In this book, subtitled American Masculinity at the End of and Era, Kimmel looks at the ways some American men are reacting to a world where the various social inequalities that worked in their favour are now being steadily eroded. For most of its history, the US was dominated by straight, white men. Now, that power is coming to an end, and some of them are very angry. The types of men examined are right-wing radio commentators and their listeners, school shooters, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), Father’s Rights Activists, rampage shooters, and white supremacists.
Kimmel’s central idea, what he believes is behind so much of the anger of the white men, is “aggrieved entitlement”. These men look at how the world used to be, see what they believe is entitled to them, then get angry when they don’t get it. A devoted wife, a loving family, a good job, self-sufficiency, wealth, freedom, happiness: these are some of the things they think a man should have. What they don’t realise is that the ability of the white man to achieve these aims was because of his privileged position in society, and was often built on the subjugation of others, like black people, immigrants, and women. Most of them have this ideal of what a man should be and what he should get from the world, and they become angry or ashamed when they fail to get it. The world is changing rapidly, and these changes are often the target of their rage. This is why they want to return to the ideal past, free from such boogey-men as feminism and social equality. Kimmel discusses the idea that it is not the downtrodden who are most angry, but those who have something valuable to lose.
Their anger often turns to humiliation, and humiliation often then turns to violence. So many of these rampage shooters are trying to reclaim their manhood from a society that they feel has continually thwarted them. They have no hope for the future, so they decide to commit suicide and take a few others with them. Kimmel makes the case that they do this because violence is seen as an appropriately masculine response to humiliation. From their fathers, they learned that masculinity is something that must be violently defended if called into question. I can’t remember if he asks whether violence is an inherent part of men or just a product of societies view of masculinity, but he makes it clear that a majority of violent acts, and the worst of these acts, are committed by men. The tide is turning though, as men, particularly fathers, embrace a more caring and less traditionally masculine way of life.
In justifying hatred of the “other”, the angry white men often use masculinity as a measure of why they are superior. The other can be either hyper-, or hypomasculine–too much or too little. The white man is just the right amount, masculine enough to get things done, but not so much that they are savage and violent. Women and homosexuals are obviously too feminine. It’s the same with lazy immigrants. Others are too masculine: they are unwashed hordes invading America to rape and pillage. Sometimes, the other is both too much and too little at the same time. The Jews are seen as weak physically, yet at the same time, they also own all corporations and the media and use it to keep the white man down. The government is a similar mixture: a feckless nanny state that coddles the weak and lazy, and a malicious grasping borderline-dictatorship that suppresses freedom. The benefits of this type of world-view for the angry white men is that it allows them to demonize almost anyone in any situation.
Though he is intensely critical of the white men’s anger, Kimmel admits that it is real and justifiable, only that it is pointed in the wrong direction. Because of years of neoliberal economic policies, many places in America are rife with poverty and unemployment. Is it any wonder that men feel humiliated, when so much of a traditional man’s identity is wrapped up in his ability to provide for a family? He talks about scape-goating: when, rather than attack the more powerful source of grief, anger is redirected towards those who are less able to fight back. In this case, the anger is not directed towards corporations or government economic policies, but women and immigrants. We live in a time of vast wealth inequality, and many of the ills of the world are a direct result of this. Kimmel recommends that Americans look at what some European countries are doing to combat inequality and try to emulate them.
There is much more that could be said about this book, but I’ll leave it there. It was a very interesting read, but there’s a lot in it, so I’m still digesting. I might have to reread in the future. It’s kind of funny: I looked up Michael Kimmel on Youtube and found a video from some MRAs discussing him. It turns out that they really don’t like him–hitting too close to home, maybe?
Recommended for those who are interested in: sociology, masculinity, reactionaries.