Angry White Men: A Book Review

By David Michael Newstead. america

Angry White Men examines the bitter feelings of resentment among a wide swath of American white males. Arguably, this phenomenon was brought on by decades of social and economic changes, while our concept of masculinity remains fundamentally unaltered. The gulf between the two has resulted in what the author refers to as a sense of “aggrieved entitlement”, which saturates American culture…

…through talk radio, internet trolling, hate groups, militias, political pundits, violence, and widespread disdain aimed at feminists.

To understand the depths and origins of these views, Sociologist Michael Kimmel spoke to white men across the United States and explored how their anger touches on a multitude of issues in our country. This includes discussions on domestic violence, divorced dads, men’s rights groups, and the politicians who attempt to capitalize on this feeling of white male alienation. Rush Limbaugh, Joe the Plumber, and the Tea Party were all regularly mentioned as identifiable focal points in this cultural divide. And among those who feel wronged, you can tell there’s a palpable nostalgia, a longing for the good ol’ days that resemble a 1950s fairy tale. But because that failed to materialize… because work and marriage turned out to be less than the ideal, these men feel deprived of the American Dream. The result is their very real anger and a desire to blame someone.

Of course, that dissatisfaction can manifest itself in a hundred different ways. Certain things in the book point toward a tangible grievance like child custody in divorce proceedings, while other things are examples of totally irrational rage. For instance, Kimmel draws attention to the fact that mass shooters in the U.S. are overwhelmingly white males, which includes the recent murders in North Carolina.

To me, the book highlights a strong undercurrent in this country, unifying seemingly separate topics with a common thread. I was reminded of the sharp difference in reactions over law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans or debates about female contraception. On one hand, I think it’s legitimate to criticize the decline of the American Middle Class, but economic turmoil alone wouldn’t account for the visceral emotions on display in Angry White Men. To his credit, Michael Kimmel listens to and documents these feelings. However, the author also offers plenty of skepticism. Namely, that women, minorities, and social progress aren’t ever going back to 1950. And if some men believe everything is a zero-sum game, then they’re just destined to be pissed off in modern America.

Fortunately, I don’t think everyone is averse to change in their own lives or when it comes to ideas about masculinity. For example, parental involvement among men has dramatically increased over the last fifty years. That said, the difficult part going forward is this — In general, men are socialized in such a way that anger is the only acceptable emotion. They have all the other emotions, but these are often warped and channeled into anger and only anger. Adding a racial, economic, and historical dimension to all of this doesn’t simplify the issue, but it does emphasize the importance of emotional coping skills.

Read my interview with Michael Kimmel

Read Angry White Men