Corey Wrenn's Reviews > Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

Guyland by Michael S. Kimmel
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This book explores the very privileged world of college age white men in America; a group with so much privilege that they generally go invisible in the discourse of gender studies. Kimmel explains this privilege and how boys and men navigate the world with a concept he calls, the "Guy Code," comprised of a number of gender rules imposed on boys and men (and policed by one another).

The book is based on hundreds of interviews, but it reads more journalistic. For instance, it sometimes appears to be based on guesses and hunches because it relies so loosely on research (and his methodology is never fully explained). There are times when I feel like he is casting too wide a net to explain a diversity of experiences and backgrounds, and I do find it frustrating that the non-white experience is so invisibilized. Non-heterosexual boys and men are mentioned from time to time where relevant, but more emphasis on their experiences would also be helpful to flesh out this narrative. There was ample discussion of how the Guy Code impacts girls and women as far as their well-being, but also a critical take on the compromises they must make to navigate a patriarchal society. To that end, there are many, many disturbing discussions of high profile rape cases (and also some that surfaced in Kimmel's interviews). The section explaining the pull of gang rape was especially difficult to get through, and his explanations as to why they happen and why they are actually valued is both enlightening and sobering. The infusing of sex and anger in pornography (and group pornography watching) was a useful contribution as well. It was very frightening to learn about, but he does emphasize that most men grow out of their dedication to violent pornography as they mature.

I was pleased to see this very critical take on pornography and rape culture, although I was not so happy that he failed to make it perfectly clear that plying women with alcohol and having sex with drunk women is a felony, not just bad sex, unsafe sex, or immature sex as he often framed it. On one hand he would highlight how men can be predatory with alcohol, but on the other, he frequently described men raping drunk women as "hookups" or "sex." Getting women and girls drunk in order to rape them is always rape. I think he understands this, but is trying to compromise on the language some as to not repel readers, as interviewees described getting women drunk to have sex with them was just as normal as the air they breathed.

I appreciate his final chapter which breaks down the importance of guys looking out for other guys and intervening when the Guy Code goes too far. His emphasis on university rules and punishments, however, seemed a little halfhearted. I'm sure as a sociologist, he is aware that these approaches are limited in their success as punishments fail to deter (he was right the first time to focus on the social groups and culture as the main problem to be addressed). Finally, I was very disappointed that he did not take on the problematic nature of gender itself. Instead, he doubles-down on the wrong-headed notion that masculinity and femininity are normal, natural, and not going anywhere. He fails to acknowledge how gender is responsible for difference and inequality, and this will persist even if masculinity is reformed. To that end, I don't think there was one mention of how trans men (and women) experience Guyland. So, there was definitely room for some elaboration and deeper critical thought, but this is overall a very good introduction into the politics of masculinity as it impacts the most privileged in our society. It reads fluidly and it keeps your attention.

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Reading Progress

April 18, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
April 18, 2014 – Shelved
July 23, 2016 – Started Reading
July 27, 2016 – Finished Reading

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