Men`s Studies

César Valverde
English 401
Professor Ron Strickland
December 11th, 2002
Men’s Studies, Women’s Studies or Gender Studies?
The purpose of this paper is to give a general overview of the differences between the study of
masculinity and feminist scholarship.
It is just an exploratory beginning for what will be
hopefully become a larger research project of my own. I will basically touch on four different
moments of this debate. First, a number of the journal Signs from 1987, when Susan Philips
writes “The New Gender Scholarship: Women’s and Men’s Studies.” Second, a special number
of The Journal of Men’s Studies that deals with the conflict. Third, a selection from a listserv
discussion from 2000 on the same topic, and finally mention of a book from 2002 that seems to
find a much more conciliatory and middle ground approach.
In her 1987 piece, Susan Philips wrote:
The most controversial issue at this conference was whether and how men can and do
practice a feminist perspective in feminist scholarship and political activity. Proponents
of men’s studies, like Harry Brod and plenary speaker Peter Filene, advocate the study of
the gendered rather than the generic male. Filene presented research on the sensitive and
romantic men of the Victorian era, echoing Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s work on women
of this period, but many at the conference were unconvinced of the value of such an
approach. Lois Banner, respondent to Filene’s paper, argued that it is dangerous for the
history of men to follow the obvious model of the history of women because their
histories are so different, and it is of questionable value to reconstruct our definition of
male gender norms under patriarchy until patriarchy has been deconstructed. Some in the
audience argued for the need to study how patriarchy is sustained by men rather than how
men are victimized by it.
In sessions focusing on the practical and political activities of feminist men, similar
concerns were raised, coalescing around a distinction between pro-male men who focus
on the victimization of men and their need to find ways to get in touch with their
feminine selves and pro-feminist men who are concerned with explicitly supporting
feminist political activities. Many women in these sessions had little patience with promale men, viewing them as threatening feminist efforts by co-opting their rhetoric and
diverting energy and attention from women’s political needs.
Women who spoke on the need to change men through mentoring them (Elaine R.
Ognibene) or of engaging in loving discourse and renouncing angry confrontation with
them (bell hooks) met with a more sympathetic response from their audiences. I found
my personal sense of the history of the women’s movement distinctly at odds with this,
seeing women as having engaged for years in wearying daily multiple “loving”
encounters with colleagues, spouses, and children.
Three years later, in the article “Ongoing Tensions Between Men’s Studies and Women’s
Studies,” Mark Kwan defines the problem this way:
This article examines three reasons for ongoing tensions between men’s studies and
women’s studies. First, women’s studies scholars claim a privileged place in gendered
Second, both women’s studies scholarship and men’s studies scholarship
emphasize gender differences that militate against cooperation. Third, the politics of
women’s studies and the politics of men’s studies often clash. The article concludes by
suggesting that these ongoing tensions may actually be beneficial to men’s studies. (411)
That article appears in a special number of The Journal of Men’s Studies, where two
other writers take on the same problem. Mark Justad writes “Women’s Studies and Men’s
Studies: Friends or Foes” and Vicki Sommer writes “Men’s Studies and Women’s Studies:
Should They be Wed?”
Although all three articles present very good arguments for the
incorporation of the study of masculinity into the arena of women’s studies, it is obviously a
biased angle given the journal in which it appears.
Some of the arguments made against this union and a discussion of men's studies
appeared in a Women’s Studies listserv. It discussed what it is, whether it is a legitimate field of
inquiry, what its relationship is to women's or gender studies--and took place on WMST-L in
January/February 2000. For additional WMST-L files now available on the Web, including a
number dealing with issues concerning men, see the WMST-L File List (sorry, I am not sure how
to cite from a listserv, and I ran out of time! I also apologize for th serious lack of my own
commentary. I have just simply had too many things up in the air at once, and hopefully this
won’t be the one to come crashing down).
I will list the more relevant posting to get a sense of the different positions:
We are considering mounting an intro to men's studies course that would run
concurrently with intro to women's studies. We were wondering what kind of reception
others had found when offering this course and what problems, if any, they encountered.
One concern is that doing so blurs the lines between women's and gender studies and
might take our program in a different direction than we have been heading. (Sharon
I would have to ask why there is thought to be a need for a men's studies course? Since I
see the original intent of women's studies as introducing scholarship from and about a
long-ignored and marginalized segment of the population, I would find a comparable
course about men to be somewhat problematic. It would also seem to be giving in to
every male who has ever asked "So where's the men's studies then?" as a way of belittling
women's studies. Now perhaps "masculinity studies" might be a slightly different track?
What do you have in mind for the course? (Fiona Young)
I couldn't agree more! It's a little bit like this "interrogating whiteness" stuff that's
fashionable at the moment. While I agree that it has its place, just like "interrogating
masculinity" has its place, as Fiona suggested, I have the uneasy feeling that both are
becoming just another "Me Too" branch of studies by the dominant class feeling its
power threatened - which is silly really, given the enormity of the dominant classes'
power and the small extent to which even the most radical and outspoken feminist
activity is, realistically, threatening it (which is not at all meant to suggest that feminist
action is ineffectual or ill-advised: on the contrary, it is a pity there is not more of it!)
