Kimmel attacks male stereotypes

by Jessica Spradling | 11/5/02 6:00am

Author Michael Kimmel argued before a nearly full house in Dartmouth Hall last night that women cannot achieve social equality unless masculinity is redefined to allow men to accept women as their peers.

Kimmel, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Stoneybrook, spoke energetically without notes or a microphone for over an hour, reviewing more than 30 years of his research about the "invisibility" of masculinity as a wide-spread issue in matters of gender equality.

"When I say gender, what do you think? The answer is always women," Kimmel said.

He went on to discuss several ways in which women cannot be accepted as equals, both in the workplace and in the family, unless men are willing to change themselves.

The current attitude among many, whether they realize it or not, according to Kimmel, is "women can't have it all, because men do."

Kimmel said that men and women will both lead happier lives if men -- particularly white men -- overcome their "sense of entitlement." Kimmel challenged men who think women have taken their jobs to explain what made it "their job" to begin with.

Beyond the workplace, Kimmel discussed how many men are made unhappy by the constraints of gender-role stereotypes. The worst thing you can be as an American male, Kimmel said, is "a sissy."

In the lives of boys and men, "masculinity becomes a kind of relentless test," Kimmel said.

According to Kimmel, frustrated masculinity is the cause of many violent crimes in the United States. Masculinity in U.S. culture, Kimmel said, is a risk factor for several violent crimes, including date rape, sexual assault and school shootings.

"The very things that we thought were going to make us real men are the very things that makes us bad partners, friends and fathers," Kimmel said.

Kimmel cited a higher incidence of rape and sexual assault in the United States than any other industrial country. "To men safe sex is an oxymoron," Kimmel said, and he added HIV, with 88 percent of cases in the United States being males, is "the most gendered disease we've ever had."

Kimmel went through several aspects of popular culture that tell men from childhood that they are always being judged by other men, joking that controversial rap star Eminem is his "favorite gender theorist."

Again, Kimmel cited that issues of masculinity are never addressed in cases of sexual assault. He emphasized that the onus is on women to protect themselves from sexual assault instead of society addressing the issues that lead men to participate in this kind of behavior.

According to Kimmel the message that society sends to women is, "We men are out-of-control animals and we are going to be all over you -- so you have to do all of the policing," he added though that as men, "I think we can do better than that."

"Imagine if Dartmouth was the first campus in the country where not one woman would be scared to go to a party."

Kimmel disagreed strongly with the popular "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" mentality in the Untied States. "We have far more in common than we have in different," Kimmel said of male and female relationships, and added to the mixed-gender crowd, "Your presence tonight is the single greatest refutation of this book"

For solutions to the problem he presented, Kimmel encouraged early education of boys, especially training them to form strong, supportive friendships with other males.