The following has been excerpted with permission from Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel.
Welcome to Guyland.
Guyland is the world in which young men live. It is both a stage
of life, a liminal undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood
that can often stretch for a decade or more, and a place, or, rather,
a bunch of places where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled
by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other
nuisances of adult life. In this topsy- turvy, Peter- Pan mindset, young
men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the
trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to
prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary.
Males between 16 and 26 number well over 22 million—more than
15 percent of the total male population in the United States. The “guy”
age bracket represents the front end of the single most desirable consumer
market, according to advertisers. It’s the group constantly targeted
by major Hollywood studios, in part because this group sees the
same shoot- em- up action film so many times on initial release. They’re
targeted in several of the most successful magazine launches in recent
memory, magazines like Men’s Health, Maxim, FHM, Details, and Stuff.
Guys in this age bracket are the primary viewers of the countless sports
channels on television. They consume the overwhelming majority of
recorded music, video games, and computer technology, and they are
the majority of first- time car buyers.
Yet aside from assiduous market research, Guyland is a terra incognita;
it has never been adequately mapped. Many of us only know we’ve
landed there when we feel distraught about our children, anxious that
they have entered, or will be entering, a world that we barely know. We
sense them moving away from us, developing allegiances and attitudes
we neither understand nor support. Recently, a teacher at a middle school
told me about his own 16- year- old son, Nick. “When we’re together, he’s
excited, happy, curious, and so connected,” he told me.
“But when I drove him to school this morning, I watched an
amazing transformation. In the car, Nick was speaking animatedly
about something. As we arrived at his school, though, I saw him
scan the playground for his friends. He got out of the car, still
buoyant, with a bounce in his step. But as soon as he caught
sight of his friends he instantly fell into that slouchy ‘I don’t give
a shit’ amble that teenagers get. I think I actually watched him
become a ‘guy’!”
Parents often feel we no longer know them—the young guys in our
Just what are they doing in their rooms at all hours of the night? And
what are they doing in college? And why are they so aimless and directionless
when they graduate that they take dead- end jobs and move back
home? When they come home for college vacations, we wonder just who
is this new person who talks about ledge parties and power hours—and
what happened to the motivated young man who left for college with
such high hopes and a keen sense of purpose. And guys themselves
often wonder where they left their dreams.
Every time we read about vicious gay- baiting and bullying in a high
school, every time the nightly news depicts the grim horror of a school
shooting, every time we hear about teen binge drinking, random sexual
hookups, or a hazing death at a college fraternity, we feel that anxiety,
that dread. And we ask ourselves, “Could that be my son?” Or, “Could
that be my friend, or even my boyfriend?” Or, even “could that be me?”
Well, to be honest, probably not. Most guys are not predators, not
criminals, and neither so consumed with adolescent rage nor so caught
in the thrall of masculine entitlement that they are likely to end up with
a rap sheet instead of a college transcript. But most guys know other
guys who are chronic substance abusers, who have sexually assaulted
their classmates. They swim in the same water, breathe the same air.
Those appalling headlines are only the farthest extremes of a continuum
of attitudes and behaviors that stretches back to embrace so many young
men, and that so circumscribes their lives that even if they don’t want to
participate, they still must contend with it.
Guyland is not some esoteric planet inhabited only by alien
creatures—despite how alien our teenage and 20- something sons
might seem at times. It’s the world of everyday “guys.” Nor is it a state
of arrested development, a case of prolonged adolescence among a cadre
of slackers. It has become a stage of life, a “demographic,” that is now
pretty much the norm. Without fixed age boundaries, young men typically
enter Guyland before they turn 16, and they begin to leave in their
mid to late 20s. This period now has a definable shape and texture,
a topography that can be mapped and explored. A kind of suspended
animation between boyhood and manhood, Guyland lies between the
dependency and lack of autonomy of boyhood and the sacrifice and
responsibility of manhood. Wherever they are living, whatever they are
doing, and whomever they are hooking up with, Guyland is a dramatically
new stage of development with its own rules and limitations. It is
a period of life that demands examination—and not just because of the
appalling headlines that greet us on such a regular basis. As urgent as
it may seem to explore and expose Guyland because of the egregious
behaviors of the few, it may be more urgent to examine the ubiquity of
Guyland in the lives of almost everyone else.
It’s easy to observe “guys” virtually everywhere in America—in every
high school and college campus in America, with their baseball caps
on frontward or backward, their easy smiles or anxious darting eyes,
huddled around tiny electronic gadgets or laptops, or relaxing in front of
massive wide- screen hi- def TVs, in basements, dorms, and frat houses.
But it would be a mistake to assume that each conforms fully to a regime
of peer- influenced and enforced behaviors that I call the “Guy Code,”
or shares all traits and attitudes with everyone else. It’s important to
remember that individual guys are not the same as “Guyland.”
In fact, my point is precisely the opposite. Though Guyland is
pervasive—it is the air guys breathe, the water they drink—each guy
cuts his own deal with it as he tries to navigate the passage from adolescence
to adulthood without succumbing to the most soul- numbing,
spirit- crushing elements that surround him every day.
Guys often feel they’re entirely on their own as they navigate the
murky shallows and the dangerous eddies that run in Guyland’s swift
current. They often stop talking to their parents, who “just don’t get
it.” Other adults seem equally clueless. And they can’t confide in one
another lest they risk being exposed for the confused creatures they are.
So they’re left alone, confused, trying to come to terms with a world
they themselves barely understand. They couch their insecurity in bravado
and bluster, a fearless strut barely concealing a tremulous anxiety.
They test themselves in fantasy worlds and in drinking contests, enduring
humiliation and pain at the hands of others.
All the while, many do suspect that something’s rotten in the state of
Manhood. They struggle to conceal their own sense of fraudulence, and
can smell it on others. But few can admit to it, lest all the emperors- to- be
will be revealed as disrobed. They go along, in mime.
Just as one can support the troops but oppose the war, so too can one
appreciate and support individual guys while engaging critically with
the social and cultural world they inhabit. In fact, I believe that only
by understanding this world can we truly be empathic to the guys in
our lives. We need to enter this world, see the perilous field in which
boys become men in our society because we desperately need to start
a conversation about that world. We do boys a great disser vice by turning
away, excusing the excesses of Guyland as just “boys being boys”—
because we fail to see just how powerful its influence really is. Only
when we begin to engage in these conversations, with open eyes and
open hearts—as parents to children, as friends, as guys themselves—
can we both reduce the risks and enable guys to navigate it more successfully.
This book is an attempt to map that terrain in order to enable
guys—and those who know them, care about them, love them—to steer
a course with greater integrity and honesty, so they can be true not to
some artificial code, but to themselves.
The above has been excerpted with permission from Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel.
For more information on Michael Kimmel, visit www.michaelkimmel.com
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