Monday, September 8, 2008

Nasty Boys..or not

My mom forwarded me this article (Wesley Yang's review of Michael Kimmel's book on American 'Guyhood') as if to say, you and your friends aren't like this right? Was fraternity hazing really like this? And, in a way, What's up with your generation?

My first response is that I can only speak for my experiences in Alpha Epsilon Pi at Washington University in St. Louis. I know what I went through, and what my pledge brothers went through. And we never did anything remotely close to what Kimmel describes in his book.

Certainly nothing barbaric.

There may have been a few nights standing around in our boxers, but that's pretty normal for a group of Jewish guys, most of whom went to some form of sleepover camp or another.

The 'bros before hos' was a very specific message, but I would argue that, especially in a fraternity house known for being the kind of guys you want to date and party with, the message was really to support your brothers more than as a message to belittle women.

Yang's article is summed up in the opening sentence:

The great question haunting our lifestyle journalists — are our daughters having healthy, empowering sex? — has an implicit counterpart: If not, are the emotionally misshapen men of their generation to blame? Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the author previously of the cultural history of “Manhood in America” and one of the leading lights of the emerging academic subfield known as men’s studies, has finally asked, and even tried to answer, that question, at book length.

I would argue that American-Jewish men of our generation have a certain level of distinction when it comes to this 'emotional misshapen'ness Yang describes above.

In fact, as mentioned in earlier posts, it has been noted that often, non-Jewish women seek out Jewish men because of this stereotype of emotional availability and stability, and a desire to please their mate.

This isn't to say that young Jewish adults aren't influenced by the hook-up culture, or that it didn't take place in my fraternity.

I'm just not convinced that what takes place between consenting adults who understand the situation is something to be worried about.

In fact, I think this line of reasoning does a great disservice to women, by effectively denying their agency in the equation. Both the men and women have bought into and participate in the culture, willingly.

The fact that people are waiting to get married, moving in with college/fraternity buddies after school for a few years, or generally bumming around has more to do with societal and parental acquiescence and influence than it does with some new kind of masculinity.

Look, our parents made it to the tops of American society, saved up enough to put us through college, and to generally live the good live. So many of us are going to college now, that a college education doesn't really get you the same opportunities it once did, and with so much more competition amongst so many more equally qualified people, there are going to be affluent and well educated people who don't have the types of jobs expected for affluent, educated people.

Times are changing, America is losing some of its position in the world to the very globalization it championed. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Gender studies aside, American beliefs about gender and sexuality are changing.

Despite what you may think of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as candidates, women have made a strong showing in this year's election, and have forced the issue of sexism to be discussed at the highest levels.

This is forcing men to rethink their position as well, as one the male gender construct does not exist in a vacuum without the female gender.

While our specific connotations for male and female have changed, we are still playing effectively a zero sum game with gender. If females become more assertive, it is assumed that men must be losing some level of assertiveness. It is this level of reasoning that I believe stifles the discourse on gender.

To conclude this rather unorganized piece, I find it pretty ridiculous to assume that the men of this generation are somehow any worse than men of any other generation.

After watching Mad Men for a take on sexism, misogyny, etc., which is set over 40 years in the past, perhaps it would really be a better question to ask, What was up with your generation?

I would be interested to read the book, but you can believe I'd be looking incredulously at every assertion.

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