Renowned sociologist and bestselling author Dr. Michael Kimmel (The Gendered Society, Manhood in America) spoke at Belmont today on “Mars and Venus, or Planet Earth: Women and Men in a New Millennium” as part of the Living Sociology Speaker Series.
Kimmel opened his talk by describing that the biggest changes seen in men in the past 50-plus years aren’t really “changes” at all. Rather, due to the countless ways women’s lives have changed, the perspective on men has changed. For example, as schools and workplaces have become gender-integrated, women have come to expect more from men. Most women and men expect to have full-time employment after college which raises issues of work/life balance since, historically, women have done the “second shift” (i.e., been primary childcare providers, homemakers). As women do more outside the home, men must do more inside the home to make help create that balance.
“My father went to an all male college, served in an all male military and worked in an all male office,” Kimmel said. “That world has changed.”
Although men’s and women’s lives have changed dramatically in the last 50 years, according to Kimmel, the model for masculinity has not. Men are expected to abide by the same four rules of masculinity that were evident in the 1950s, as noted by social scientists Deborah David and Robert Brannon: No sissy stuff, be a big wheel (manhood being measured by the size of a paycheck), be a sturdy oak (be reliable but emotionless) and “give ’em hell” (be daring).
Kimmel emphasized that by creating more equality between women and men–in schools, in workplaces and in families–both genders will benefit and be able to live fuller, happier and healthier lives.
Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity today. The author or editor of more than 20 volumes, his book, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996), was hailed as the definitive work on the subject. One reviewer wrote that “Kimmel’s humane, pathbreaking study points the way toward a redefinition of manhood that combines strength with nurturing, personal accountability, compassion and egalitarianism” (Publishers’ Weekly).
Kimmel’s latest book, Guyland, is based on more than 400 interviews over a four-year span with young men, ages 16–26. Kimmel’s study shows that the guys who live in “Guyland” are mostly white, middle-class, totally confused and cannot commit to their relationships, work or lives. Although they seem baffled by the riddles of manhood and responsibility, they submit to the “Guy Code,” where locker-room behaviors, sexual conquests, bullying, violence and assuming a cocky jock pose can rule over the sacrifice and conformity of marriage and family. In the end, Kimmel offers a highly practical guide to male youth.