Male Studies and Feminism
Why is the discussion of boys and men so often derailed?
Posted Mar 06, 2013
It is curious that the discussion of boys’ and men’s well-being turns so quickly and so often to feminism. Why? There is a bit of history here. Male Studies (that is, the study of the experience of being male) is quite new. It is a topic area and field of inquiry that is interdisciplinary and only in part informed by the work of sociologists and empirical psychologists. The advent of Women’s Studies a few decades ago (almost entirely the work of sociologists and social psychologists) was soon followed by an apparent broadening of interest in gender that resulted in Gender Studies, which was supposed to include the study of men as well as women. This topic area in turn spawned a branch of Gender Studies that came to be known as Men’s Studies. A close look at the literature, however, shows that all three topic areas were informed by third-wave feminism, its theory, ideological interests and advocacy agenda. Veterans of what turned into gender wars are still vocal and with good reason.
All well and good, except for the fact the lives of boys and most men remain unattended to while the shouting continues. In an attempt to free the study of the lives of boys and men from its association with third-wave feminism, Male Studies was established as topic area. Its goals include generating research and reflection on the experience of most men and boys, without any underlying ideological commitment, whether it be feminism or masculism. Male Studies does not ally itself with men’s rights movements, although it remains sympathetic to whatever efforts lead to full transparency about male sexism, something that surely exists as David Benatar has recently shown in his book “The Second Sexism.” Study that is intellectually obligated to satisfy an ideology cannot remain open to say what is seen, and that is what Males Studies hopes to accomplish. You will not find anger in the voices of those women and men who are writing in this area, but instead, first and foremost, an appeal to all of us to remain open to what shows itself if most men are finally heard, not only the privileged few who have undoubtedly enjoyed a dominant presence in history and accounts of it some of those few men have written.
There is another history to be told—to repeat yet again (since this has to be stressed)—a history of the lives of boys and most men. So, that the discussion of male experience so often turns to feminism is certainly understandable given the provenance of Male Studies, but as long as that happens the focus remains somewhat off-center and the discussion remains heated by old anger. Most women and most men are in agreement that we are all in this together, and most of us want to allow time to hear from boys and men. This is not too much to ask.