Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Adventures in Guyland

I've been increasingly fascinated with masculine gender studies, and have stumbled across several things that have piqued my interest. I am currently reading Guyland by Dr. Michael Kimmel. I haven't finished it yet, but one concept that really struck home for me is about gender police. 

Guyland is specifically about the life stage of "guy", somewhere between boy and man, usually running from ages 16-26. Kimmel is a sociologist, and has done extensive research and interviews all across the country. For a while now, I have said that I think the next step in toward gender equality is to unpack "masculine" in much the same way that feminism has unpacked "feminine". Kimmel seems to correlate this. 

He says that if he asks a young woman what it means to be a Woman, she will look at him confusedly and say it means whatever she decides it means. But if he asks a guy what it means to be a Man, there is a definite answer. To me, this says that the idea of being a Woman has been unpacked; there is no set answer, no particular rite of passage or quality that equals womanhood. But the idea of being a Man has not been unpacked. Kimmel works on unpacking it by pointing out the "Guy Code" that is really about never showing or having emotions, keeping silent about things other guys do that bother you, and the culture of protection in the community that says boys will be boys, and they are our boys so they must not be capable really of doing violent things. 

He goes on to say that boys are subjected to much more gender policing than girls are. Everything boys and guys do gets labeled by their peers. If at any point they fail to live up to the Guy Code, they will be called "gay". "Gay" means less than a man, and gets used as an epithet almost ubiquitously. "That's so gay." "Those shoes are gay." A guy does not want to be called gay because that makes him a target for harassment, bullying, and possible physical violence, and so he tends to "correct" his behavior and work hard to stay unnoticed. 

I found myself feeling very depressed after reading the first few chapters. It is all a little too true for comfort, and speaking about these unspoken rules highlights how destructive they really are. I have, however, continued reading, and find that as I understand more of the dynamics at work, I am coming back into a more hopeful place.

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