Misframing Men: The Politics of Contemporary Masculinities

Misframing Men: The Politics of Contemporary Masculinities

Misframing Men: The Politics of Contemporary Masculinities

Misframing Men: The Politics of Contemporary Masculinities


This past decade has witnessed an extraordinary transformation in men's lives. For years, wave after wave of the women's movement, a movement that reshaped every aspect of American life, produced nary a ripple among men. But suddenly men are in the spotlight.

Yet, the public discussions often seem strained, silly, and sometimes flat-out wrong. The spotlight itself seems to obscure as much as it illuminates. Old tired cliches about men's resistance to romantic commitment or reluctance to be led to the marriage altar seem perennially recyclable in advice books and on TV talk shows, but these days the laughter feels more forced, the defensiveness more pronounced. Pop biologists avoid careful confrontation with serious scientific research in their quest to find anatomical or evolutionary bases for promiscuity or porn addiction, hoping that by fiat, one can pronounce that "boys will be boys" and render it more than a flaccid tautology. And political pundits wring their hands about the feminization of American manhood, as if gender equality has neutered these formerly proud studs. Misframing Men, a collection of Michael Kimmel's commentaries on contemporary debates about masculinity, argues that the media have largely misframed this debate.

Kimmel, among the world's best-known scholars in gender studies, discusses political moments such as the Virginia Military Institute and Citadel cases that reached the Supreme Court (he participated as expert witness for the Justice Department) along with Promise Keepers rallies, mythopoetic gatherings, and white supremacists. He takes on antifeminists as the real male bashers, questions the unsubstantiated assertions that men suffer from domestic violence to the same degree as women, and examines the claims made by those who want to rescue boys from the "misandrous" reforms initiated by feminism.

In writings both solidly grounded and forcefully argued, Kimmel pushes the boundaries of today's modern conversation about men and masculinity.


Acollection of essays, both new and old, often causes nostalgic moments, putting an author in a reflective frame of mind—recalling the occasions for which some essays were written, or the historical events that spurred them, or the seeming urgency of the political moment to which they responded. Even the new ones are freeze-frames, individual snapshots of a moving political target.

Some of these essays, those responses to then-urgent political moments, may feel utterly anachronistic in the current climate, while others might speak to these issues as they reshape themselves in the present environment. VMI and the Citadel may be coeducational now, but the struggle for women’s equal inclusion continues in firehouses and locker rooms across the country (and, indeed, in public arenas around the world). Middle-aged middle-class men may not be trooping off to the woods to chant and drum, but the malaise and uncertainty among those same men has only deepened, fueled now by right-wing blather about how “they” have taken away “your” birthright. The movements of the extreme right have only been fueled by the election of our nation’s first African American president, and his liberal policies on immigration, employment discrimination, health care, and human rights.

Of course, a collection of essays on similar themes is bound to run into some degree of repetition. After all, a formulation that seemed to work when describing one issue might seem to work just as well when I touched on that same issue a year later in another context. In those cases where the article was published elsewhere first, I’ve left those paragraphs untouched and beg the reader’s indulgence.

As a whole, though, the book has a definable shape. Between the first essay and the last two essays in this book lie a series of works about what I think are political mistakes, missteps on the way to redefining manhood in an age characterized by greater gender equality than ever before in our history. Antifeminist rants, mythopoetic retreats, evangelically based political exclusion of gays and women in the guise of embracing a more masculine Jesus—all these represent evidence that the once-solid ground of American masculinity has been so definitely shaken that it now feels, to many, like quicksand.

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