Angry White Men Post

Michael Kimmel’s book Angry White Men explains how white men have come to be so angry in our society and how that anger has played into their “aggrieved entitlement.” Kimmel cites our toxic environment and cultivation of this idea of masculinity that leaves white men feeling like failures. However, instead of blaming the class issues that are to blame, they choose to blame the Other. White men are feeling “emasculated–humiliated” and have “the general sense that they’re being had” by the government (13). These men feel like they are the victims and this is due to the fact that the American Dream of their forefathers and cultural lore is no longer attainable for the average Joe. Yet, they blame the wrong people, the groups in the same boat as them when it comes to corrupt economic institutions. White men, however, are not used to this disenfranchisement so they indulge this idea of “aggrieved entitlement” which is the idea that “those benefits to which you believed yourself entitled have been snatched away from you by unseen forces larger and more powerful” (18).

Chapter One of Kimmel’s book addresses how this aggrieved entitlement comes to exist. The right-wing radio hosts are cited by Kimmel as examples of entitlement and Kimmel explains how their rhetoric brings together other men who feel the same. “Talk radio is the last locker room, juiced not on steroids but on megahertz” (34). These hosts take the anger of their listeners and manipulate it and sensationalize it to the point where truth no longer matters. Kimmel cites the concept of ‘repressive desublimation’ to explain “outrage media” as “the ability to sound off angrily, to express all your pent-up rage (the desublimation part), could actually serve the interests of those in power. Being able to rebel in these impotent ways actually enables the system to continue (hence, the ‘repressive’ part)” (45). Kimmel then acknowledges the history of threatened manhood where men sought to regain their manliness by exercising self-control, escaping the feminine influence of women, and exercising exclusion through racism, nativism, sexism, etc. These angry white men create this ‘Goldilocks Dilemma’ in which they denigrate the masculinity of other groups as either hypermasculine or hypomasculine while categorizing themselves as the right mixture of both (51). Angry white women of the Tea Party are also analyzed and their sentiments are that “they want their men to be the traditional heads of households, able to support their families. They want to be moms, not ‘women'” (65). These conservative feminists want to return to the home and not have to work, but economically they cannot survive unless they work. Kimmel expects the Tea Party to largely become white and male as “for women, aggrieved entitlement may be more of a fleeting emotional response to setbacks; for men, it may become more of a way of life” (67).

Chapter two discusses the anger of white boys and how that anger has culminated into mass shootings. Boys are taught from early on that violence is the solution to problems and allows you to perform your masculinity and make you more of a man. Humiliation is at the root of the boys who commit mass murder as many of them were mercilessly bullied and tortured by their peers at school. “Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone, and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man” (75). Kimmel discusses the Columbine tragedy, the Virginia Tech tragedy, and many others to support his thesis that consistent humiliations pushed these boys to commit mass murder in order to rectify the perceived wrongs against them. Most of the boys did not meet “adequate gender performance” in one way or another which put them at odds with more stereotypically masculine boys.

Chapter five discusses violence against women by men. These are men who feel they are entitled to women as a reward for doing the supposedly right thing. “Women kill their partners when they feel their lives, or the lives of their children, are in danger; men kill their partners when they feel their sense of entitlement and power is thwarted” (176). There is a certain idea of what is “supposed” to be in the minds of these men. Women are supposed to do this rather than that, but when they don’t do what they are supposed to do, then “men use violence to even the playing field–or, more accurately, to return it to its previously uneven state that men thought was even” (183). Men who have committed violence against women often say they lost control, but what actually happens is that losing control is the scapegoat to actually making the decision to commit violence.

Chapter seven tracks the rise of the “white wing” where white supremacy and the extreme right rule. Kimmel categorizes these beliefs as “paranoid politics” where one is “projecting one’s problem onto the fiendish machinations of others, so as both to uphold one’s own purity and goodness and simultaneously to identify the source of the problem” (230). Race becomes “a proxy for class” so when the extreme right advocates for white rights they really mean the rights of the working class white people not those of the rich because they already have many rights and power because of their class. Kimmel shows that “‘race blindness’ leads working-class people to turn right; if they did see class, they’d turn left and make common cause with different races in the same economic class” (245). Kimmel also discusses the ideology of the white supremacy movement as grounded in capitalism, patriotism despite the fact they hate the government, and the idea that they are the “true heirs” of America (254).

1 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for a wonderful summary of Kimmel’s argument. You have done a wonderful job. Please bring some of your ideas and comments to class discussion today. I think that you might have some really important things to say. Check.

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