they see a woman. But when a man – a white straight middle class man, at
least – looks in the mirror, he just sees a person. The assumption of
white straight middle class man as standard and objective, as the norm,
in our culture, means that white straight middle class men have no
reason to think particularly hard about race, class or gender, since
everything around them confirms that they are normal. Women, people of
color, queer people or poor people, those who don’t see themselves
depicted as average members of our society, are aware of that dissonance
every single moment of the day.

In other words, privilege – in this case, the privilege of being assumed to be the best possible representative of your culture – is invisible. Men, Kimmel said, don’t think about being men in the same way that women think about being women, or think about being white in the same way that people of color think about being people of color. They don’t believe they have biases or prejudices that affect their experience of the world; it’s for this reason that when a Latina was nominated for the Supreme Court, it was assumed that she would bring biases and prejudices with her. It seemingly never occurred to the largely white, largely male Senate that questioned her at length about those biases that straight white men, who comprise the SCOTUS and much of the Senate, also inevitably have biases. In their mind, they were objective and neutral.

“Most men don’t know that gender matters to us, that it’s as important to us as women understand it to be to them,” Kimmel said. That is, not until they feel their privilege disappearing, as women advance, as the rights of the queer community are more widely recognized and our country is led by a person of color. That’s when the sense of entitlement kicks in, as those who were once never even aware of their privilege realize that some of it has disappeared.

That sense of entitlement, Kimmel says, can be incredibly dangerous. For so many seemingly “affable college guys,” he said on Wednesday, there’s an anger, an animosity toward women and gays and everyone else who is perceived to be encroaching on men’s rightful territory. “Men feel besieged and attacked by women’s advancement,” he said, and perceive gender as a zero-sum game: If women do better, men do worse. As a result, the requirements for demonstrating their manhood have become ever stricter, ever more sexualized, ever more sexist. This entitlement can look incredibly ugly and can be incredibly sexist, racist and homophobic – Kimmel recounted his experience of appearing on a talk show segment about affirmative action promotion and hiring called “A Black woman took my job.” The reaction by some men to increasing social equality in America is in some cases simply vile. But understanding it is crucial to efforts to get men on board with feminism. Without understanding men’s entitlement, Kimmel said, we will never understand why so many men resist gender equality.

For the last several decades, Kimmel has been making the case that feminism will improve men’s lives as well as women’s. Far from a zero-sum game, he argues, feminism is a rising tide that lifts all boats. “Gender equality will allow men to lead fuller, happier lives,” he said on Wednesday, citing studies that have found that men in egalitarian marriages are happier than men in traditional ones, and that involved fathers are happier than uninvolved ones.

Feminism is the answer, for all of us, regardless of sex, gender or sexual preference. Feminism, simply put, makes the world a better place. Kimmel is a living example of the power of men as allies in the fight against sexism, a fight that we sometimes forget is one for their rights too. We need more Kimmels, more men like the ones who were in the audience on Wednesday night representing fantastic groups like the National Organization of Men Against Sexism, Stand Up Guys and Men Can Stop Rape. We need more male allies. In other words, we need fewer guys and more men.

and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

23 Comments

  1. s mandisa
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    i think its INCREDIBLY important to have this particular conversation. Especially when framed with feminism as a solution instead of a threat to this invisible privilege and entitlement that Kimmel and Chloe talk about.
    as a black feminist who exists on the backs of amazing black feminists like Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, bell hooks, etc who lived and talked intersectionality, i often find myself in the work that i do defining instersectionaly. i think Chloe and Kimmel allude to a VERY important point: that women of color are not the only people with intersectional identities. all of us live at various intersections of simultaneous oppressions and privilege AND that its important to think of what it means to live at intersections of privilege and what does it concretely look like to challenge this privilege in ways that move beyond guilt.
    But I do find this conversation limiting in the homogeneity it ascribes to marginalized communities. like how to poor or working class white men fit into this conversation around invisible privilege, masculinity? how to men of color fit into this? me: a middle-class black lesbian? im especially interesting in terms of these definitions of masculinity. while i do agree its INTEGRAL to focus on white middle class hetero-masculinity and to deconstruct this in ways that liberate us all, its also important to name black masculinity (im talking about blackness b/c thats what im familiar with, but the same applies to latino, asian, arab, queer, etc masculinity)as an oppressive force that is not obsolete just because that masculinity exists under the guise and direction of white supremacy. does anybody else know what i mean? and get what im saying?- how do we expand this deconstruction of masculinity in a way that encompasses many different identities.

