STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The professor scrawls “macho,” “brave” and “strong” on a crowded blackboard, apt words for someone whose book titles are littered with “masculinity” and “manhood.” He’s spent three decades building a nascent corner of academia, presenting himself as a feminist as he dissects what it means to be a man. Now, he hopscotches from college campuses to company conference rooms as a movement baring abuse by men rages.
Michael Kimmel may be made for this moment.
The 67-year-old sociologist is a leader in what’s known as “masculinities studies,” and an in-demand purveyor of insight on why men are the way they are. The field he helped develop has long had men’s misdeeds as an area of focus, but it’s gained newfound exposure and relevance with #MeToo and #TimesUp.
A 2015 TED Talk elevated Kimmel’s profile just in time for the election of President Donald Trump and the subsequent women’s movements that put gender issues at the forefront. These days, he balances lectures to students with speaking engagements at a motley range of companies, from mining and pasta manufacturing to banking and film — all looking to him to explain the importance of equality.
“This didn’t happen by chance. This didn’t happen overnight,” Kimmel says. “This has been simmering for a long time.”
This wasn’t the career Kimmel had in mind. He focused his Ph.D. thesis on 17th-century French tax policy and settled into a job teaching introductory sociology classes. He had been active in some pro-women causes and spoke at an anti-domestic violence “Take Back the Night” rally in the early 1980s when a student in attendance approached him with an idea.
“You should teach a course on masculinity,” he recalls the student saying. “My first reaction was, ‘Every course is about men.”‘
The thought nagged at him, though, prompting a search to see what scholarship had been done on the subject. The answer was little. He took the proposal to his then-dean at Rutgers University, who approved it as one of the early academic efforts examining men. The class filled up, moving in successive semesters to bigger and bigger rooms, and Kimmel eventually made men’s studies his entire focus.
With a dearth of books devoted to the subject, Kimmel became a prolific author on men’s issues, including “Manhood in America: A Cultural History,” “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men,” “The Guy’s Guide to Feminism,” “Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era,” and “Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis.” He also established the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, which is preparing to launch the first master’s program in masculinities next year.
With a smattering of other academics likewise publishing and teaching on the subject, masculinities — like women’s studies — is now a recognized area of research.
“I think it’s more relevant than ever right now,” says Michael Messner, a University of Southern California sociologist who was another pioneer of men’s studies and who has marveled at how reverberations of #MeToo have helped validate the …read more