Proves how scared they are of us, really, doesn't it? (E. Bronwyn)
What does it mean to be in the world _as a man_? What happens to persons who are
born and raised male? What social factors affect their growth and development as
human beings? What societal benefits and prohibitions are associated with maleness?
How is the male subject defined? Men's studies is not a "me too" reaction to women's
studies. Men's studies seriously takes up the challenge feminists have issued for years for
men to locate themselves _as men_ rather than with the pretense of objective experts in a
world where women are outsiders. I see men's studies as a continuation of feminist
methods in an area of scholarship that is virtually untouched. It's a little odd to keep all
the subjectivity to ourselves. Should not scholars (men and women both) examine what
factors are at play in the experiences of men? Doesn't that have a lot to do with what
feminists are doing? Moreover, as we penetrate mythology that justifies the oppression
of women, is it helpful to leave untouched the mythology around men? Men's studies is a
vibrant area of scholarship that stands on its own merits. I also think it furthers and
expands women studies. This is exactly what we've been asking men to do.
The entire discipline of anthropology and the entire literature of existential philosophy
have been tackling and answering the questions posed by a.r. calvert as the subject matter
of "men's studies." both of these areas of research and discourse have been and will
continue to be open to analysis, critique, and participation of feminist scholars, and easily
integrated into interdisciplinary approaches to specific issues. (Deborah Louis)
I agree with some of you that an intro to men's studies can be problematic. I see the
problem in the symmetrical construction of the courses, which reproduces a dualistic
concept of gender. Why not interrogate masculinity in a women's studies intro? That
seems more appropriate to me, since we have to deal with gender(s) beyond "women,"
anyway. (Annette Schlichter)
Interrogating whiteness is not quite the same as studying men (although it might be
parallel to studying masculinities). I think interrogating whiteness is a positive thing for
feminism, since whiteness has been rendered invisible and "transparent"; that is, it's
assumed to be the norm against which everybody else is measured. When we can
problematize whiteness, we can move beyond that assumption of the "normality" of
whiteness. (M. Charlene Ball)
I couldn't agree more! It's a little bit like this "interrogating whiteness" stuff that's
fashionable at the moment. While I agree that it has its place, just like "interrogating
masculinity" has its place, as Fiona suggested, I have the uneasy feeling that both are
becoming just another "Me Too" branch of studies by the dominant class feeling its
power threatened - which is silly. I think, maybe, what is being referred to here is a bit
different from the making-visible branch of "whiteness studies." As I understand it, there
are two very different ways that "whiteness" is being studied at the moment. One way
does just what is suggested above: renders visible that which has been assumed to be
normative and invisible, and challenges the assumptions of skin color privilege that
attend this "normal" state of being (i.e., being white). However, I heard a report about
"whiteness studies" on NPR sometime last fall (sorry--I knew I should have written down
the information at the time, but I didn't) that suggested that there are white folks out there
doing "whiteness studies" in order to provide some sort of balance to ethnic studies.
There were several interviews with scholars who talked about how important it is to study
"whiteness" so long as there are people studying "blackness"; I remember one person
making pretty explicit his opinion that ethnic studies is a form of reverse racism. The
impetuses behind these two branches are drastically different. I would characterize one
(the latter) as a form of racism. The other (the former) aims to fight against racism by
confronting white privilege. I imagine that there are "men's studies" scholars who are
feminists, and "men's studies" scholars who are reacting against feminisms, too. Is this
others' understanding? (Jeannie Ludlow)
Dear Members- I must voice my agreement with "scout." Until we start looking at
masculinity and the male as part of the construction that condemns us all, men will take
their privilege and position for granted and unquestionably. I first became interested in
the construction of masculinity studying Atom Egoyan's films. I am always appalled at
how unconsciously men live their identities and until they start studying them, they
always will. (ok, not ALL men, before you hit that reply button) The problem for me is,
will they study it? Is it just going to be we women who examine those constructions? I
mean, I think "they" need they need women's studies more than we do and the persistent
resistance to it and ridiculing of it drags on. I support men studies. The problem is, like
diversity studies, the people that need that information the least take those courses and
those who need it desperately recoil. How can we restructure our educational systems to
get the information where it is needed? (Stephanie Chastain)
If I remember correctly, the responses to Sharon's query were pretty much the same types
of responses that the list has seen once before when the topic of "men's studies" was
posed. It's actually a term I don't use to describe what I do, since it does have some
connotations of "me-too-ism" at best, backlash at worst. (After all, every course without
the word "women" in it is a course about men. Except we call them "literature" "political
science" or "history") I say I do sociology of gender, from a feminist perspective, and the
gender I study is men. (Incidentally, most of the courses taught these days on men and
masculinity around the country are taught by feminist women and profeminist men.)
That said, I obviously agree with those who observed that interrogating masculinity can
be a vital and necessary extension of the feminist project: making gender visible as a set
of power relations. After all, I've devoted my life to it. What better way is there to
decenter the hegemonic than to render it visible? Privilege is what keeps privilege
invisible to those who have it, which is why the analogy to interrogating whiteness is apt.
