Women’s studies programs are common at American colleges and universities. And in recent years, courses about men and masculinity have increased in numbers. An article in the New York Times explores this phenomenon and the split between proponents of men’s and male studies:
Male studies, largely the brainchild of Dr. Edward M. Stephens, a New York City psychiatrist, doesn’t actually exist anywhere yet. Last spring, there was a scholarly symposium at Wagner College on Staten Island, intended to raise the movement’s profile and attract funds for a department with a tenured chair on some campus. A number of prominent scholars attended, including Lionel Tiger, an emeritus anthropology professor at Rutgers, who invented the term “male bonding,” and Paul Nathanson, a religious studies scholar at McGill University, who specializes in the study of misandry, the flip side of misogyny. Both are on the advisory board of the Foundation for Male Studies, which Dr. Stephens founded last year…
The people in men’s studies, like those in women’s studies, take a mostly sociological perspective and believe that masculinity is essentially a cultural construct and that gender differences in general are fluid and variable. To Professor Kimmel, we live in a world that is increasingly gender-neutral and gender integrated and that this is a good thing for men and women both. “That ship has sailed — it’s a done deal,” he said recently, dismissing the idea that men and women are as different as Martians and Venutians.
The male studies people, on the other had, are what their critics call “essentialists” and believe that male behavior is in large part biologically determined. Men think and act differently from how women think and act because that’s how evolution shaped them. In the most extreme formulations of essentialism, men are basically still Neanderthals: violent, clannish, sexually voracious and in need of female domestication.
The article points this out but this sounds like another episode in the nature vs. nurture debate.
But the study of masculinity does seem to be a growing field of study. I don’t know much about this particular field but it seems to me that there has been a growing recognition that there is a wide range of male experiences. And more men seem to be interested in at least thinking about this and how their lives have been shaped by cultural expectations.
What is the “typical” role for males today? Take a sector of the media like video games. These are popular among males, particularly the younger generations, and many of these games present particular views of masculinity and the world. Should one be an soldier shooting others in Black Ops? Should one be a 13th century assassin? Should one be a puzzle solver or an athlete? There are a number of roles, realistic and otherwise, that are presented. And all of this has real consequences: with terms like “man-cession” or “he-pression” being in the news recently due to the loss of certain jobs, what happens to males matters for society.