Men’s studies or masculinity studies or whatever is heating up. It has been for awhile, but now some of the best of it is trickling down into middle-class highbrow magazines. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, has just published “The Puzzle of Boys,” a compact survey of recent books (most of them academic, but aimed at general smart readers), arguments, and controversies in the field. In other words, it is a good way to brush up on this stuff–which is absolutely fascinating viz-a-viz American culture. Thomas Bartlett underscores that while malehood is just as complicated as any other segment of the gender spectrum, few people have thought seriously about it. And that’s a major lacuna, given that men still dominate most of the nation’s institutions. The end of the essay describes what happens to boys when they get to high school; it is particularly sad.
Closely connected to boyhood is, of course, manhood. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who teaches at SUNY-Stony Brook, has written two cool books about American masculinity. Manhood in America: A Cultural History (Oxford UP, 1996, 2005), now in its second edition, is the gold standard. Or at least one of them, as TGR understands things. Kimmel is, essentially, a pro-feminist man who hasn’t given up on the importance of distinctly male identities. Guyland is more contemporary and will appeal to you if you are depressed by things like Judd Apatow and Maxim. It’s kinda dark out there, lads.