  2. Melanie
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    This post makes me sad and happy at the same time, but leaves me with some hope. Thank you for writing this!

  3. borrow_tunnel
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of books on gender studies, the Barnes & Noble in my town just got rid of its women’s studies section! Is this just the Midwest or nationwide?!

  4. blacksouth
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I wish I wasn’t stuck in the middle of nowhere, but at least I can read Guyland. And if anyone comes across a video of this, please post it here. Would love to watch it.

  5. Athenia
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if you were there or not, but someone in the audience did ask him about this. He said that he wanted to focus on the men who are like the leaders of this mentality–the “normative” guys. (Although the cynic in me saw this as a cop-out). He did briefly talk about black men and asians.

  6. CoronerCountess
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    That’s awful! As far as I know my local Borders doesn’t even have a women’s studies section. We should raise hell about this.

  7. FYouMudFlaps
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This is a very important subject, and this guy is definitely a new role model of mine.
    Borrow, my B&N in Suburban Tampa is also drastically remodeled and the women’s studies section has been removed, or well-hidden at least. :(

  8. annlondon
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I disagree with this one passage, though:
    “When a woman looks in the mirror, Kimmel said, they see a woman. But when a man – a white straight middle class man, at least – looks in the mirror, he just sees a person.”
    When I look in the mirror i just see a person. I don’t see myself as a “dissonant” woman. I don’t see myself as a problem. I see many men and women that behave in ways to make us feel as dissonant, but you know what? That’s _their_ problem, not mine. If a man treats me badly because I am woman, bad for him who’s gonna loose my respect. I live my life clearly in a way that I give what I get. I try to call the attention of many to what it means the whole sexist actions they take when it is the case. But I do not portray myself as a looser, sufferer, weaker person (person again, not woman) because I am not. I understand what the writer meant with that statement, but it does not apply to everyone. And to accept that as a truth, that would be in my opinion sexist per se.
    What is the worst prejudice (if we could label prejudice…)? the one we suffer or the one we assume as real? Because, sometimes it’s just a matter of slapping people in their faces by acting the way they do not expect us to act. I am not dissonant. I am a person with all the meanings of it. And my gender, that is just a detail. It is neither good, nor bad. Otherwise, wouldn’t we be simply demonising every men in the world?

  9. Murray
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Kimmel is indeed awesome and there need to be more malefolk like him. That said…
    “we need fewer guys and more men”
    I don’t mean to harp on this one line, (whether or not it relates to Kimmel’s guy-man terminology) but it represents something I feel like I see a lot in discussions about men in feminism. And oftentimes in the same place, as sort of a postscript, that even while the part of the point of informing men about feminism is to free them from the constraints of a confining masculinity, it bothers me as a genderqueer sort of male person that even after deconstructing gender in the context of feminism, the appeal to men so often ends as an appeal to their manhood.
    By which I mean a somewhat archaic term casting a “man” (see also “real man”) as someone people should want to be, someone honorable and just, and in this case by extension, feminist. To say “a feminist man is a real man”… irks me as it still seems to inherently worship a modified masculinity rather than deconstruct it. Ie, ‘some of your perceptions of masculinity are wrong, but masculinity as a whole is still The Right Path(TM)’.

