White men are angry. Some of them are angry at the government, some at minorities, some at their ex-wives or feminists or even just women in general. Some are angry at all of the above.
This won’t be news to feminist bloggers and activists dealing with ad hominem attacks or victim-blaming postering campaigns from men’s rights activists (MRAs). It won’t shock the people who read or saw the news story yesterday about Jim Andre, the Alberta School Trustee who is refusing to resign after tweeting and retweeting jokes calling Miley Cyrus a prostitute, black people monkeys, and making light of the Holocaust.
But where is this anger coming from? Why are white men so angry and why is that anger being targeted at people with less power?
Michael Kimmel attempts to answer these questions in his new book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. The book draws on interviews Kimmel has undertaken across the country, as well as a great deal of non-interview research.
His main argument is that white men in America are suffering from a sense of aggrieved entitlement. That is, even though “white men are the beneficiaries of the single greatest affirmative action program in world history. It’s called world history,” they still feel powerless. In the introduction, Kimmel explains:
“White men’s anger is ‘real’ – that is, it is experienced deeply and sincerely. But it is not ‘true’ – that is, it doesn’t provide an accurate analysis of their situation. The ‘enemies’ of white American men are not really women and men of color. Our enemy is an ideology of masculinity that we inherited from our fathers … that promises unparalleled acquisition coupled with a tragically impoverished emotional intelligence.”
When white men do masculinity the way they’re told but still don’t get the rewards they feel they’re entitled to (a decent job, a compliant woman), they feel they have to blame somebody else.
The majority of Kimmel’s book is spent going into depth on different groups of angry white men: angry white boys involved in mass shootings, MRAs, fathers’ rights activists, men who commit violence against women, men who go on workplace rampages, and finally white supremacists.
This where I ran into a few problems, the main one being I thought Kimmel’s overall point was well-argued, but I wasn’t sure who he was trying to make it to.
At various times it seemed the book would be useful for feminists in helping us understand and respond to ill-founded MRA or fathers’ rights activist attacks.
For example, he provides great myth-busting research that counters those who claim “misandry” is a real thing, there is gender symmetry in domestic violence (equal violence by men and women in heterosexual relationships) and women invent allegations of spousal abuse in order to get custody of children.
But there were a couple of times I felt like he almost throws a bone to the very angry white men he’s critiquing. Read more