New book refutes 'boys will be boys'

A new book traces the origins of the claim that “boys will be boys”—and refutes it.

Thirty years ago, in downtown Mexico City, Matthew Gutmann took a picture of a man holding a baby. Little did he know then that photo would launch a decades-long career studying men and masculinity around the world.

“I showed that photo to a bunch of people in the United States, and I kept getting vehement reactions,” says Gutmann, a professor of anthropology at Brown University.

“People said, ‘This is unreal. This is an aberration.’ I tried to explain to an art editor at a university press that the photo was candid and not posed, and he says, ‘That’s impossible. Mexican men are machos; they don’t carry babies.’”

For Gutmann, that moment launched a quest to learn more about men and masculinity in Mexico. He has since studied the state of sexual and reproductive health across Latin America, investigated the concept of masculine loyalty among American veterans who fought in Iraq, and observed changes in workplace gender standards in urban China, where he currently teaches as a visiting professor.

In some ways, the book Are Men Animals? (Basic Books, 2019) is a distillation of all that Gutmann has learned since he took that fateful photo as a graduate student. His book takes the reader on a world tour, examining the women-only subway cars of Mexico City, the barrio of Santo Domingo and the so-called “marriage market” in Shanghai to demonstrate that there’s no single definition of masculinity or manliness.

Ultimately, Gutmann says, he hopes Are Men Animals? emphasizes that men are more than testosterone and Y chromosomes—that they’re made as much by society as by biology.

“The great feminist Simone de Beauvoir once wrote about women, ‘Their biology is not their destiny,’” Gutmann says. “I think we need to say something similar about men. Men’s biology is not their destiny, either.”

Ahead of the release of Are Men Animals?, Gutmann answered a few questions about the book, his research, and the future of masculinity:

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