Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is the Creation of "Males Studies" Part of the War on Men?

The recent announcement about creating a male studies program (it's called the Foundation for Male Studies), to offer an alternative to the long-standing women's studies programs (and the men's studies programs which grew out of their efforts) seems to me a good idea. However, A LOT of feminist blogs were outraged. My concern is that right wing, traditionalist groups will hijack the idea, as this article seems to suggest.

This summary article comes from The Journal of Higher Education's Inside Higher Ed (for a sense of how this idea is being received, check out the comments from this post):

More than anything else, the event was a chance for supporters to frame men and boys as an underrepresented minority, and to justify the need for a male studies discipline in a society that many perceive to be male-dominated.

Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, said the field takes its cues “from the notion that male and female organisms really are different” and the “enormous relation between ... a person’s biology and their behavior” that’s not being addressed in most contemporary scholarship on men and boys.

““I am concerned that male-averse attitudes are widespread in the United States and that masculinity is becoming politically incorrect,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

The culprit, said Tiger, is feminism: “a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon.”

Paul Nathanson, a researcher in religious studies at McGill University and co-author of a series of books on misandry -- the hatred of men and boys -- conceded that “there is some critique of feminism that’s going to be involved” in male studies. “There are some fundamental features of ideological feminism over the last 30 or 40 years that we need to question.”

He also decried “the institutionalization of misandry” which, he said, is “being generated by feminists, [though] not all feminists.”

Male studies’ combative tone toward feminism and women’s studies programs is one reason why Robert Heasley, president of the American Men’s Studies Association, turned down an invitation to speak at the event. "Men's studies came out of feminist analysis of gender, which includes biological differences" -- the very thing male studies says is different about its approach.

Heasley, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, also sees the “new” discipline as an affront to his field, which has been around for three decades. “Their argument is that they’re inventing something that I think already exists.”

I have some serious issues with their antagonism toward women and feminism, but I will reserve judgment until I see some papers from these folks. But I also have issues with rejecting the need for more a comprehensive version of men's/male studies.

Why shouldn't we try to understand men and how men might become more mature, healthy individuals from a variety of perspectives? Why wouldn't EVERY woman on the planet think this is a great idea? Maybe it's the silly anti-feminism tone of the people launching this program idea?

Apparently even some men are not in favor of this new academic program. I can see why a lot of feminists might be offended by the tone of the initial conference. And I guess I can see why some immature or insecure men might not like this idea - they might get called out to grow up, be more in touch with their emotions, or at the very least to put the seat down when they're done pissing.

My guess is that this guy whose article appeared in the Calgary Herald is one of those later guys.

Last week there was an academic conference at Wagner College on Staten Island, New York.

The focus was an emerging movement toward men's studies at universities. I think the desire to even out the time and money spent on studying issues unique to each sex -- Women's Studies consume more than 90 per cent of budgets for gender-specific research -- is well intentioned, but I suspect it is ultimately misguided.

What men need most is not to be studied but to be allowed to be men. It is not possible to save or revive masculinity by over-analyzing it.

At our core, we men are uncomplicated and straightforward if allowed to be.

If a man asks "Is that what you're wearing to the party?" that's what he wants to know: Is that the outfit you will be wearing this evening? He doesn't really mean "You're not planning on wearing that, are you?"

Men are simple, not simpletons. For the most part we want to earn a living and provide for those we love. We desire to be proud of what we do and respected for it, even if only by those close to us -- family and friends. Not every man desires to be a celebrity, but he would like to be known at work or in the neighbourhood as the best butcher, salesman or handyman.

We want to come out on top (or at least near the head of the pack) in much of what we do; we are competitive by nature, especially while we're young, even if just on a small scale.

We like sex on a more or less regular basis, yet we also desire to be left alone, not all the time, but for enough time each day, each week, each year to unwind.

That, I think, is a difference between men and women: More women than men need to unwind by unburdening their stresses to a spouse or friend or book club. By contrast, more men deal with their daily strains and pressures by burying themselves in a hockey telecast or renovation project. Woodwork can be a challenge, but at least the maple doesn't talk back or insist you open up about your feelings.

