Guyland

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A new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, by Michael Kimmel, warns of the perils of ignoring the “disgruntled” male. (Read a review in Salon.com.) The author contends that bad male behavior is alive and well in our society, as evidenced by incidents of bullying, hazing, school shootings (as well as other incidents of “going postal”), gay-bashing, date rape, and so on.

I have not yet read the book, but what caught my eye was the reviewer’s statement that: “A new generation of girls who don’t consider themselves feminists and people of color who oppose affirmative action may find themselves against a wall — or a glass ceiling — they thought their mothers had climbed over.” One reason why I am amazed sometimes at the lack of feminist sentiment among young women is that male behavior hasn’t changed all that much over the decades since the Women’s Liberation movement first burst on the scene in the ’60s (let alone since Seneca Falls).

The proof of that is the way that Hillary Clinton was often viewed in the media during her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. But what about Sarah Palin? Why is she receiving so much male approval? Well, for one thing, she’s not running for president. If she had been nominated as the presidential candidate, there would have been an uproar among her now-devotees that could have been heard in Australia. (You’d think that they would realize this when they think about how close she could be to the presidency.)

But there are other reasons why Palin hasn’t received the response that Clinton did: she is not a threatening type of woman. She may well be a tough cookie, but her iron hand is clad in a velvet glove: that of the accepted norm of femininity. By all appearances, she’s a happily married mother of five who wears her hair long (men love that) and skirts instead of pantsuits. She’s attractive and relatively young. For God’s sakes, she was a runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant! And she’s athletic, too, which is actually a turn-on for most men, seeing as how they love slim and fit female bodies. Oh, and she’s against gays and abortion, both issues that threaten men, and for guns and war. How could they not love her?

Now that I’ve gotten my daily tirade against Sarah Palin out of my system, I’ll return to my discussion of Guyland. The author is mainly talking about the male’s right of passage into adulthood, which he says occurs between the ages of 16 and in some cases as late as 30. He contends that we need to control the messages that young men are receiving and sending. But more than that, we need to see the damage that negative male behavior does to the rest of society. Hence his comment that women, gays and people of color may be at risk in a world where these men never “grow up.”

According to the reviewer, Kimmel seems to be saying that this behavior is on the rise and can be attributed to a backlash effect. White males have always had a certain sense of entitlement which is being trompled all over in a world of affirmative action and more assertive behavior on the part of the people they’re used to trompling. Men who have been shunted aside in favor of women and minorities (women are not in the minority) are in danger of acting out their frustrations. And guess who their targets are likely to be?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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