Guyland Confronts Contemporary Masculinity


Author Michael Kimmell discusses his most recent book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.

By Ruth Jacobs
Photography by Maddie Bergier '12

Sociologist and author Michael Kimmel addresses a packed audience in Page Commons.

Reactions ranged from laughter to awkward silence when sociologist and author Michael Kimmell spoke to an overflowing Page Commons audience about marriage, masturbation—and more importantly about the culture in which young men are socialized and how it affects their values, pursuits, and relationships.

Kimmell, a leading researcher on masculinity in America and professor of sociology at SUNY-Stony Brook, discussed the topic of his most recent book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. “There is a new stage of development in the United States today—in most industrial countries actually,” he said, “that's not going to go away.” “Guyland,” as he calls it, refers to the period of development between ages 16 and 26—the time between adolescence and adulthood. It's a relatively new phenomenon, he says, emerging since the 1950s, when people were expected to be married with children (i.e. adults) around age 20.

Both men and women experience this stage of development and are affected by men's response to it, primarily around definitions of masculinity, Kimmell argues. Despite the dramatic societal changes in the past half century, including the sexual revolution and women making up half the labor force, one thing has not changed. “One thing that remains relatively constant for men of college age now,” he said, “is that … most men in this age group, sixteen to twenty-six, subscribe to the same ideology of masculinity—what they think it means to be a man—that I did, that my dad did.”

The problem with that, Kimmell said, is that young men now lack the same kinds of mentoring as they navigate manhood, especially in college. “In every single other culture in the world, it is the grownup men who … validate the boys' masculinity at the end,” he said. “What happens on college campuses is that you have eighteen-year-olds proving [their masculinity] to nineteen-year-olds, and that simply cannot work.”

This, of course, affects women in profound ways, Kimmell argues. “The big irony for me in writing Guyland was, despite all of the dramatic increase in women's equality over the past forty years, Guyland remains a relatively gender-unequal world,” he said.

So what are parents—and young men—to do? “I think we need to collectively and individually figure out ways to navigate our way through Guyland. Naming it, understanding it, understanding what's being asked of us in its name, is the first step,” he said. “I think the question is how do we navigate our way through Guyland more consciously and more ethically?”

Speaking to a room full of people ages 16 to 26 is one way to start.

The talk was sponsored by the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and the Goldfarb Center.

blog comments powered by Disqus


  • On December 15, 2010, Frank Bolton wrote:
    College is about the only time in a people's lives when they are segregate by age group.. As children, they are definitely clustered by age but they are also under guidance in school. As they advance to higher and higher grade levels, through high school, that supervision decreases but they are still under parental guidance and discipline. If they board at college, all bets are off and their mentors are those just ahead of them. Once they graduate, they enter a work world of mixed ages. I have worked with high school and college students for 42 years and find them for the most part delightful -- but the guys clearly act more maturely when they are not segregated by sex. The all male environment of a boys school is good for them until about the age Kimmell suggests as the bottom age for Guyland.
  • On December 15, 2010, Ralph Nelson wrote:
    The Boy Scout program works on the principle that men (and now women) trained as mentors and examples can guide boys and young men to become constructive members of the community. Many other male-oriented organizations have a series of ranks through which a new (young) member can rise by learning social and organizational skills.

    What we need to do is be more aware of how important this process is and review and improve the current growth-to-stong-manhood programs.

    Colby might find ways to strengthen its faculty/staff involvement with extra-curricular programs so that strong adult role models would be more available as mentors.

    Ahh, for the good old days of fraternities with house mothers, male junior faculty members in the men's dorms, and chaperones at parties and on co-ed trips!!! [Showing my age, maybe?? Class of '60]
  • On December 17, 2010, Hillary Egan wrote:
    Uncles ! an under rated, often forfeited role in the extended family...can be a profound, family values centered, influence on the tweens and early twenties. We could all be better aunts or uncles...think about it .....then do something, today, for a niece or nephew...a card, a check, a phone call...dinner ....teach them to sew, ride a bike, open a checking account, proof read their college essay, mend their favorite sweater...or buy them a new one .. and the fall back of baseball or hockey game tickets is ALWAYS a good time to spend TOGETHER...thats the key, maybe even take them on a college Colby??