Kimmel (Sociology/SUNY, Stony Brook) applies the methodology of feminist history to the experience of being male in America.
Rejecting the idea that almost every history book is about the male experience, Kimmel writes not about what men "actually did" since the birth of the republic, but what they were "supposed to do, feel, and think." This is not advocacy of poor, embattled white males, but a scholarly and detailed history of how men have been defined in popular culture since the 19th century. He follows modes of masculinity from the squirearchical "genteel patriarch" and "heroic artisan" of the early 19th century to the "feminization" of the post-industrial-revolution office worker, who was not engaged in physical labor. At the same time, men hitched the wagons of their male self-image to the marketplace's "volatile" star, measuring their masculinity in terms of their economic success. "Manhood," Kimmel argues, "is less about the drive for domination and more about the fear of others dominating us." He ranges over forgotten plays, Hemingway heroes, Charles Atlas, the high-school social dynamics of Archie comics, and the pipe-smoking proto-yuppie of Playboy magazine and comes up with the paradigms of masculinity that we have invented--and which have proved unsatisfying or unrealistic. Both the feminist and men's movements come in for examination, as does the cultural role of homosexuality. His conclusion: "Propping up manhood by exclusion has never brought men the security and comfort of a stable gender identity." Instead "we must begin to imagine a world of equality in which we also embrace and celebrate difference."
Wide-ranging, levelheaded, human, and deeply interesting, Manhood in America often provokes the thought, "Why haven't I read this before?" Must reading for the light it sheds on some of our central historical phenomena as well as on current headlines.