If we maintain the fiction that only women are gendered, we buy into the power that
keeps masculinity invisible and normative. That is to say, we lose. I think we need
desperately to interrogate masculinity, and critically, to both reveal the dynamics of
power and privilege, and also to find those points of entry for men into the discussion of
gender equality as allies to women. Critical analysis doesn't mean relentlessly critical of
the men themselves. We need to also examine the ways in which men are changing and
have changed, and also to suggest the strategies of resistance to male domination that
groups of men have developed. There are positive stories out there, and I think men also
need to hear them to feel that there is a place for them to begin to unravel the ways in
which they (we) have also been shaped by sexism, our lives disfigured by privilege. Of
course it's not parallel, equivalent, the "same." No one but Warren Farrell would say
something as inane as that. But just as white people need to know how racism has
distorted our lives, so too must men see how sexism and homophobia have been the
pillars upon which we've built an edifice of masculinity that leaves us feeling empty,
defensive, or confused. (Michael Kimmel)
Greetings, all--I, too, have a few reservations about the so-called "men's studies" but I
don't believe that it has to be a "backlash" against women's studies, though there is,
indeed, that potential. I think that studying manhood and masculinity as another
construction of gender gives us the opportunity to stop seeing them as the "norm" and
allows us instead to open a few eyes to how we construct ourselves and the cultural and
social context in which we operate. Perhaps I'm biased in this respect, since I researched
American constructions of white Protestant manhood and masculinity in my dissertation.
At any rate, thanks for bringing this topic up. (Evelyn A. Schlatter)
Dear Members: Just a few words in response to this interesting post. Yes, I think we have
studied men and the male world since we started studying. But looking at great events in
history, leaders, authors, inventions is not the same as looking at how that particular
gender has posed particular problems for themselves, the human race and the earth on a
grand scale. I don't see men studies as the study of how men have shaped the world any
more than women's studies is about that. I see it as a questioning of the knowledge that
we and they have about men. What is with their sexuality? What about the war thing?
Global, human and personal relations seem to be an enormous problem for them.
Parenting? Their frequent aversion children? Their major fear of women's power?
Money? Caregiving? Law? The body? Love? And power? Seriously, why aren't they
better at power since they've been doing it for millennia. And while we're at it, why can't
they ask directions or look at a map? Everything that we have ever studied about men
suggests that these issues do not exist as problems or as questionable. I don't see men's
studies being that way at all. I tend to think that men coming to some sort of- dare I say
it- consciousness about these things would be good for women. My point is-we would be
taking those courses. They'd be filled to capacity with women. Just like all those self-help
books have become a kind of exploitation of women. Men aren't reading about "how to
save your marriage." There's a psychological place they need to be before they can get to
the psychological place they need to be. And for me, that is the problem. Believe me, I'm
no male advocate, in case that thought crossed your minds. (Stephanie Chastain)
Finally, let me mention a great book that just came out and articulates in a more formal and less
guttural way all the positions discussed previously. The collection Masculinity Studies and Feminist
Theory hopes to answer questions such as: “What has masculinity to do with feminism? Why is there
so much talk of a “crisis” of masculinity? How do feminist theories shape masculinity studies, and how,
in turn, have feminist theories, been altered by the insights of masculinity studies? Why is masculinity’s
supposed complement, femininity, so rarely mentioned?” (1).
What the collection of essays gathers is a general view of the current state of masculinity studies and
their position vis à vis feminism. “Current masculinity studies . . . are invigorated by a range of
feminist, humanist, and post-structuralist theories, and current feminist theories are in turn being
changed by the insights of masculinity studies. At present, feminist-inflected masculinity studies have
reached consensus about previously troubling issues. Chief among these is the initial insight that
masculinity, too, is a gender and therefore that men as well as women have undergone historical and
cultural processes of gender formation that distribute power and privilege unevenly.” (11)
I could not agree more. That is essentially the political and theoretical stance I have taken in my
research and that will most likely continue to illuminate it.
Gardiner, Judith Kegan, ed. Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia
University Press, 2002.
Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.
Justad, Mark J. “Women’s studies and men’s studies: friends or foes.” Journal of Men’s Studies 8
(2000): 401-406.
Kann, Mark E. “Ongoing tensions between men’s studies and women’s studies.” Journal of Men’s
Studies 8 (2000): 411-417.
Kimmel, Michael S., and Thomas E. Mosmiller, eds. Against the Tide: Pro-feminist Men in the
United States 1776-1990. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
Philips, Susan U. “The new gender scholarship: women’s and men’s studies.” Signs 13 (1987):
Sollie, Donna L., and Leigh A. Leslie, eds. Gender, Families, and Close Relationships: Feminist
Research Journeys. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1994.
Sommer, Vicki L. “Men’s studies and women’s studies: should they be wed.” Journal of Men’s Studies
8 (2000): 395-400.
Wiegman, Robyn. “Object lessons: men, masculinity, and the sign women.” Signs 26 (2001):