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Dating and Masculinity in American University Campuses Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 23rd, 2021

Abstract

The approach taken by the young people in North America today is drastically different from what it was barely a decade ago. A lot has changed; the most obvious being the whole concept of what it is to date someone, and the approach taken towards dating.

If a father and son, or a mother and her daughter were to sit down and share the campus experiences, both parties would probably draw the conclusions that they might have been talking of entirely different times of their lives and not the last years of their adolescence and their very first adult years.

So what has triggered these changes on not only the campus scene but also the high school years leading up to campus as well as the few years following up college? Dr. Michael Kimmel (2008), in his book ‘Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men‘, tries to figure out the changes that have occurred in the lives of young North American males, specifically those aged between sixteen and twenty-six, and why they are undergoing the ‘extended’ adolescence phenomenon.

Introduction

Dating: now and back in the ‘good old days

A couple of years ago, so says Tom Wolfe, when it came to the interaction between adolescents, getting to first base was embracing and kissing (quaintly termed as necking). Getting to the second base had to do with deep kissing and heavy petting. The third base was having oral sex and the home plate was ‘going all the way’ (Wolfe, 2001). This has all changed; in the present day and time, necking is a word that has to be looked up in a dictionary to be understood. What was considered second base is now first base, second base is oral sex while the third base is going all the way. If you make it to home plate, you get to know each other’s names (Wolfe, 2001). This is just a small depiction of how much things have changed.

Dating on campus had previously meant going steady with one girl for the man and with one guy for the girl for an extended period. It was in most cases a prelude to proper courtship which more often than not resulted in marriage. This is worlds apart from what campus dating is today; if you go out together for a drink or coffee or a movie, that is counted as a date, and not only that, but it is license enough to engage in sexual activity that will most likely go ‘all the way’. Previously, this was unheard of and was considered completely scandalous (Bogle, 2008).

Bogle (2008) says that the two major contributions to changing dating as it was known on campus are the growing trend of marrying later in life than was previously the case-though most young people are sexually active by the time they hit their late adolescence- and again the number of young people who spend the earlier part of their adulthoods in colleges has greatly increased. Since young people are not getting married and they still feel the need to have a sexual experience, college becomes a prime place to do this without obligation. It is from this that the term ‘hook up’ has been coined to define the kind of relationship between young people of different sexes on campuses today. A hook-up, according to Bogle, is when a girl and a boy come together for a sexual encounter that does not lead to further emotional ties or any other obligations. Bogle is however keen to point out that the extent of hook-ups as done by teens and young people is greatly exaggerated by the media (Bogle, 2008).

But ‘hooking up’ does not come as a problem all on its own; it is associated with other such misdemeanors as excessive consumption of alcohol, the abuse of drugs, and young people acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Dr. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist, conducted research to try and determine the values and priorities of young North American men aged between sixteen and twenty-six. In his book ‘Guyland’, he interviewed more than four hundred young men over four years and tried to encompass young men from a wide array of social, economic and cultural backgrounds (Kimmel, 2008).

One of the conclusions that Dr. Kimmel comes to is that there is no truth in the theory that has been advanced that feministic advances in education, as well as other fields made in the past decades, have somehow directly contributed to the ‘boy crisis. He says purporting for better education for girls, which has resulted in more girls getting a sound education as well as more opportunities on the job market, should not be in any way prompted as a factor that has lead to the perceived emasculation of young American men. Looking at the matter in this light suggests a certain antagonism between the sexes where there can be no equal opportunity scenario; it is either one sex on top of the other (Kimmel, 2008).

He goes further to refute the argument forwarded in the ‘boy crisis’ that the manifestation of how boys are being sidelined in education is highlighted by the fact that girls and young women are performing much better than their male counterparts in not only the arts but are also beginning to pick up in the sciences as well. In truth, he says, it is just that girls have finally been given a platform on which they can shine and they are doing so unlike how it has been in the past (Kimmel, 2008).

Dr. Michael Kimmel’s book has been touted as being the male equivalent of Mary Pipher’s ‘Reviving Ophelia’. Pipher takes a closer look at what kind of environment the adolescent girl in 20th century America lives in and what she has to contend with. Just as is the case with the boys, there are numerous external pressures exerted on this young girl to achieve the ‘ideal’ of the all American girl. She has to have the ‘right’ look, dress in the ‘right’ manner, hang out with the ‘right’ crowd, et cetera (Pipher, 2002).

