10 Things I Learned from Guyland Author Michael Kimmel

Cross posted on genfem.com

Last week, Shelby Knox, the brazen 23 year-old who has been speaking out for comprehensive sex education since she was 15, moderated aParadigm Shift talk with world renowned Gender Studies scholar Dr. Michael Kimmel. Dr. Kimmel is a feminist consultant for Mad Men and the author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Every word of the talk was illuminating. Seriously. It was one of the best talks I’ve ever been to. Here are 10 things I left thinking about:

1. Women’s entry into the workforce is not seen as gender equality, it’s seen as a threat or an invasion of men’s territory. Take for example the cover story, “The End of Men” in this month’s The Atlantic. The very phrasing implies that strides made by women will render men obsolete. As Kimmel said, “Women are doing better. So? And the problem is … what?” It is not a zero sum game. It’s not even a story. But the media tries to report this data in a negative light in order to sensationalize it. 

2. Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Black women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see black women, white women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see women, white men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see human beings. 

3. Feminists feminize poverty instead of masculinizing wealth. Instead of framing wage inequality as 77 cents to a man’s dollar, maybe we should frame it as men getting $1.30 to a woman’s dollar just for having a Y chromosome. Men aren’t losing anything when women gain, the advantages they enjoy by virtue of being men were never warranted to begin with.

4. In every culture outside of the United States, adult men organize
and supervise male initiation rituals. On college campuses in the United
States, nineteen year-olds teach eighteen year-olds how to be men
without supervision, while the male authority figures on campus try to
stay as uninformed as possible to maintain plausible deniability. 

5. The motto of “Guyland” is “bros before hos,” and this slogan could
be seen on Obama posters during the 2008 presidential campaign. 

6. When incoming UCLA freshman were asked, “How likely would you be
to commit rape if you could be certain you’d get away with it?” 16-20%
said “somewhat” or “very.” When this same group was asked, “How likely
would you be to force a woman to have sex with you if you could be
certain you’d get away with it?” 36-44% said “somewhat” or “very.” In
other words, a third to half of all incoming male UCLA freshman would
rape a female classmate if they knew they could get away with it. 

7. Maybe this is why, according to the National Institute of Justice,
20-25% of all college women are victims of attempted sexual assault
(even though only 5% report it). 

8. The more homoerotic
the sport
, the more homophobic and exploitative it is of women.
Football, which involves men in tight pants tackling each other, uses
scantily-clad cheerleaders to distract from the excitement of the
guy-on-guy action.

9. Apparently there is an “oral sex epidemic” in the United States.
Yet in the past 30 years there has been no appreciable increase in
cuntilingus, while felacio has gone through the roof. Framing the data
as an epidemic of oral sex among teenagers misses the gender inequality.
It is not an epidemic of oral sex, it is an epidemic of girls servicing

10. Nationally recognized sororities are not allowed to serve
alcohol, while nationally recognized fraternities are. Thus the
fraternities hold the power to provide female college students with a
social life. If the girls are compliant with the fraternities’ norms
(i.e. – physical attractiveness, sexual willingness), they have access
to a social life, if not, they’re excluded. 

Kimmel explained that guy culture is often terrible for men as well
as women. Men are constantly policing each other to act like men (“no homo
is the popular term these days), and men are desperate for a better way
to relate to each other and to women that would preserve their
biological humanity.

Michelle Haimoff is a writer, blogger and activist. Her writing has appeared in PsychologyToday.com, The Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times. She is a founding member of NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force and blogs about First World Feminism at genfem.com.

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  • SamLL

    “Instead of framing wage inequality as 77 cents to a man’s dollar, maybe we should frame it as men getting $1.30 to a woman’s dollar just for having a Y chromosome. Men aren’t losing anything when women gain, the advantages they enjoy by virtue of being men were never warranted to begin with.”
    Doesn’t this framing badly contradict with point 1, and even with your second sentence here? If you start saying you want to reduce that $1.30 (rather than raising the $0.77), you are framing it as a zero-sum game and making (non-feminist and/or only peripherally aware) men think that you literally intend to reduce their personal salaries.

  • Kessei

    “Kimmel explained that guy culture is often terrible for men as well as women.”
    Because if they don’t act like an oppressor, they might get beaten up and mocked; who would reasonably expect that tons of privilege wouldn’t come along with some measure of behavior policing, though? The reality is that only the “men” who are seen as MOST violating the “guy” requirements (gay men and trans people) suffer threats of violence which are comparable to what women face.
    Females do not get to choose how to act, regardless of age, race, socioeconomic class, gender identification, or any other factor, in that there is nothing a female can do such that a full 44% of the oppressor class would not rape her if given the chance. Females cannot “opt out” of sexual violence by comporting with the requirements of guy culture, or by comporting with the objectifying and submissive requirements of their assigned-at-birth gender.
    I’m really sick of this “what about teh menz” BS. Yes, men suffer, but it is -not- comparable; and frankly I do not even consider it RELEVANT, as the only reason they suffer in the first place is because there is a culture in place structurally designed to oppress females. It’s like talking about how racism hurts white people, or how rich people suffer from the existence of poverty. Ugh.