It's a good thing that men and women are different in this regard, as in many others. Each sex has a moderating influence on the other. Left on their own, men's desire for "alone time," could make us reclusive and sullen. We need a little drawing out now and then.

But as with so much in the relationships of men and women, the pendulum has swung too far. It seems generally believed these days that men's natural need for quiet is a danger sign, evidence that men are suppressing their inner feelings. Stoic behaviour, which was once seen as a sign of inner strength, has become socially unacceptable -- as have most masculine traits. The strong, silent type is no longer respected, but looked on with suspicion.

I am definitely not advocating a return to some sort of "good old days." The world is an infinitely more interesting place when the members of both sexes are free to plot their own courses, when men and women have been released from old stereotypic roles.

But Western civilization is in danger of becoming like elementary schools -- an environment where masculinity is not only unwelcome, but undesirable. There is a mistaken belief among too many politicians, bureaucrats, academics, cultural leaders and psychological and sociological experts that if girls are to achieve their full potential, boys cannot be allowed to be boys.

However, there is a vast difference between patriarchy and masculinity; the latter does not have to be eradicated in order to eliminate the former.

Indeed, since masculinity is natural, it is impossible (not to mention unwise) to attempt to abolish it. Efforts to do so will merely provoke extreme manifestations of masculinity. Eliminating chivalrous behaviour may free women from the "indignity" of having doors opened for them or having men defer to them in line, but if enforced politeness is done away with, some men will find far less acceptable expression for their masculinity.

Chivalry was initially created to curb a nature tendency toward boorishness by some men. Therefore diminishing a culture of civility toward women will merely release the boors to be boorish once more. Violence, drunkenness, infidelity, abandonment -- all will increase in the absence of old norms.

That is not a defence of old norms, but rather a caution that new norms have to be found to address the natural tendencies of both sexes before the old ways are discarded entirely.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men, told the Wagner College conference that men acting like men are too often thought of sociopaths. "I'm concerned that male-averse attitude is widespread . . . that we're in a society where masculinity is politically incorrect."

We need not devote hundreds of millions of dollars to new university departments studying declining masculinity. We need to stop disparaging the masculine as unthinking, unconcerned and unwanted.

Lorne Gunter is a columnist with the Edmonton Journal.

Contra this myopic column, advocating a simple return to chivalry and "traditional" models of masculinity as the solution to all our gender-related issues (let boys be boys and men be men), I want to offer the Male Studies FAQ as some evidence that the goal seems, to me at least, to be useful.

Why “Male Studies” and not “Men’s Studies”?

Male Studies refers to the multidisciplinary study of the male human being, boys and men. Men Studies, by definition, has focused on fully grown men. Male studies will be comprehensive of males of all ages.

How is Male Studies related to Gender Studies?

Male Studies is independent scholarship without ideological ties to Men’s Studies, which emerged within Gender Studies to complement Women’s Studies. Male Studies focuses on the experience of being male and not only behavior (masculinity).

Is Male Studies grounded in one discipline?

No. While Men’s Studies grew out of sociology, Male Studies recognizes that all of the sciences have specialized knowledge about males. Most disciplines have something unique to contribute to understanding the experience of being male. They include anthropology, biology, psychology, medicine, history and education.

Is Male Studies a reaction to other scholarship?

No. Male Studies has emerged out of the conviction that the experience of what it means to be male can be approached while abstaining from cultural and ideological preconceptions about the phenomenon.

Is Male Studies a Western discipline?

No. Male Studies recognizes that while being male has been interpreted in a variety of ways in Western culture, it is experienced differently in different cultures and historical periods. Its goal is to be cross-cultural and international in scope.

Is Male Studies essentialist?

One fundamental question of Male Studies is whether there are essential features of being male. Having a male body is clearly one of them. Male Studies raises the question of whether there are other fundamental features of being male such as an inner experience of being male.

Does one have to identify as a male to engage in Male Studies?

Male Studies is based on the conviction that anyone is in a position to study the male. It is a scholarly discipline and as such is no more limited to work by males than any other discipline such as anthropology, biology, psychology, medicine or history. Males and females have made major contributions to all of these disciplines.