This leads up to the opposite of what was the expectation of the fierce feminism movements of the seventies, eighties and nineties; instead of a confident and sure image of the adolescent American girl of the 20th century, there is the adolescent befuddled with extremely low self esteem, peer pressure and eating disorders to mention but a few (Pipher, 2002).

He points out that there is now the stage in the lives of young American men which he terms as ‘the Wasteland Years’. What Dr. Kimmel’s observation is, is that while in earlier years young men settled down and took up their responsibilities promptly after college, the trend has shifted to there being some gap years between college and when they get to start families as well as take up serious employment (Pipher, 2002).

The ‘Wasteland Years’, as also outlined by Rose, Corcoran and Fleming (2007) which is a desperate attempt by young men to cling onto their boyhood and adolescent years rather than move on to the vast unknown of the adult world encumbered with responsibility and pitfalls, is marked by a few outstanding characteristics. One of them is drifting; drifting from one girlfriend to another, drifting from one job to the another, from one place of living to the next, drifting rootlessly without any true basis. There is a dread of settling down and ‘gathering moss’.

Another trait is the excessive partying, drinking and the abuse of drugs along with other illegal substances. This is done although it may be detrimental to the individual involved. Being able to imbue the greatest amount of alcohol is considered cool, as though how much one can drink is directly proportional to how much of a man one is (Rose, Corcoran & Fleming, 2007).

There is the obsession with sports and sports talk, with some sports being more associated with masculinity than others, because they require more brawn and involve more risks. An ardent viewing of pornography, along with other sexually explicit material is also a characteristic of this lot (Rose, Corcoran & Fleming, 2007).

There is the occurrence of what Kimmel terms the three ‘p’s: Port, Pornography and play station, which seem to be the only thing that young men are obsessed with nowadays. The fourth p, which is a fad that had gone out and is now making a comeback: poker. These four obsessions have a very negative impact on the young men who partake of them. One is that it makes them feel detached from a sense of reality. It is a way in which they escape from the real world in which they are meant to be living in and participating in. it shields them from taking up the true responsibilities they are meant to be handling. In short, it gives them an excuse to be lazy (Schwyzer, 2008).

However, the most detrimental of this can be said to be pornography, which greatly distorts what sexual intercourse between adults is. Most pornography is debasing of women and portrays violent non-consensual sexual acts. Many young men are lured into carrying out these acts in real life as the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred (Schwyzer, 2008).

In summary, it can be said that the ‘Wasteland Years’ are just an illustration of little boys trapped in adults’ bodies because no one ever told them what to do when they reached the crossroads between childhood and adulthood.

Dr. Kimmel, Hearn and Connell, (2005) further point out that maybe the boys are not entirely to blame since there is not much incentive for them to settle down and be more productive. This is because to some extent, they are intimidated by their female counterparts who are now beginning to reap the fruits of female liberation.

What happens is that these young do not have a strong sense of purpose or direction. After going through high school and then college, the question remains ‘what happens next? Where does it all ultimately lead?’ After college comes more evasiveness in the form of taking up a series of unfruitful jobs that in reality are dead end and non-progressive. The result is an underlying anxiety that further confounds these young American males. To make matters worse, it seems that their female age mates are going in the opposite direction and doing all the things that traditionally, they should have done. It is the women who are now more focused and more intent on getting into careers (Kimmel, Hearn & Connell, 2005).

Several factors are contributing towards the emerging ‘Wasteland Years’. One of these is the lesser role played by parents and stakeholders in the bringing up of children since the pace of life has become more hectic. The approach adopted by parents today is to cater first to the material needs of their children while emotional and psychological needs take a distant second. As long as the children are well fed, well dressed and well educated, then they should be happy and that should constitute a good upbringing. Parents take less and less time out of their own busy lives to have some down time with their children. The result is a generation of young people who learn a great deal more from their peers (who, like them do not know much) than they do from their parents (Kimmel, 2008).

Another facet of this approach to parenting is the attitude that young people can allowed to be wild because after all, they are young. Thus, actions such as binge drinking and obsession with video games are looked upon with a tolerable indifference because it is expected that young people behave this way. Eventually they will outgrow this particular stage and that there is no real harm done in the end (Schwyzer, 11th, September 2008).