  10. Libbierator
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    @ s mandisa:
    great point. i think the reason it’s good for a little while to look at, specifically, solely white masculine identity in a feminist context, is the same reason that it’s good for a little while to look at, specifically, any other identity in a white male context. It’s not the norm. Feminism largely concerns itself with a multiplicity of identities, which is a beautiful and important thing. And absolutely essential in the work towards equality. But, it is so validating to just talk about *your* identity, whatever that is, for a while; in all its’ complexities and variations. And white masculine identity, while it is the identity in power, still has variations and complexities that need to be worked out. And I think that’s what will bring white men into the feminist picture; their identity being validated in a feminist way. Because right now the places where their identity is validated is in the mainstream, where their identity becomes power and violence. So, just as many women of many colors find it validating to come to feminism and finally be recognized for who they are, how they are, so we must recognize white men for who they are, how they are. In all their complexity, because their complexity is no less than that of any other identity. Feminist work around white male identity is very important, which is why I admire Kimmel so much. I think that’s what will bring white men into feminism. Because right now if they log onto feministing.com, they see stories about people who do *not* look like them. Which is what everyone but white men see the rest of the time, but they don’t know that; they only feel like they’re being excluded. It’s up to use to try and include them, so that the next time they log onto feministing, they’ll be interested in reading about people’s stories who do not look like them.

  11. Catie
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    That stinks! It was probably because of low sales. All of the Barnes & Nobles in my area still have either a women’s studies or a gender studies section. Some of the books may have been absorbed into a larger cultural or social studies section, though.

  12. middlechild
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Kimmel argues that the pressure on young men to prove their masculinity has never been greater, and that the version of masculinity with which they’re presented is one that is increasingly violent, misogynistic and sexualized.”
    Could someone elaborate on that? That sentence implies that this machismo “has never been greater”….greater than, when? That the threat is greater than it was in, say, the 1970s? (Actually, you could probably make a case for that, given the number of people who think feminism is a dirty word and also think there ARE no more “womens’ issues” or gender issues, period, for society to reckon with.
    “Never been greater,” among who? And is it really middle class white men that are alone to blame for misogyny in contemporary America (as this post seems to imply)?
    I know this point might be sort of off topic–but what about men (or women) to fail to meet the ideal gender or ideal social type? (That includes hetero, middle-class white men…say, because they’re physically smaller than their peers, don’t play sports, etc.).
    I know the book has been out for a while. I haven’t read it yet and am just reacting to the post.

  13. TD
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    It seemingly never occurred to the largely white, largely male Senate that questioned her at length about those biases that straight white men, who comprise the SCOTUS and much of the Senate, also inevitably have biases. In their mind, they were objective and neutral.
    It came from statements made by Sotomayor that were interpreted as racist. You may disagree with the idea that they were racist, but it wasn’t because of her race.
    Had a white man made a similar statement it’d (rightly) be political suicide.
    that the version of masculinity with which they’re presented is one that is increasingly violent, misogynistic and sexualized.
    So that is why violent crimes are at the lowest point since the DOJ started collecting statistics? Or how this generation is more progressive than the previous generation?
    Kimmel is merely a purveyor of propaganda, there is no way this book should be considered serious research.

  14. Not Guilty
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’ve placed the book on hold at my library and I’m very excited to read it. It is great to have men like him doing this.

  15. mensantiviolencecouncil.com
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    There was no way that this post could cover the entire discussion in Guyland. Kimmel addresses the “greater than” and “among who” in the book by discussing college, developmental markers, high school, sports culture, technology, pornography, media, and much more. It’s a great read. It just came out in paperback for $10! The focus on middle class white guys is because he is looking at normative middle class white guy culture. The book isn’t about blame. It’s about better understanding the shift in development and culture that affects the guys in his book. He also talks about men who resist society’s messages and counter the traditionally masculine expectations. Hard to explain it all in a simple post because he really does weave a great story.

