Manhood in America: A Cultural History

Manhood in America: A Cultural History

Manhood in America: A Cultural History

Manhood in America: A Cultural History


For more than three decades, the women's movement and its scholars have exhaustively studied women's complex history, roles, and struggles. In Manhood in America, Second Edition, author Michael S. Kimmel--a leading authority in gender studies--argues that it is time for men to rediscover their own evolution. Drawing on a myriad of sources, including advice books, magazine columns, political pamphlets, and popular novels and films, he demonstrates that American men have been eternally frustrated by their efforts to keep up with constantly changing standards. Kimmel contends that men must follow the lead of the women's movement; it is only by mining their past for its best qualities and worst excesses that men will free themselves from the constraints of the masculine ideal. Condensed and revised in this second edition, Manhood in America features updated chapters and examples that extend its coverage through the present Bush administration. Touching on issues of masculinity as they pertain to current events, the book discusses such timely topics as post-9/11 politics, "self-made" masculinities (including those of Internet entrepreneurs), presidential campaigns, and gender politics. It also covers contemporary debates about fatherlessness, the biology of male aggression, and pop psychologists like John Gray and Dr. Laura. Outlining the various ways in which manhood has been constructed and portrayed in America, this engaging history is ideal as a main text for courses on masculinity or as a supplementary text for courses in gender studies and cultural history.


The publication of a second edition of a book is usually a mixed blessing: it means that the book has been successful enough to warrant a new edition, but that there are parts of it that need fixing—either by updating old material or by revising some of the ideas. In this case, I’ve done little of either. Since Manhood in America is a cultural history, I will stand by the assessments of the historical development of masculinity I sketched out in the first edition. While I have tried to add a few historical references to buttress the original claims, the work remains pretty much as I first wrote it.

I have, however, attempted to add by subtraction: I’ve cut back the supporting reference materials dramatically, especially pruning away much of the additional commentary that I had earlier carried out in the footnotes. The reference materials should be slimmer and more navigable for the reader.

I have also added a new chapter, updating the book from 1994, when I finished the first draft, through the end of 2004. While writing this, I began to notice a shift in American men’s attitudes. If the history of middle-class white American masculinity that I trace here has been a history of a self-made man “restless in the midst of abundance” as de Tocqueville so eloquently observed, anxious, driven to prove his masculinity at every turn, the past decade has seen that anxiety morph into anger, that restlessness drift inexorably into rage. While many American men drift toward greater gender equality— sharing childcare, developing cross-sex friendships, accepting women’s equality in the workplace and in the professions—there is also a growing vitriolic chorus of defensively unapologetic regression. American men have probably never been more equal with women, and many American men have never been angrier.

Do I think there’s a connection? Yes and no. I think the tide of gender equality is rising inexorably, despite the efforts of what Spiro Agnew would have called these “nattering nabobs of negativism.” They’re two different groups. As the pundits yearn nostalgically for some anterior moment when men’s privileges were intact and unchallenged, others howl with derision at the prospect of gender equality, claiming men as the victims of reverse discrimination. Others declare that Neanderthal masculinity is our birthright or genetic inheritance, ordained via divine or evolutionary imperatives.

And while fewer men seem to be trooping off to the woods these days for mythopoetic gatherings, many are still searching for authenticity in their relationships to their work, their families, and their friends, and are finding depth, resonance, and fulfillment far closer to home than they ever expected. Middle-class men say they are more likely to spend weekends with their families than pursuing all other activities—hanging out with friends, playing golf, watching sports, etc.—combined.

At the same time, men still use the same strategies to anchor their identities and achieve a secure masculinity in an increasingly insecure world. The three patterns I

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