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.