Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Sociologist: Young men struggling in transition to adulthood

When sociologist Michael Kimmel speaks at McDaniel College next weekend, he will be discussing the Guyland phenomenon. It's a state of being where an increasing number of males ages 16-26 are finding themselves as they face adulthood and are reluctant to transition into it.

Kimmel will discuss why young males are confused and struggle committing to relationships and future work at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at McDaniel Lounge on McDaniel College's Westminster campus. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University in New York, is the guest speaker for the second annual Ira G. Zepp Jr. Memorial lecture. Zepp was a human rights activist and member of the McDaniel College faculty for more than 40 years. He died three years ago.

Kimmel is the author of "Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men." He interviewed more than 400 males ages 16-26 during a four-year span for the book.

Kimmel discussed with the Times why males are struggling to transition to adulthood, why females of the same age are not as likely to do so and if we are closer than ever to the first female president of the United States.

Q: So what is Guyland and why are so many men winding up there and struggling to adjust to adulthood?

A: Well, there's a new stage of development between adolescence and adulthood. It is now taking young people fully 10 more years to complete the transition to adulthood than it did only two generations ago. What we call stage of development is up for grabs. Some people call it emerging adulthood. Others call it adultolescence. I call it Guyland because my major concern is to gender it to make sure it's clear that this is in some ways the most gendered time in a young person's life.

Q: Is there a distinct difference between how females of that age group are transitioning to adulthood than maybe males?

A: Twenty-five years ago, when I would ask my female students what it means to be a women, they would say, oh, 'be nice,' 'be pretty,' 'smile.' If I asked guys 25 years ago what it is means to be a man, they would say, 'John Wayne.' Today, ask the women, and the say, 'I can be anything I want. I can be an astronaut, a brain surgeon, a soccer player, a rock star.' ... The definition of femininity has changed fundamentally in the past quarter century and women find themselves capable of doing virtually anything.

Q: And the men?

A: They men remain, remarkably, locked into a very traditional idea of what it means to be a man. My argument is that increasingly fits badly with the world that they actually inhabit.

Q: Is there a main cause for the transition to adulthood taking longer?

A: Well, some part of it isn't necessarily bad. It just is. The average age of death for high school students today will be in their mid-90s. That generation is going to live longer than anyone in the history of the world. As a result, there's a thought of, 'what's the rush?'

Q: So this isn't all negative?

A: They're not wrong. It's a perfectly reasonable idea.

Q: If males that age aren't preparing for adulthood, what do they tend to be doing?

A: Hanging out. That is the substance to Guyland. They go to college. They are partying, hooking up, all of the things I will be talking about.

Q: Anything that has really surprised you through the interview process?

A: Maybe the thing that surprised me the most is the disconnect between what guys expect their lives to look like and the ways in which they are preparing for them.

Q: So how are they preparing?

A: Well, they aren't. That's the disconnect.

Q: Are women more focused on their careers at that age?

A: That's one of the reasons I did the book, in fact. I found a large number of my colleagues were telling me women were so much more focused and so much more goal-oriented and men simply weren't. They all asked me: What's going on with guys?

Q: Sure sounds like we're going to have a female president of the United States sooner rather than later with this generation.

A: I think that's probably true.