By Evelyn Gonzalez ‘18
On December 3, 2016, the Leonard Lopate Show conducted an interview with Professor Michael Kimmel, author of several books including “Angry White Men: Masculinity at the End of an Era.” In both the interview and in his book, Kimmel expands upon the idea of angry, white men and the ways in which their anger have been shaped by societal, economic and political moments in history.
Angry white men are not a new concept and have far preceded our current contemporary society. However, one difference that can be seen in Kimmel’s analysis is that he differentiates between the angry, white men of the past compared to the current group in existence. The difference, he insists, is that rather than their anger being directed at economic stressors they are instead filled with a sense of “aggrieved entitlement,” specifically in gendered terms. That is, individuals belonging to this group are characterized by their belief in the explicit oppression and discrimination of men. Kimmel’s idea of the angry white man is particularly applicable to and can easily be illustrated through an examination of the contemporary men’s rights movement, which at its core constructs white men in particular as a disadvantaged group. The men’s rights movement that began in the 70s, then called the men’s liberation movement, did not begin as such and existed as an acknowledgement of male privilege and the maladies of male masculinity. During the 80s and 90s, the men’s liberation movement experienced a rift in their assembly through which the current anti-feminist organizations emerged. The group expressed their resentment towards feminist movements, which they specifically targeted as they believed they were responsible for drawing society away from traditional family values and, in effect, was contributing to the feminization of men.
One specific example that Kimmel gives during his interview is of Roy Hollander who captures the essence of the angry white man, through his various lawsuits against bars that allow women in for free and women’s studies programs. He believes that feminism provides the fodder for incidents of reverse discrimination against men. He becomes an example of the specific manifestations of men’s misinformed anger towards particular groups, especially women. Hollander also illustrates how these men have “misdirected their anger at all the wrong targets, those below them.” These men believe themselves to be victims of processes of reverse discrimination and oppression. This feeling arises as a result of their own skewed perception of the world as a result of growing up secure in their own positionality in the world as privilegedand entitled white men. Since they are in this position of vulnerability as “victims,” which is often viewed as an emasculating position, they have to reaffirm and reassert their own masculinity.
Angry white men utilize their anger similarly to how toddlers utilize their tantrums: to transfer blame and responsibility onto someone else. Hanna Rosin’s article “Even Madder Men” in The New York Times reviews Kimmel’s work and further extrapolates on the trajectory of men’s feelings of helplessness and frustration into anger: “in gendered terms men don’t get sad, they get mad. Their sadness is massaged into anger” (Rosin, 2013). However, the anger and critiques being contributed by men’s rights activists are not always unfounded and sometimes do contribute to important conversations. For example, their commentary on biased child custody laws, health and prisons do begin to look at some of the detrimental aspects of power dynamics infused in current gender relations.
Their intentions and actions are unfortunately misplaced and become problematic in that they contribute to furthering heterosexual, capitalist and patriarchal modes of societal operations. The men’s rights movement could be successful in bringing conversations surrounding important issues that working class, LGBT and men of color face, but instead they focus and waste their energy on continually expressing their misogynistic anger towards feminist groups. Kimmel’s analysis of the angry white men provides an excellent analysis of the mechanisms in place that allow for the current men’s rights movement and speaks widely to the ways in which white men specifically try to assert their own masculinity and how anger is used to target specific groups.