Rejecting the notion that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus,” noted sociologist, author and gender expert Michael Kimmel explored with the HWS community the idea that “on every measurable trait, attitude, and behavior that we have come up with, women and men are far more similar than we are different. That’s the real story.”
In his President’s Forum lecture, “Mars and Venus, or Planet Earth: Women and Men in a New Millennium,” Kimmel examined four fundamental changes in women’s lives over the past half-century — around issues of identity, work, family, and sexuality — alongside four enduring “rules” of manhood and why we should be optimistic about gender equity.
Kimmel is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. He is renowned for “the significance of his work in and around gender equality issues, men and masculinity,” as HWS President Mark D. Gearan noted in his introduction of Kimmel, noting also Kimmel’s contribution to “the dialogues we’ve been having this year, especially on campus around the Culture of Respect initiative.”
While women’s lives and men’s lives have changed a lot over the past half-century, Kimmel argued, “what hasn’t changed as much is the ideology of masculinity.”
Kimmel, who has also served on the advisory board of the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men, explained to the large audience in the Vandervort Room that “for most men, the ideology of masculinity, especially for college-aged men, remains relatively the same today…as it did when I was in college and even when my dad was in college.”
That ideology, Kimmel argued, sees the “masculine” at odds with the “feminine”; sees masculinity measured in wealth, power and status; sees masculinity equated with sturdy, unyielding objects (rocks, pillars); and sees masculinity defined in terms of daring and aggression.
“When I say the word ‘gender,’ most people hear ‘women.’ Most men don’t know this is about us, too,” said Kimmel, exploring the consequences of this brand of masculinity — in the home, in the workplace and on the college campus — as it affects everything from equal wages, to safe sex, to sexual violence, to the challenge of engaging men in this very dialogue about gender.
Kimmel noted that on college campuses “men need to step up, need to be brought into this discussion” of sexual assault. “The missing piece of sexual assault awareness on most campuses is men, the choices men make. We could end rape in this country tonight if men made different choices about what we do with our bodies. We have to figure out ways on every campus to bring men into this discussion…Over the years I have been coming to HWS, this is one of the things that has made me so admire the ways in which you have taken on this question.”
Quoting New York writer Floyd Dell, who helped start the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, Kimmel ended his talk on the notion that “feminism will make it possible for the first time for men to be free.”
Ultimately, Kimmel argued, gender equality “might be the best thing that’s ever happened to us…[because] the very things that women have identified that they need to make their lives better are the very things we men need to live the lives we say we want to live.”
Kimmel is the author of more than 20 books, including “Manhood in America: A Cultural History” (1996), the best-selling “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” (2008) and “Angry White Men” (2013). He served as an expert witness for the U.S. Department of Justice in the Virginia Military Institute and Citadel cases. He has consulted with all the Ministries for Gender Equality in the Nordic countries, and was the first man to deliver the International Women’s Day lecture at the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and the European Space Agency.
The President’s Forum Series, established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty, staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members. Many speakers draw audience members from the surrounding cities of Rochester, Syracuse and Ithaca. Forum guests generally take the opportunity to visit classes or gather with students and faculty members to discuss issues. Many people have one-on-one interaction with the speakers for the exchange of ideas or thoughts. Recent PFS guests include Susan Brison, Mary Matalin and James Carville, and Victoria Reggie Kennedy.
The next PFS speaker, Chris Marvin, will deliver a lecture on March 10.