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Book Review: Guyland

If you want to understand guys better, Guyland is a solid place to start. Reading it certainly opened my eyes to the reality of being a boy/guy/man in America.

Author Michael Kimmel explores the world of guys, meaning 16-26 year olds, and the picture he paints is a startling one. It especially focuses on college students and the life they lead—tackling topics like binge drinking, hazing, hooking up, and the infamous ‘guy code’.

guylandHaving grown up outside of the US, Guyland was especially interesting, since it clearly showed the differences between growing up as a guy in The Netherlands for example, or in America. The sports culture for instance, meaning the elevated status of guys both in high school and in college who excel in certain sports, is a huge difference with Europe.

Guyland also helped me understand the underlying processes and cultural aspects of certain excesses, like party rape. The ‘guy code’ the author describes in detail plays a crucial role in this and it was the first time this became so crystal clear to me. Here are some elements of that guy code:

  1. Be a man: guys don’t want to be perceived as weak, effeminate, or gay. Masculinity matters. Showing emotions is a sign of weakness, especially kindness or compassion.
  2. Power is everything: status and power are crucial. They define success. So does winning.
  3. Be aggressive: live life on the edge, take risks, go for it. Don’t care what others think.

Even more interesting, Kimmel argues that this guy code and what he calls ‘guyland’ rests on three pillars: a culture of entitlement, a culture of silence, and a culture of protection.

He argues that many young men today “have a shockingly strong sense of male superiority and a diminished capacity for empathy”—a deep sense of entitlement. And those who feel differently, who don’t support the excesses of guy culture don’t say anything, because they are afraid of being outcast, marginalized—the culture of silence. But even worse, often those in authority positions, like teachers, parents, and coaches, decide to look the other way and let guys get away with bad stuff—the culture of protection.

This is how excesses like date rape happen, Kimmel argues, because the guy is not accustomed to hearing ‘no’, feels he is entitled, and has never been confronted with the consequences of previous bad behavior. And he knows his friends will look the other way and not rat him out.

Is it oversimplified and over-generalized? Of course it is. But there’s also a deep truth at the core that feels very, very uncomfortable. Granted, Guyland is from 2008 and a lot can change in 8 years…a lot has changed in 8 years. But not so much that the author’s analysis has been proven wrong by the last few years—unfortunately.

If you want to understand guys better, I highly recommend reading this book. A good and more recent companion would be Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds and Wingmen, which I also read recently. Both offer tremendous, though at times shocking, insights into what it means to be a boy/guy in America.

I haven’t fully processed what these books mean yet for doing youth ministry…or for being the parent of a boy. My son is 8, so we are just getting started, but after reading these books I am more determined than ever to raise him to be the right kind of man.

I’d love to hear what you think of these theories on guyland and guy code…How can we help the boys in our ministries become good, moral men?

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  1. […] of the key messages I remember from Guyland, a powerful book on male culture, was the importance of the ‘guy […]

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