BROOKE GLADSTONE: So we’ve made a start in sorting out the spaces but haven’t yet considered the men who inhabit them and the history that forged them. For that, we need a historian and a sociologist, someone who focuses on masculinity. We found one.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: [LAUGHS] Masculinity Studies, which is what I would call it, I guess, is a subfield of Gender Studies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Kimmel is a professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Gender Studies, of course, is a sort of expansion of Women's Studies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Women’s Studies made women visible. It went back into history and literature and said, you know, we’ve really got to rediscover some of the great women artists and writers and poets and historical figures. But it also made gender visible. We became aware that gender is one of the organizing principles of social life, that gender is one of the foundations of your identity, women and men and others who began to sort of say, well, what about men’s lives? Let’s talk about how men's lives are gendered? A similar process was going on around what we came to call Critical Whiteness Studies. People said, well, what does it mean to be white?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah, by particularizing whiteness, rather than seeing it as a default, or men, rather than seeing it as a default, you otherize it in a good way, like everything else is otherized. You see it against a backdrop that isn't just itself.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Exactly right, making the center visible as just one other identity. So, for example, if you were to take a course on 19th century British literature, when you talked about the Brontes or when you talked about Jane Austen, you would, of course, talk about gender. But when you talked about Dickens, Dickens is a social problem novelist so, of course, he only talked about class, despite the fact that if you look at his longest books they were all books about young boys looking for authentic fathers, like Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. Those are also meditations about masculinity.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Between the alt-right men at Charlottesville and the perpetrators of school shootings and other mass violence and Kanye West --
-- bemoaning what he sees as constraints on his freedom of thought, something is coalescing that feels new but is it?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: I published a book in 2013 called Angry White Men, and I’d been studying the extreme right and other groups of men who feel aggrieved, and the phrase that I came up with is “aggrieved entitlement.” My first encounter with these guys came about 15 years ago on a TV talk show, four white men who believed that they were the victims of reverse discrimination in the workplace.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: And the title of that show was a quote from one of the men, “A Black Woman Stole My Job.” And so, when it was my turn to speak I just said, I have one question for you guys about the title of this show, “A Black Woman Stole My Job.” Where did you get the idea it was your job? Why isn’t it, like, “A Black Woman Got the Job”?
Now, what’s interesting to me about this particular historical moment is there’s a large swath of white men who believe that they are the victims of reverse discrimination. There is also a country that has come to believe that they have been victimized. I grew up, Brooke, believing that the United States was basically the biggest, baddest bully on the block. Now, you hear Donald Trump saying, no, no, we’re the victim, China is taking advantage of us, NATO, the UN, the EU.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They’re laughing at us.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: We’re the victim. We have to regain our swagger. And, of course, Trump every single day tweets how he is the victim of a witch hunt. And so all three of these, Trump, the man, the US as a country and the -- this aggrieved entitlement among angry white men are all coalescing in this particular moment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: See, you’re distinguishing between aggrieved entitlement and garden-variety misogyny and domestic violence, which we've had with us forever.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: I think that they're connected. Many of the men who batter their wives or partners don't usually talk about it as the initiation of aggression. They talk about it as revenge, as retaliation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: “She made me do it.”
MICHAEL KIMMEL: “You didn’t have dinner ready, what did you expect?” So, in that sense, it has a similar kind of rhetoric. But the traditional way that we’ve understood it is that these are individual isolated cases. And now what we see, with the development of the manosphere and all these Reddit fora, etc., is the development of communities of men who are supporting each other, encouraging each other, egging each other on in their sense of righteous victimization.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So do you think that element of aggrieved political entitlement led by Donald Trump, does that aggrieved entitlement fuel the personal kind?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: What I'm saying is that there are connections between them. This is speculation, I don’t think there’s ever been a study of the Reddit communities, but most of the men's rights guys, most of the red pill guys, the Men Going Their Own Way, my suspicion is they would be centrist Democrats.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why? Why would you think that?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: I've interviewed quite a number of them, [LAUGHS] the men's rights guys. You know, they feel uncomfortable with Trump's policies because they see Trump’s policies favoring the super-rich over the ordinary American, although they do like the sense of entitlement to women's bodies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how do they square that circle?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: My sense is that they don't. They run on parallel tracks, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The van driver in Toronto cited Elliot
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- who was famously in one of these extreme groups. Rodger killed people after leaving a video suicide note about how he was destined to die a virgin.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And he references a guy named George Sodini who walked into an aerobics studio in Pennsylvania and killed women, and that was 2009?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Two-thousand and nine, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: So, so yes, every few years there has been a guy who believes himself to be a good looking, cleancut white guy entitled to sex. George Sodini says, I haven’t had sex in 10 years. You owe me. I’m angry. Now, Elliot Rodger, he didn’t reference Sodini but he did the same thing in Santa Barbara. He said, you know, I'm much nicer and better looking than all those guys that you're sleeping with, I’m gonna get my revenge. Alek Minassian in Toronto referenced Elliot Rodger. So I think we have these sporadic events that otherwise wouldn't have been connected --
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: -- to some kind of larger movement but with the advent of all of these Reddit fora and, and the internet, they now feel like they have a community. I think when these guys actually act out like this, the members of those communities probably face some kind of anguish, like, well, I understand why he did it but I wouldn’t do that. But what binds them together, what unites them, it seems to me, is the sense that as men in this culture they deserve sex. And part of that is that we have constructed sexuality, the sexual relations between women and men, as a kind of adversarial sport: If I get some and you give it up, I win and you lose. It’s a zero-sum game. So if I don't get it, I feel like a loser.
