Kimmel’s book is at once terrifying and enlightening. He looks at who is angry; why they are angry; and how they became so angry. In the first section, he explains the feelings of invisibility that white American men feel, especially those who are downwardly mobile — they are subject to economic anguish, psychological distress, and political confusion. The American Dream has betrayed them, and they’re mad as hell about it. The anger of white American men, Kimmel tells us, is “so ubiquitous and so visible that it has received hardly any serious discussion” (6). If any other race or gender acted out in the way that white men in America do, they would make the front page of every paper in the nation. But because it is white male anger, it goes unnoticed. Kimmel tells us that white American men have very little reason to be angry in the first place – after all, they are the “beneficiaries of the single greatest affirmative action program in world history. It’s called ‘world history.'” Now, though, as we work toward equity and justice for all, they must get used to not having everything go their way, which is frightening. Their anger is real, writes Kimmel, but it is not true. White American men may sincerely experience this anger, but it is not justifiable. The anger of white American men is the anger of entitlement, of being owed something.
In the first chapter, Kimmel talks about how rage is manufactured: how “outrage media” fuels millions of white men who feel even the slightest bit of emotional vulnerability and turns that insecurity into anger. He describes the spread of far-right and white supremacist talk radio shows across the country, whose hosts convince their listeners that it’s time to “take the country back.”
In the second chapter, Kimmel discusses “Angry White Boys” and the school-shooter phenomenon, debunking the myth of the troubled lone wolf. He discusses the sense of entitlement and how it is transformed into murderous rampages through humiliation. “Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone, and you take away his manhood…it must be avenged.” Boys are taught that violence is more than acceptable, that it is natural and restorative and appropriate. Violence, they are told, is the only way to respond to shame and ridicule. And so, they go on killing sprees, because they are angry.
Chapter five is about male violence toward women. “The association between violence and love is so intimate, so central for men, that it practically screams out for answers” (177). Masculinity’s insistence on not just entitlement, but independence above all else turns men violent when they feel any sort of vulnerability regarding love. For me, the most striking part of this chapter was this quote: “The emotion of shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence. The purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride, thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame.” With this, as with everything else, it’s about entitlement, Kimmel says. Men feel entitled to women’s domestic labor, their sexual favors, their attention, their love. When women express their own interests, or even behave as autonomous human beings, men are humiliated. “Rape is a man’s right,” a convicted rapist told the sociologist Diana Scully. “It’s all they are good for” (183). They claim to lose control because it “provides plausible deniability” and “explains away the intentionality, the purposiveness, of the violence” (189) but Kimmel’s recounting of a group therapy session with “Al” debunks that myth.
The last chapter talks about the rise of white nationalism, neo-Nazi movements, and white supremacists. Kimmel explores where these men come from, how they organize, and what unites them. “Nationalism typically springs from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation, and masculinized hope” (255).
Kimmel’s book is frightening. It exposes the violence in our society for what it is: a natural extension of the ideology of toxic masculinity and impoverished emotional intelligence that men, especially white men, are fed from the time they are born.