  16. Athenia
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    He said one of the criticisms of his book is that–as you say–guys have been behaving this way since the beginning of time. But when he says “longer and more intense” he means since the marriage age as increased this extended adolescence phase has lasted longer—when he says it’s more intense, he means instead of cutesy hazing–it’s getting the guys naked and making believe their dicks are going to get ripped off. When he says more misogynistic, he means that guys see that women are actually succeeding in various (masculine?) areas of life and they feel threatened.

  17. Yeltsine
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    But when a man – a white straight middle class man, at least – looks in the mirror, he just sees a person.
    I think this is really kind of a strawman, because literally everyone has something about them that doesn’t “conform to society’s norm”. The gender/race/orientation triad doesn’t have a monopoly on alienation. For example, my male friend stands 5’2. When he looks in the mirror, he sees a short man, not society’s ideal. And he thinks about it every day. My stepsister, white and straight, is mentally disabled. Another friend has a large birthmark on his face. I personally have a deformed left eye. You think that isn’t something that concerns me? Of course it does. I’m in no way trying to elicit sympathy, I’m simply pointing out the reality that things are not as simple as that quote makes it out to be.
    Despite what many of you seem to think, very very very very few people have the privilege of being able to look in the mirror and simply see “a person”.

  18. daytrippinariel
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    ” Women, people of color, queer people or poor people, those who don’t see themselves depicted as average members of our society, are aware of that dissonance every single moment of the day.”
    While I agree with many of the points made about “guyhood” and the need to address privilege, to say that people who are the minority think about their relative position in society every single moment of the day is extreme. As a woman, or person, I think about a variety of topics such as my job, my friends and family, my hobbies, what I’m going to eat, etc. I’m not constantly aware of my privilege and class because I have other things to do. I think about my privilege some of the time, when it’s appropriate. Every single moment of the day? If we’re going to convince others about the importance of critiquing privilege then we need to use more realistic arguments.

  19. qtiger
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    To say “a feminist man is a real man”… irks me as it still seems to inherently worship a modified masculinity rather than deconstruct it. Ie, ‘some of your perceptions of masculinity are wrong, but masculinity as a whole is still The Right Path(TM)’.
    Seconded. As soon as you start putting qualifiers on what a ‘real’ man or woman is, you inevitably invite adding all sorts of other gendered garbage to the definition.
    A man or woman is a man or woman because that is how they identify. Period, done.

  20. CleanNeedlesSaveLives
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Chloe; I wish I would have been there.
    However… “Feminism is the answer, for all of us, regardless of sex, gender or sexual preference.”
    Sexual preference? Ouch.

  21. Sex Toy James
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    When I look in the mirror I see a scruffy dude. I’m pretty sure that I don’t see myself as some default gender. I very much don’t feel like the default setting for humanity. The idea that men would be people and women would be some kind of “other” sounds very foreign to me.
    Still, I may very well not note the whiteness. I do some distinctly male stuff, like exercising to bulk out and mustache sculpting. At the same time I don’t think of the stuff I do as being white stuff. I don’t feel like the stuff I do generally has whiteness as a prerequisite, so it doesn’t make me feel white or whiter. So it doesn’t get wrapped up in my identity as often as my manly stuff does.

  22. dark_morgaine
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I think it’s important for all of us to examine our privilege, visible or not. Not to sound preachy or compromising, I definitely think it’s easier for a white male in our society to overlook the glaring inequalities still facing us. But I agree that we need to present feminism as a movement that embraces men. I think for the most part we do. We bend over backwards to thank the good men in our lives and to acknowledge that enlightened men exist out there, even in very angsty pieces written in the heat of rage.

  23. BrainPickerTem
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    My local Coles doesn’t have a Gender Studies section either :( At least there’s online shopping.

One Trackback

  1. [...] are women and the LGBT community, but at the same time heterosexual males are often forced into restrictive and violent gender roles as well.  This isn’t to downplay the privilege that men enjoy but simply to point out that, to [...]

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

212 queries. 0.925 seconds