In an age of mass shootings, the Tea Party, and television anti-heroes like Breaking Bad’s Walter White or House of Cards’s Frank Underwood, the angry white man has become both an increasingly prevalent trope and an increasingly apparent reality. Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at The State University of New York at Stony Brook Michael Kimmel published a book about this phenomenon in 2013, entitled Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. On Wednesday, Mar. 24, Kimmel came to Scripps College to speak about both his book and the issue at hand.
The event, held in Balch Auditorium, was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Feminist Center for Teaching, Research, and Engagement, Claremont Graduate University's Applied Women's Studies, and J.C. Harper Lecture Funds. Kimmel is renowned for his work and has been referred to as the “world’s most prominent male feminist” by the Guardian.
His many accolades certainly helped draw in the large crowd of students and community members alike. Also contributing to the size of the audience was the relevance of Kimmel's talk, particularly amidst the rapid rise of Donald Trump’s political campaign, the current presidential frontrunner for the Republican Party.
“With Trump likely to be the Republican candidate at this point, I think a lot of people are thinking and talking about white masculinity and what is causing that anger and resurgence of really explicit hate in a political candidate,” Cleo Spencer PO ’16 said.
Kimmel was initially scheduled to speak at Scripps in 2010, but a family emergency forced him to turn around at the airport, resulting in a last-minute cancellation. However, in the words of introducing speaker, CGU philosophy professor Thomas Keith: “I don’t think the timing of having Michael Kimmel with us could be better.”
Kimmel’s idea of the ‘angry white man’ was born years before the start of Trump’s presidential campaign when he sat on Oprah opposite four white men talking about affirmative action and the supposed 'reverse discrimination' they experienced in the workplace. The title of the episode, “A Black Woman Stole My Job” (and, in particular, the word 'my'), got Kimmel thinking about the sense of aggrieved entitlement at the root of the angry white man’s resistance to equality. This, Kimmel argues, is the same sentiment at the core of the phrase 'take back our country' and at the core of far-right ideology in the United States.
Kimmel went on to discuss his findings from the chapter of his book that deals specifically with masculinity on the extreme right. He argued that extremists on the political right interpret and portray race through a gendered lens. According to Kimmel, extremist rhetoric proves problematic for the masculinity of the 'other'—ranging from racial minorities to feminists and the LGBTQ population—by portraying them as either hypomasculine or hypermasculine. Moreover, he explained that white supremacist groups often use the trope of emasculation in recruitment by presenting group membership as a way to restore one’s masculinity.
“I think it was a great talk, probably my second favorite at Scripps, after Angela Davis,” Leya Solomon PO ’19 said. Though widely well-received, the talk also faced some criticism for failing to recognize the extent of the angry white man’s presence.
“It was interesting to hear his focus on work with white supremacist organizations, but I definitely agree with the person who asked a question about how that kind of focus detracts from intolerant ideas and racism that are actually more prolific than just within these most explicit forms of hatred in fringe groups,” Spencer said.
Indeed, the anger and sense of aggrieved entitlement that candidates like Donald Trump have used to their advantage are proving to be powerful and even growing in the American population at large. Kimmel argues that the rise of Trump can be explained by the fact that the Republican elite has massaged middle-class pain into anger over the past 20 years. Despite this, Kimmel remains optimistic. “What we are witnessing,” he said, “is the last gasp of a dying group.”