Dispatches from Guyland: Best Places for Men

(Victoria Peckham on Flickr/ / CC BY 2.0)

Where are the best places for men? Two surveys, ten years apart, have quite different, and quite telling, answers.

Back in the September 2000 back-to-school issue of Men’s Health, the magazine ran a clever survey ranking the best and worst college campuses for men. Written by magazine founder Laurence Roy Stains, the article is less interesting for its choices than for the criteria it used.

OK, I know you’re curious, so here, circa the turn of the millennium, were the best schools for men:  Cal State Long Beach, Davidson, Illinois Wesleyan, Indiana University, Lewis and Clark, Princeton, Texas A&M, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Washington and Lee.

And here, the 10 worst:  Antioch, Bates, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Oberlin, U.C. Santa Cruz, U. of Massachusetts and Michigan.

I’m sure readers will have their quibbles. I mean, how has Dartmouth, that bastion of angry, defensive masculinism, been so utterly colonized by feminism, while Princeton has remained inured to the misandrous influence of its female president, provost and legions of famous feminist faculty?

How did the editorial team at Men’s Health select this best and worst?  That was the interesting part:  After grading the quality of academics and athletics, taking the social temperature (fraternity-friendliness, a place where “women like men”) and institutional interference in social life (the absence of “silly rules,” especially those governing sexual assault, harassment and the like) the magazine invited readers to assess their own schools.

And here were their criteria: Is male bashing “an official sport”? Are there lots of “diversity” courses and fewer “great books courses? Is the Women’s Studies department vital, visible and vibrant?  (“The bigger it is, the more Angry Young Women it produces.”) Does the administration enforce effective sexual assault and harassment standards? Do they have Take Back the Night marches? Does the school have a sexual harassment policy that anyone actually knows?

According to Men’s Health, the colleges that are the best places for men are those  where feminism is weakest and men can therefore just relax and enjoy themselves. “Best” means fewest challenges to privilege, the most coddling by administrators and the least diverse course offerings.

I think setting the bar so low for men is a most insidious form of male bashing–“the soft bigotry of low expectations,” as our former President’s speechwriters once put it. According to Men’s Health, men just can’t handle women who are strong, independent, assertive, powerful or, uh, equal.

So, imagine my surprise when Askmen.com, a website devoted to all things masculine, recently released its list of the world’s 29 best cities for men.  I expected something less thoughtful–more along the lines of “most topless beaches”, “greatest number of bars per capita”, “good professional sports teams”. But the editors at Canadian-based AskMen.com used a complex methodology, combining quantitative measures on weather, unemployment levels and economic indicators (the cost of a Nissan 370Z coupe) with measures of social interaction that gave guys a lot of credit.

The top 10 cities for men: New York, Melbourne, Tokyo, Madrid, London, Cape Town, Miami, Buenos Aires, Sydney and San Francisco.

To be sure, the female-to-male ratio was included, but also factored in was education level, assuming that men would be more attracted to women with higher levels of education and who were committed to their careers. While the Men’s Health poll contained a sort of bimbo-meter, AskMen.com knows that real men are not intimidated by women’s intelligence.

And measures of night life included not only bars and clubs, but also the quality of the food; day life included the predictable sports teams as well as a number of museums, access to men’s fashion and “general walkability”–the ability to leave that Nissan in the garage.

While I wouldn’t suggest that these new criteria are a feminist fantasy, it is certainly a step up from the defensive posturing of the Men’s Health column a short decade ago. And while AskMen.com assumes that men are more metrosexual than Neanderthal, it also assumes that men are engaged by women who are strong and assertive.

In that respect, this list compasses the arc of change among men in the past decade: while it’s true that problems identified for decades still plague gender relations, it’s equally true that men have made significant progress in quietly accepting, if not actively embracing, women’s equality. Focusing only on the continuing struggles make us often lose sight of how far we’ve come, but emphasizing only the progress leaves us engaging in what a friend calls “premature self-congratulation,” minimizing the work that it yet to be done.

At least in the AskMen.com best cities, men know they can ask women for directions.

Read more Dispatches from Guyland.


Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. He is distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.