Kimmel gives talk on gender, masculinity in America

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By Kim Bolduc

The Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies Departments, motivated by the enthusiasm of Sandya Sainvil ’15, a senior thesis student, were able to bring Kimmel to Union to give this talk.

To open his discussion, Kimmel addressed common perceptions of masculinity and femininity in America. Beginning with the title of his talk, “Mars and Venus, or Planet Earth,” he addressed a popular self-help book entitled “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” The message of this book, said Kimmel, is that “interactions between genders are events of interplanetary proportions.”

However, Kimmel challenged this message, saying that women and men are more similar than different. He pointed out that there is more difference among the members of each gender than between men and women as a whole.

Kimmel disagreed with the concept of separate spheres and stated that “coeducation is the most successful educational reform of the twentieth century.”

He then asked the female members to raise their hands if they expected to have a job and a family. Nearly every hand went up. He then asked if the students’ mothers worked while they cared for their families. Fewer hands went up this time. Finally, he asked if the students’ grandmothers worked while raising a family. Only six students’ hands stayed in the air.

Repeating the same procedure with the male students, Kimmel found a small difference whether he asked about the students themselves, their fathers or their grandfathers.

Kimmel used this experiment as an introduction to the four ways women’s lives have changed in recent years and how that has affected men’s lives.

First, Kimmel addressed the fact that women have made gender visible. Whether in the workplace, in the military or in any other historically male-dominated social sphere, women have made their presence known. However, they have also highlighted the opposition to gender equality.

Gender seems to be a women’s issue, and many men fail to acknowledge that gender plays a crucial role in their lives, as well. Kimmel attributed this oversight to the first rule of manhood, which he defined as “no sissy stuff.”

Because of this “relentless repudiation of the feminine” and the use of slurs, such as, “That’s so gay,” Kimmel said that men are discouraged from addressing their gender and how it pertains to their identities. As a man himself, Kimmel summed up the reasons for his own blindness to gender inequality: “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

Second, Kimmel turned to the workplace and asked why men resist equal pay. Recounting the opening from his new book, “Angry White Men,” Kimmel focused on men’s sense of entitlement to certain jobs and the perception that if women win, men lose. This perception of a “zero-sum game” ignited Kimmel’s sense of humor.

He said that men bear evidence of the “single greatest affirmative action in the history of the world. It’s called the history of the world.” Men and women work together to create families and communities. According to Kimmel, it only makes sense that women should be equal in the professional world, as well.

Third, Kimmel related another rule of manhood to the interplay between work and family. While men are told to be “emotionally stoic,” Kimmel said that it is impossible to follow this rule as a parent.

He claimed that the two phrases in men’s vocabulary relating to housework were “help out” and “pitch in.” However, he proposed replacing these terms with one simple word, “share.”

Quoting some studies that dealt with successful marriages, Kimmel made it clear that happy marriages, happy children and happy wives result from men’s active involvement in and sharing of household duties.

Lastly, Kimmel presented his views on women and sexuality, specifically safe sex and sexual assault. Safe sex, he explained, is an “oxymoron” because men tend to view risk as sexy. Unlike women, who see protection as a precursor to sex, men see protection as a negation of sexiness. To fix this problem, Kimmel proposed “eroticizing responsibility.”

On the topic of sexual assault, Kimmel praised women’s efforts to encourage safe behavior. However, he said that the missing piece of sexual assault education was the “choices men make.” It would be in men’s best interest to carefully consider their choices to make women feel safe.

Questions from the audience centered on whether feminism should change the name of its movement, the day and night cultures on American college campuses and the idea that men should challenge each other on gender insensitivity.

To close his discussion, Kimmel recited a quote from a 1916 publication called “Feminism for Men,” which stated, “Feminism will make it possible, for the first time, for men to be free.”

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