    • http://feministing.com/members/arinira/ Steph H.

      Focusing on how sexism hurts men as a way to deflect or silence women’s voices is a problem, very much so. It serves to devalue women’s experiences and, again, to deem men’s experiences and feelings as somehow more “important.” It serves to ridicule and silence the women who bring up the issue in the first place. And it serves to ignore that women face far greater perils, oppressions, and dangers than men in American society, assuming those men align to the position of the oppressor (masculine in dress and appearance, heterosexual, cisgender, white, etc.), and even then in those same positions women might face still greater oppression than the men because of their additional label as “woman.” “What about the menz!” is a very harmful train of thought; I do not disagree with you there at all.

      But I do not believe that a discussion about how women’s oppression hurts men is always a “what about the menz” idea. Yes, women’s oppression hurts women more. But it also hurts men in other, different ways; when it is discussed, it should not be talked about in the context of “men’s problems are more important than women’s problems” or so on and so forth. Instead, it should be treated as another product of oppression, a product that is very real felt by men throughout our society (though I think that the criticism of Kimmel that he is taking a white, affluent male problem and applying it to all men is potentially valid; I have not read Kimmel’s work so I cannot say this in certainty).

      Discussing how men are hurt by women’s oppression in such a manner is important to furthering equality. If men are taught that THEIR well-being is, also, connected to women’s empowerment, it can become an in-road for many men to join the feminist movement. This is because it helps them not treat equality like a threat to their “turf”; after all, if equality will help them, then everyone has something to gain.

      Yes, this will involve (white?) men giving up certain unfair privileges they have, such as earning more money or being more likely to get a high-paying and/or high-ranking job. But a human’s well-being does not come down to just money and power. Equality improves our relationships. It enables us to choose freely what we want to be, and to be who we actually are. It lets men show feelings other than anger, such as tenderness, without being labeled as a “pussy,” and it prevents women’s feelings from being reduced to “hormones.” Equality will help us ALL live happier lives; teaching men that they have a deeply personal stake in that, besides the women in their lives, could do great good.

      Is Kimmel’s work talking about men’s equality in this sort of positive way? While I have not read his work, what I have read about it seems to indicate that he is definitely a step in the right direction; if he truly does emphasize that feminism can help all people (and isn’t just some scheme to oppress men, as some of my acquaintances have said), then he is voicing a sentiment that I think should be heard and taken seriously. Or, at least, he is helping to open up the dialogue in a way that is perhaps useful, instead of screeching “WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ?!?!?”

      • http://feministing.com/members/artofme/ Bethany

        I agree with this response, Steph H. Acknowledging that rigid gender roles harm men also does not delegitimize women’s issues. No one claims that men suffer as much due to the patriarchy as women. Recognizing that the problem is there does not mean that we’re saying women’s problems are less important. It can’t hurt anyone to occasionally recognize that men face gender policing as well.

  • daveNYC

    “…As Kimmel said, “Women are doing better. So? And the problem is … what?” It is not a zero sum game. It’s not even a story…”
    It is a positive-sum game, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who will end up with the short end of the stick. That is something to be kept in mind to avoid blowback.
    “…Men aren’t losing anything when women gain, the advantages they enjoy by virtue of being men were never warranted to begin with.”
    OK, this sentence is actually just contradictory. You can’t say that men aren’t losing anything, and in the same breath mention their advantages (warranted or not). Otherwise, see the blowback comment above.
    “In every culture outside of the United States, adult men organize and supervise male initiation rituals.”
    Seriously? Canada (for example) has supervised male initiation rituals?
    “…In other words, a third to half of all incoming male UCLA freshman would rape a female classmate if they knew they could get away with it.”
    Also, that somewhere between 16-28% of the freshmen have a rather incorrect definition of rape.
    “The more homoerotic the sport, the more homophobic and exploitative it is of women…”
    Um… I don’t think rugby even has cheerleaders, and if you’re watching football, the cheerleaders are on screen for maybe 90 over the course of the game. Maybe that’s the case in pro-wrestling, but it isn’t exactly a pattern.
    And my concern about blowback isn’t some sort of goofy ‘what about the men’ thing. My concern is that a move to a more egalitarian society will, at the individual level, end up producing winners and losers. A certain number of the losers will end up deciding that not only was the change a bad idea, but that the way to correct it is to double down on the biased nature of the pre-change society. IMO, minimizing the size of that group of people is important.