It seems that part of the problem on the ‘boy crisis’ is how serious is the problem itself. While there are those psychologists and sociologists in the camp who feel that the rise of feminism has indeed posed a serious threat to the essence of masculinity, there are the ones who on the other hand feel that the problem is not as serious as it is made out to be; that it is an issue being unnecessarily being exaggerated out of proportion. Why the latter group is of this opinion is because overdoing the crisis has been used as a vehicle in anti-feminism drive by playing on the harp of how female liberation has continually emasculated young male North Americans (Schwyzer, 17th, September 2008).

It cannot be ignored that young men in America do grow up under a stressful environment where the pressure to perform is high, and where the mixed messages drawn from their immediate environment can make it difficult to determine exactly what it is that is required of them (Hopkins, 2007).

Can ‘Guyland’ be transformed?

Tearing down conceptions and perceptions can be more difficult than bringing down a ten foot solid steel wall. Perceptions are always very deeply ingrained; they form the fabric of our very beings and are normally the basic building blocks upon which we base our logical thinking. It is a gigantic effort to try and make a person change their view of how they see things. The ‘boy code’ has been in place for such a long time that it is the norm. Some people may wonder even why it is being challenged or why there should be need to challenge it. After all, other boys lived under the same code and became functional adults. Another point of resistance may be that trying to break the ‘boy code’ may be an act of emasculation since this code is what makes men what they are (Kindlon & Thompson, 2000).

There is a discrepancy between the myths of what boys and young men need and the reality of what they do need. Boys just get as lonely as girls; they need sympathy and understanding the same way girls do. Boys get their emotions hurt too, and at times need to be comforted. There is a lot that remains hidden beneath the veneer of being ‘tough’ and being a ‘man’, which reads a bit like how to be insensitive (Kindlon & Thompson, 2000).

What needs to be done, stress Kindlon and Thompson (2000), is that what they term as ‘emotional mis-education’ of boys and young men, which adheres to the ‘boy code’ should completely be discouraged. This kind of upbringing leaves boys deformed and creates fertile ground for the kind of young adults in Michael Kimmel’s ‘Guyland’.

Conclusion

A myth may be in existence for centuries or even millennia, but if the myth was never true, its longevity does not add a grain of truth to it. For years upon years, there has been the persistent connotation of what it means to be a man. Some of the terms that were and still are strongly associated with masculinity are an emotional aloofness, insensitivity, courage, perseverance among others. This is not to say that everything used to define masculinity is wrong, nor that all how masculinity is expressed is bad. There are elements of what it means to be a man that have been proved to be detrimental to boys and young men. It has been taken for granted that boys and young men do not have the same emotional needs as their female counterparts and on the most part, they are to figure out how to deal with their emotional issues, to take it like a man. There are also outlines about what a man can and cannot do.

So, as Kimmel strongly suggests, it is about time that the myths of manhood were broken because their tenacity has not lent them any truth. A young man does not have to prove his masculinity by drinking all his friends under the table, or who has the most girlfriends. Teaching young men to be emotionally whole and conscious will also lead to emotionally healthy adults who will be more willing to table their share of responsibility when the time comes for it, and who will also be able to promptly let go of their boyhood when the time comes for that as well with the full knowledge that in life you cannot win all your fights, overcome all your demons, achieve all your dreams but despite this, you are not less of a man for admitting it.

Reference

Bolge, K (2008). Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus. New York: New York University Press

Hopkins, P (2007). Pollack and the Boy Code. Web.

Kimmel, M (2008). Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. New York: Harper Collins

Kimmel, M., Hearn, J., & Connell, R (2005). Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities. California: Sage Publishing

Kindlon, D, J & Thompson, M., (2000). Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Books

Pipher, M (2002). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine Books

Rose, P., Corcoran, K, J., Fleming, M, K., & Segrist, D (2007). Yeah, I Drink alcohol but Not as Much as Other Guys: The Majority Fallacy among Male Adolescents. North American Journal of Psychology.

Pascoe, C, J (2007). Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Carlifonia: University of California Press

Schwyzer, H (2008). Escape, Entitlement and Empowerment: Young Men and the ‘Four Ps’. Men and Masculinity, Men’s Movement, Mentoring. Web.

Schwyzer, H (2008). Looking for ‘the Inoculation Against Cruelty’: How to Help Boys Through the Trials of Guyland. Men and Masculinity, Men’s Movement, Mentoring. Web.

Wolfe, T (2001). Hooking Up. What Life was like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American World. London: Picador Publishers

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