Michael Kimmel, a distinguished sociology professor at Stony Brook University in New York and leading researcher of men and masculinity, spoke at the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday about his most recent book, “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.”
Modern men and women are taking a decade longer than previous generations to emerge into adulthood, according to Kimmel.
“If you talk to parents of a 10 or 11-year-old they’ll tell you, ‘They’re growing up so fast. They’re doing things at 10 or 11 that we weren’t doing until we were 13 or 15. What you know is that 10 is the new 20. Now, talk to parents of a 30 year old. ‘Will they ever grow up?’ They move back home after college, they’re failing to launch, they can’t commit to a relationship or a career – because 30 is the new 20,” he said.
In his book, he set out to “map the new 20,” aiming to determine what is going on in the lives of people ages 16 to 26 in America, a new, permanent stage of development which he calls “Guyland.”
According to Kimmel, people become adults after they reach five demographic markers – finishing their education, marrying, having a child, getting a job and moving out of their parents’ home.
“My mother completed all five within months,” Kimmel said. “She graduated in May, got married in June, immediately got pregnant with me, moved out of her family home into her marital home and that September started her first teaching job.”
In his mother’s generation, the average age of marriage was around 21. Today, it is 28.5.
Kimmel said there are multiple causes for this change. Demographers, according to Kimmel, are citing that the average age of death for current college students will be about 90 years old, causing us to wonder – what’s the rush?
This shift is also driven by the economy.
“It is far harder today for young people entering the work force to latch onto a career and follow a career path in a linear way like my grandfather did,” he said. “My grandfather worked for the same company for 45 years, at the end of which he had a testimonial dinner, got a gold watch and moved to a condo in Florida. Let me tell you, that’s not going to be your career trajectory.”
The third reason for this change, Kimmel said, is transformations in parenting. The current generation of college students has a history of “helicopter parenting,” where parents attempt to micromanage their children’s lives. This leads to a generation of more risk averse and less resilient college students.
“You’ve been over-parented as a generation with parents constantly intervening for you, cleaning up after you, hovering and watching everything you do – and now you come to college where you experience the gradual withdrawal of adults in the lives of young people,” he said.
Kimmel said this is especially problematic for men who come to college campuses eager to prove themselves as autonomous and masculine.
The fourth cause of this delayed development, according to Kimmel, is changes in the lives of women. In the past 40 years, women have made gender visible, entered the full-time workforce, begun to balance raising a family with having a career and have experienced a sexual revolution.
“Can women have it all? The answer is no. The reason women can’t have it all, is because men do,” he said. “If women are going to truly be able to balance work and family, we men are going to have to do something different.”
Despite drastic changes in the lives of women, the basic notion of masculinity has not changed.
Kimmel said his purpose in writing “Guyland” was to discover how to engage men in a conversation about gender, deconstructing these traditional expectations of masculinity and why men are resistant to gender equality.
He spoke about the fear that men have of other men seeing them as not “manly.” In his book, Kimmel explores the things men are doing to prove themselves to others in order to experience the “brotherhood” that comes with being a masculine man.
“This isn’t about the Peter Pan Syndrome where men are afraid to grow up,” he said. “This is about the Peter Panic Syndrome where men are afraid to be seen as unmanly, sissy or gay and that fear is what motivates us to do all kinds of stuff in Guyland.”
Nicole Dotzenrod can be reached at [email protected]