  • SamLL

    Kessei, your opinion that the experience of half the human race under the patriarchal system is irrelevant and should not be discussed is not the mainstream one here in the community of Feministing.
    Chloe posted (http://www.feministing.com/archives/021867.html):
    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.

    and, even more succinctly here (http://www.feministing.com/archives/021806.html):
    Not to mention the fact that all this focus on ‘men v. women’ reinforces the gender binary, which is bad for all of us – women, men, trans folks, and anyone who doesn’t want to conform to all the socialized norms of one gender. Patriarchy limits us all, and that’s why we all have a stake in breaking it down.
    If talking about men’s experiences under patriarchy is so offensive to you that you consider it “BS” and it makes you say “Ugh” to even read about it, may I politely suggest that Feministing may not be the right community for you, since the editors find the topic interesting and productive and post about it reasonably often.

  • Hawk or Handsaw

    there are definitely initiation rituals that boys go through that are “supervised” by older boys. they are formalized like you would get in other cultures (the bar mitzvah to my understanding is a ritualized entrance into manhood).
    however, just because they aren’t formalized doesn’t mean that boys aren’t being taught how to be “men” by others. the imparting of “how to be a man” is the ritual and it comes in a lot of forms, on sports teams, in fraternities, older siblings, dorm mates, the older members of a music scene. these people teach young men what being a man “means” and younger males are watched over and judged on how correctly they enact the roles that their particular society deems necessary.
    at least, that’s my experience as a male.

  • daveNYC

    I can actually speak about the bar mitzvah (non-orthodox only). While from a technical standpoint it is considered an initiation into adulthood, the fact that it occurs when you are 13 kind of kills the whole ‘adulthood’ aspect of it. Though I guess it worked OK when you weren’t likely to make it to your 20th birthday before being eaten by a T-Rex.
    Also, it’s not really much in the way of teaching someone how to be a mensch. It’s much more focused on learning elements of the Jewish religeon.
    I think my question concerning #4 was that it says that other countries have some sort of organized male initiation ritual, but while I’m sure that various cultures do some of that, as far as Western Europe goes, I’m not sure what would be considered the supervised initiation ceremony event(s) that are that much different than what occurs in the US.


    My biggest problem with “Guyland” is that this Kimmel dude is taking the narrow experience of affluent White males who were fraternity members in college and defining that as the only valid male experience.
    Since that concept excludes the vast majority of American men, Kimmel’s whole thesis is bogus.
    Beyond that, how exactly does football “exploit women”?
    There are no women players in NFL or NCAA football – some teams have cheerleaders, but they are peripheral to the sport.
    NCAA football exploits male student athletes – because they are not paid a salary, no matter how many millions of dollars the team earns – but since there are no women NCAA football players, how exactly are they “exploited”?
    Also, how exactly is football “homoerotic”?
    Unless you get turned on by big men beating the crap out of each other, there really isn’t a damned thing sexual about a football game.

  • TD

    1.) The National Organization of Women explicitly stated their position on the stimulus in this fashion. It did not matter in their opinion, how best to improve the economy, it mattered to them how much women gained over men. Their ultimate input was not a zero sum game but a negative sum game where women in traditional fields came out ahead.
    Whats more if you look at the economic statistics it is not a case of women gaining and men staying about the same. It is not even the case where women are taking jobs from men. It is a case where both people are losing jobs and men are losing them faster.

  • TD

    Name a ritual in Canada which is
    1.) Experienced predominantly or exclusively by men
    2.) Experienced by a majority of men
    3.) Is formally administered by older men
    4.) Can be identified by specific and articulable characteristics
    5.) Would be recognized by Canadians as a sign of manhood.
    If it exists I have not heard nor seen it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/anghella/ Angela S

      TD, as a Canadian I would definitely say hockey.

      1.) Experienced predominantly or exclusively by men
      NHL only has men, with no female equivalent league in the world.
      Men’s university college, bantam, house, farm, and high school hockey teams are always bigger and have more money than women’s teams. Our women’s teams win gold at the Olympics but everybody cares way more about men’s hockey. I’m not saying that there are no female Canadian hockey players or fans, but just watch where all the money is going.

      2.) Experienced by a majority of men
      Might be iffy on that, but I woul say the majority of Canadians growing up have played hockey at one time or another. I’m pretty sure it’s in our physical education curriculum. How else would we be tough enough to wrestle polar bears?

      3.) Is formally administered by older men
      Every famous coach and commentator. Most famous players. See Don Cherry.

      4.) Can be identified by specific and articulable characteristics
      Zero teeth and Tim’s Hortons cup in hand. I would say the rules, principles, and code of honor in the game, typified by the fact that hockey is the only sport where you’re allowed to fight. Try to take that away and you’d have many Canadians arguing with you.

      5.) Would be recognized by Canadians as a sign of manhood.
      Bingo. We almost voted Gretzy as our greatest Canadian! See “Puck Bunnies”

  • TD

    Regarding point 6, many surveys like that cannot be trusted because of the huge degree of people who intentionally mess with the survey?
    Hell 90% of my high school class claimed to be drug dealers on the school’s drug use survey. Insult peoples intelligence with surveys and they’ll make sure you don’t get good results.
    Seriously, if you ever have funding try it. Create a survey which asks “is murder wrong” in twenty different ways. By question 20 you’re going to see responses in the high eighties.