Today, I got to hear Professor Michael Kimmel speak at my university. As a leading researcher and writer on masculinity, his talk was titled “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.”
Through watching from the sidelines and long conversations with friends, I’ve followed my peers progress through their teenage years and into their twenties. This whole laid back college experience offered in the American culture has partly fascinated me and partly left me frustrated. I know I’m stepping on some people’s feet when I say this, but to me, it seems like for four years, college students get the chance to party, hang out with friends, drink and hook up between attending class a few hours a week. Now, this is not every college student, but it’s the ideal college experience that most high school seniors look forward to.
Kimmel’s book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men looks at how men “drift casually through college and beyond – hanging out, partying, playing with tech toys, and watching sports.” After interviewing more than 400 guys across the country, he wrote the book to explore the social world and cultural norms that would help us understand Guyland. I read the introduction of his book, and can’t wait to buy it and read the rest.
In his talk, Kimmel spoke about his research over the years, the observations he’s made and how college students can apply it to themselves and their friends. Some interesting points I picked up:
- In the 19th century, it used to be that children automatically transferred into adulthood after primary school as they went to work for their family farms, the military or city jobs. But over the years, a gap has developed, coined by 19th century psychologist G. Stanley Hall as adolescence. But, this gap seems to have expanded with time and Kimmel has focused a lot of his research on the ages between 16 to 26. For example, it used to be by age 20, you would have finished your education, gotten a stable job, gotten married, bought a house and had kids. Now, the average age of getting married in the U.S. is 28.
- Kimmel cites the three reasons for these changes are: economic turmoil, demographic changes and parenting. Economically – our career trajectories have changes. Unlike our parents’ generation, we no longer stay at the same company for 30 years, instead we move around both within our industry and even between industries quickly and often. Demographically, we live longer thanks to technology and modern medicine. Finally, kids grow up under “helicopter parents” who monitor their every move all through high school, but often let go in college to give their kids the full college experience of freedom.
- Kimmel also discussed how changes in women’s lives impact men’s lives. Now that women are essentially equal to men in pretty much every aspect of their lives, how do men react? How do guys preserve their manhood? What are men willing to do to prove their masculinity to each other?
- Another memorable quote from his talk today is “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” Which is true isn’t it? The center is always invisible to itself.
- The last part of Kimmel’s talk focused on college campuses – the relationship between guys and guys and girls. Specifically, how there is a pressure to conform to your peers expectations both within and outside your gender. His observations are quite interesting and revealing, but it’s all in his books so if you’re interested in finding out more, definitely check those out!
I could go on and on here – I find this whole subject so fascinating – the way American college students choose to spend their 4-6 years in college. I understand the appeal of taking time off from responsibilities you’ll have for the rest of your life, but in retrospect, our lives on this earth are so short.
As a Christian, I strongly believe that we were put on this earth not for our own pleasure and desires, but to represent God and His plans for our life. And when is a better time to start then our twenties?
We can accomplish so much if we put all of our minds to it – we have more opportunities and resources going for our generation than any other generation before ours. We have the money, brains, technology, mentorship and education to literally make a better world – solve world poverty, stop human trafficking, and cure cancer.
So, why do we settle for hook-ups, beer and partying through our college years and often beyond before “settling down” or “growing up?”
I don’t want to judge anyone’s choice – that is not my place. I’m simply curious – why do we do what we do? Are we truly okay with it or are we scared to rock the boat? Thoughts?