Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Michael Kimmel's "Guyland"

Michael Kimmel is the author or editor of more than twenty volumes, including Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity (1987), Men Confront Pornography (1990), Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996), The Gender of Desire (2005), and The History of Men (2005).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford might have been a good novelist, but he would have made a crummy social scientist. For us, you see, context matters. One can no more take a single page out of context from a complex argument than one can understand a work of fiction by reading only biographies of the author and histories of the writer's era.

That said, here is p. 99 of my new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (HarperCollins, 2008). The chapter is one of several that describes the various elements of what I call Guyland -- the new developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood, and arena of social relationships that guys develop. These are moments in Guyland, episodic and including binge drinking, fraternity initiation, sports, video games, pornography, hooking up, and sexual assault. This particular page is the beginning of the discussion of initiation and hazing, and sets up the discussion by describing the function of initiations in religion and in Freud's theories.

Page 99:

reborn into the community of the Church. And though baptism is not gender-specific, as both males and females are baptized, it is nonetheless a meditation about gender. (After all, the original baptisms were for men only.) The old "feminized self," born of a woman, is destroyed, and the priest, always a man, brings the new self to life. In a sense, then, the male priest has given birth to the new man. The mother may have given birth, but the child does not become a member of the community until the priest confers that status. Women are pushed aside, and men appropriate their reproductive power.

Freud made such a moment the centerpiece of his theory of child development. Before the Oedipal crisis, Freud argued, the child, male or female, identifies with mother, the source of love, food, and nurturing. To become a man, a boy must leave his mother behind, and come over to his father's side. The successful resolution of the Oedipal complex is identification with the masculine and "dis-identification" with the feminine. Whether or not one subscribes to Freudian theory, all theories of initiation pivot on uncertainty, anxiety, indeterminancy. It is an unstable moment, what anthropologist Victor Turner called a "liminal" stage--a stage of in-between-ness, "neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned an arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony."

Initiations in Guyland are about the passage from boyhood to manhood. Boyhood is the world of women--Mama's boys, wimps, wusses, and losers--or the world of men who are considered women--gays, fags, homos, queers. Or babies. One guy told me of the "Baby Dinner" at his fraternity house at a large public university in the Northeast. Pledges dressed in diapers, with little white bonnets on their heads, The pledge-master would put gross previously chewed food on their heads, simulating pabulum, and the pledges would scoop it off with their fingers and eat it. Many fraternities have equally infantilizing rituals. If initiation is going to validate your manhood, first you have to regress to babyhood.

Initiations, then, are all about masculinity--testing it and proving it. It's not that women don't initiate girls into womanhood. But rarely does becoming a woman involve danger, or threats, or testing. A girl might be inducted into womanhood when her mother explains menstruation
Learn more about the book and the author at the official Guyland website.

--Marshal Zeringue