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Book Reviews Analysis: Manhood in America

Manhood in America—3 Reviewers

Gail Bederman– A.M. and Ph.D. from Brown University (1992).  Gender, women’s history, and the history of sexuality; gender studies; interdisciplinary studies of sexuality and morality.  Gail Bederman is an associate professor of history and of gender studies at the University of Notre Dame. An award-winning teacher, she specializes in the history of women, gender, and sexuality in the United States. Her current research centers on the earliest precursors of the English and American reproductive rights movement, from William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and T.R. Malthus through Fanny Wright and Madame Restell. She is the author of Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (1995).

Robert L. Griswold–  I grew up in Mason City, Iowa, attended the University of Iowa as an undergraduate, and received my Ph.D. in history from Stanford where I worked with Professor Carl Degler.  After teaching for one year at Chico State, I came to the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 1980 and have been at Oklahoma ever since.  In the spring of 1997 I was named the O’Brien Presidential Professor of History and in July, 1997 I became Chair of the Department.  Professor Griswold is currently the Hudson Family Chair of History and chair of the History Department, a position he has held since 1997. His publications include Fatherhood in America: A History as well as studies of the history of divorce, adultery, and the physical fitness crusade of the 1950s and 1960s. He is currently finishing an article-length project examining America’s views of Russian women in the early Cold War and is writing a book-length study of the history of grade inflation in the United States. Professor Griswold regularly teaches the freshman US Survey course as well as courses on the history of World War II and the origins of the Cold War.

Scott Coltrane– Ph.D. — University of California, Santa Cruz.  Scott Coltrane’s research focuses on fathers and families with special attention to the intersections of gender, ethnicity, class, family and neighborhood. He investigates why and how men are involved (or uninvolved) in housework and child care and how this influences their partners, their children and their families.  He has explored everyday family life in different historical periods, ethnic groups, family types, and policy contexts with emphasis on the social construction of masculinity and the reproduction of gender inequality.  He is the author of four books and over fifty scholarly journal articles and chapters, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

2008 Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams. Gender and Families (Gender Lens Series, 2nd Edition). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

2004 Scott Coltrane (Ed.). Families and Society . Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

2001 Scott Coltrane and Randall Collins. Sociology of Marriage and the Family: Gender, Love, and Property (5th Edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

1998 Scott Coltrane. Gender and Families . Newbury Park, CA: Pine Forge Press.

1996 Scott Coltrane. Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework, and Gender Equity. New York: Oxford University Press.


All three of these reviewers said many of the same things about Kimmel’s Manhood in America:  First, Kimmel wrote an exciting history of the constantly changing ideas of masculinity; second, Kimmel makes the point that much of the same activities and means of defining two centuries ago are alive and well in the 20th and early 21st century, proving that ideals of masculinity are constant and perhaps even circular; and third, that Kimmel does a disservice to the study of masculinity when he constantly leaves out and ‘others’ groups like blacks, immigrants, women, and homosexuals.  Although he says that white middle and upper-class masculinity cannot be understood without these groups, he does hardly anything to highlight the groups that he constantly refers to as others.  In his Introduction, he qualifies his study as focusing on the majority of dominant American men, the white middle and upper class, but many of his colleagues and readers think that he misses the mark on the majority of American men.  Gail Bederman specifically states, “Kimmel’s narrative misleadingly implies that black and working class men have not actively defined ‘American Manhood.’”  Bederman seems insulted that Kimmel could so easily gloss over black and immigrant masculinity, while other reviewers, like Robert L. Griswold, seem to give Kimmel a pass and say that he has left that work to future historians.  So the debate seems to be, can Kimmel really claim to have written a cultural history of American manhood and masculinity while ignoring and “othering” so many groups of men who may or may not display their masculinity in different ways?

Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. The author or editor of more than twenty volumes, his books include Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity (1987), Men Confront Pornography (1990), The Politics of Manhood (1996), The Gender of Desire (2005) and The History of Men (2005). His book, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996) was hailed as the definitive work on the subject.  Currently, he is involved in two book projects. As a Carnegie Scholar, he is researching and writing Angry White Men, a comparative study of the extreme right, White Supremacists, and neo-Nazis in the United States, Britan, and Scandinavia. His other project is Guyland: The Inner World of Young Men, 18 – 27, and is concerned with gender dynamics among young adults.  Manhood in America was nominated for a non-fiction Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.


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