Why has Males Studies emerged at this time?

After thousands of years, previously isolated and independent cultures are now being exposed to each in unprecedented ways by means of the media, including especially television and the internet. Cultures previously divided from one another are meeting in an emerging global culture. Among the basic elements of this culture is the nature of being male. Bracketing ideological commitments is especially important at such a time. Instead, scientific research based on the view that it is important to allow the phenomenon to speak for itself must be given support. Male Studies is one area of such research. The effects of sophisticated technologies (birth control medications, sexual surrogacy) on reproduction are also of primary interest in Male Studies.

How is the concept of being male related to the concepts of gender, masculinity, and manhood?

Concepts of gender—masculinity and femininity—and their cultural institution as manhood and womanhood are of interest to Male Studies, but they are seen as secondary to a phenomenology of being male. Scholars in Male Studies believe that a complementary area of scholarship, Female Studies, would be a welcome addition to the scientific study of human beings.

What is the relation of Male Studies to misandry?

As a human science, Male Studies is opposed to the hatred of other human beings based on their genetic make-up, including misogyny (the hatred of females because they are female) and misandry (the hatred of males because they are male). It is opposed to hatred of a group of human beings based on sexual genetic variations (for example, Turner’s Syndrome or Kleinfelter’s Syndrome) or genetic variations leading to a unique physical habitus (for example, dwarfism). It is opposed to hatred of individuals based on their behavioral style, sexual orientation or religious conviction. There is now a body of research, however, that suggests the presence of an unacknowledged underlying theme of misandry in popular culture, in recent legislation (international and national), and in academe. Male Studies is concerned to confirm or refute this research.

What are some topics of Male Studies?

As an emerging discipline, the topics of Male studies are only now being identified. Several topics are clearly of interest to scholars in the discipline: the documented deterioration of boys’ engagement and performance in education at all levels, and the remarkable extent of suicide among males as compared to females. Certain psychological disorders that are for the most part identified in young males deserve our attention. They include learning disabilities, conduct disorders (including violence against females and other males), and depression (which is often masked as irritability or lack of involvement in activities of everyday life). In the technology-dominated culture of the West, the declining numbers of males entering and completing tertiary education must be explained.
As long as they do not go about this by attacking women and feminism, I'm on-board with this agenda. It must be recognized that militant feminism has had some negative impacts on men and masculinity - and our place and rights in Western culture. But that does not mean we need to attack and dismantle all forms of feminism, which still has a ways to go in achieving equal rights and access for women.


Paul said...

Perhaps you should define for your readers the difference between "attack" and other words like "critique."

Or are you saying that feminism is above being critiqued?

As was pointed out by two of the males studies conference speakers, any legitimate study of males in modern culture will involve a critique of feminist postmodernism, which has had a significant impact on the western male.

Is it your contention that these academicians should only be allowed to approach their studies with a gag on where it concerns feminism?

william harryman said...

Hey Paul,

You raise some good points.

I do not think feminism is above criticism and I have done a fair bit of looking at the ways feminism has hurt males - on the other hand, I sense a tone of antagonism in some of the Male Studies folks comments that needlessly sets up an us against them mentality (or the perception of such a mentality), which to me is counter-productive.

Blaming feminism for "a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon" is a rather limiting perspective - men have been complicit in this, as well, and it's not just feminism - the issue is much more integral than this.

If we want to solve the problem, we need to think about this issues with a wider perspective - male behaviors that are entrenched in out-moded ideas of masculinity are part of the problem, as are socialization issues (the differences in how we raise boys and girls, which have nothing to do with feminism), as are cultural issues about what is expected of men, as are psychological issues in how men and women differ in real ways, but not as much as some people think.

This is a huge topic that requires a wider and deeper perspective, so saying it is feminism that has caused all the problems is very wrong-headed, in my opinion.

Yet it is true that "radical feminism" (not all feminists or feminisms) has contributed to the problems, and those ideas and issues need to be addressed and critiqued. But we will get nowhere by being antagonistic or hostile.

We will get a lot further if we can work with women to help them understand us better.