Book Reviews

Book by: Michael Kimmel
Review by: Linda Bradbury
Educational Opportunities Center-EEO/EOF, PASSPORT and Spanish Speaking Programs
Kean University


 

Michael Kimmel, sociologist and author of Manhood in America, provides a research-grounded analysis of why white-middle class males, between the ages of 16 and 26, who are or will be college educated, retreat to Guyland—both a new stage of life and a social space. With adolescence starting earlier and adulthood starting later, Guyland represents a new stage of development. As a social space, young men, reared with a false sense of entitlement that is then thwarted, without a clear idea of how to become adults, withdraw to Guyland, where they hook up, watch pornography, and abuse alcohol. They adhere to the Guy Code, i.e., “Boys don’t cry;” “Don’t get mad, get even” and “Bros before hos” (p. 45) and constantly seek validation and acceptance from their male peers.

Without traditional rites of passage conducted by mature men, Kimmel asserts that high school is the “boot camp for Guyland” (p. 70) during which boys learn the three cultures of Guyland: the “culture of entitlement” (p. 59) in which they “believe that the capacity for empathy and compassion has to be suppressed, early on, in the name of achieving masculinity” (p. 59); the “culture of silence” (page 61), even as witnesses to violence, cultivated in order for boys to avoid being outcast or the victim of bullying; and the “culture of protection” (p. 63) enabling boys who are silent to support and protect their peers who engage in criminal activity and to demean victims.

Later, colleges and fraternities are a haven for Guyland  where, away from helicopter parents,  “freedom is equated with a lack of accountability—not having to answer to anyone—and so being irresponsible becomes a way of declaring your freedom and, hence, your adulthood” (p. 109). Barbaric hazing, binge drinking and sexual behavior, ranging from casual sex without a romantic relationship, i.e., “hooking up” (p. 190), to outright rape, provide “misguided notions of masculinity, with legitimacy conferred by those who have no real legitimacy to confer it” (p. 98).

Only in the last chapter does Kimmel offer any antidotes to Guyland: To support emotional resilience to help young men create their own unshakeable code of ethics; to engage young men with charismatic adults who can serve as models of ethical adult behavior; without infantilizing young adults, both fathers and mothers need to remain present in their lives, throughout their teens and twenties, while holding them accountable for their actions; encouraging young men to commit themselves in areas in which they can feel accomplished and to develop friendships with both males and females; and to embolden them to “break the culture of silence” (p. 280).

Since the book was published in 2008, Kimmel does not address more recent progress on college campuses regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community issues and its influence on Guyland and the Guy Code.

Kimmel does applaud progress on college campuses to more closely monitor student behavior and to update policies to directly address hazing, sexual assault and alcohol abuse. Academic Advisors are in a position to participate in campus-wide activities that address not only retention and graduation issues, but to also help make strides in the revision of campus policies, such as through participation in University Senates. Additionally, Academic Advisors can serve as charismatic adults who model ethical behavior and whose job it is to listen.


Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. (2008). Book by Michael Kimmel. Review by Linda Bradbury. New York, NY: Harper Collins. 332 pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-06-083135-6.

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