Twenty years ago, if you were what we would now call an incel, that is involuntarily celibate, you'd be self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, you’d be sitting around just sort of moping, or you’d be trying to get out there and keep going to singles bars and keep trying but you would feel alone. Now, when I put out into cyberspace my anguish, someone writes back and says, oh, I feel your pain, man, I get it, and suddenly you have a brother.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you feel that the extreme incidents have been covered?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: On the one hand, you have to report the motives of these particular actors when they do these horrific things. If it’s a white person, we think, well, they were mentally ill. If it was, you know, a person of color, we think it's something in their culture or their religion because that’s how racism works.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
MICHAEL KIMMEL: You know, racism disaggregates white people but aggregates people of color. You have an obligation to cover their motive. On the other hand, you also know that there will be people who go, wow, that's how I've been feeling, I didn't know there was a word for it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ah. You also think though that the focus on these big incidents might lead we, in the media, to miss the legitimate anguish at the core of some right-wing thought. For example, we have a clip here from Tucker Carlson from Fox. He had this recurring segment a couple of months ago called “What is Happening to Men.”
TUCKER CARLSON: Women, on average, are scoring higher on IQ tests than men are. Even physically, men are falling behind. A recent study found that almost half of young men failed the Army's entry-level physical fitness exam during basic training. Even as women far outpace men in higher education, for example, virtually every college campus supports a Women's Studies department whose core goal is to attack male power. Men seem to becoming less male. Sperm counts, for example, across the West have plummeted. They’re down almost 60% since the early 1970s. So I just don't know why this is. Nothing like this has ever happened to a population this big. American men are failing in body, in mind and in spirit. This is a crisis.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: It is true that girls and women are outpacing boys and men in college and in high school and middle school; 75% of high school valedictorians last year were girls. But even though 60% of all college students are female, more people are going to college than ever before. The rate of increase among girls is greater and faster than the rate of increase among boys.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: But there are more boys in school today than there were 30 years ago. So it’s not like boys are vanishing but here’s the other side of that. He does point out there are many men who are in pain. When I interviewed the white nationalists, I heard that same refrain over and over again. They were badly done by, they were hurt, they were angry. I think that they were right.
But what I wanted to say to them is, do you really think that it was immigrants who gave them those predatory loans? Was it LGBT people who caused climate change? Was it feminist women who outsourced their jobs? My feeling is they’re right to be angry but they’re delivering their mail to the wrong address.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about these Women's Studies departments whose core goal is to attack male power?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: It’s a certain kind of male narcissism to think that Women's Studies courses are preoccupied with men. In fact, what they're preoccupied with [LAUGHS] is women. It is true that women have identified that in our society what gender inequality means is the power of men over women and also the power of some men over other men. You can't just talk about men and women but which men exactly? You know, the power of some men, white men over men of color, class, ethnicity, religion, age, all of these are the ways in which some men dominate other men.
So yes, of course, they're interested in power, but they, they really have better things to do than just talk about their gripes about men.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Point taken. I just wonder, do you think as a Gender Studies professor with a specialty in masculinity, you might offer a solution on college campuses as a complement to women's-centered Gender Studies classes?
MICHAEL KIMMEL: The real solution would be not to have separate Masculinity Studies programs but rather to integrate into our literature courses, our history courses the fact that not only were women working out issues around gender but so were men. After the Republican primaries where we were constantly talking about the size of people’s hands --
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
MICHAEL KIMMEL: -- it became very clear that this was a whole exercise about who's the real man.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael, thank you very much.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: It’s my pleasure, Brooke, good to talk to you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Kimmel is a professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. His latest book is called Healing From Hate. It’s about how white men get out of the white supremacy movement.
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BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, peace, love and mass poisoning, how thousands of followers of an Indian guru made a play for the State of Oregon.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.