I took gender and sexuality studies as a minor in college, which is what my school offered instead of “women’s studies.” I assumed at first that they were just being PC with the name. But then when I took the first class, an introduction to the discipline, I realized it truly wasn’t just about women. We learned about constructs like gender and sexuality, yes, but we also devoted a lot of attention to the intersectionality of race, class, religion and able-bodiedness. That introductory instructor encouraged us not to assume gender was what individuals identified with first and cautioned us against ignoring other ways people are oppressed by focusing solely on gender. Gender studies was actually the hip new term for the discipline; “women’s studies,” on the other hand, sounded hopelessly old-school. I took four gender and sexuality studies classes and only one — “Women and The Media” — focused on women almost exclusively (that class was about media depictions). The other courses, however, were far more intersectional and examined all the different ways people can be oppressed; for example, “The History of Prostitution” talked a lot about how female sex workers flourished during Victorian times in part because men felt they had no other outlet.
I never took a “men’s studies” class that focused primarily on men. But if I could go back in time, I might have majored in G&SS instead of minored and taken a course strictly about masculinity. After all, gender is so intersectional and I do want to learn more about that particular construct. Approximately, 100 colleges around the country offer “men’s studies” courses — one would assume in the gender studies, sociology or anthropology departments — and though it’s not offered as a major anywhere yet, the proliferation of these courses is a good sign that in the coming years, masculinity will be critiqued and evaluated just as much as femininity has been by “women’s studies.”
So if G&SS is now incorporating the study of women’s and men’s experiences together, then what the heck is “male studies” about?Men’s studies and male studies are not the same thing. In fact, Professor Heasley, a sociology professor at Indiana University and president of the American Men’s Studies Association, told The New York Times that the simplest way to explain the two is that “it’s left wing/right wing.” Men’s studies courses first began appearing around 30 years ago. But academics of so-called “male studies” are just starting to pop up and their whole gambit seems to be trashing gender studies/women’s studies and teaching the exact opposite ideas.
Very, very basically speaking, gender studies classes talk about things like being a woman, being transsexual, being black, being disabled, or being biracial, as “constructs.” Yes, it is a fact that you are deemed by society to be this thing, but what does it really mean? How has society constructed it for you? How do you construct it for yourself?
So-called “male studies” academics, however, are far more gender-essentialist. They believe gender is not a construct, but that men really are one way and women are another way. Their gripes are that schools are too feminizing or female-focused and that not allowing “boys to be boys” or “men to be men” is the reason women are graduating at higher rates than men. Therefore, the “male studies” folks have a beef with gender studies and women’s studies supporters especially. One “male studies” academic, Professor Lionel Tiger, disparaged men’s studies as “a wholly owned branch of women’s studies.”
“Male studies” courses are not taught at any schools. But Dr. Edward M. Stephens, a New York City psychiatrist, who spearheads the discipline (if you could call it that), is hopeful. He held the first-ever “male studies” conference last year and some serious men’s studies and sociology academics actually attended. Mostly, “male studies” academics seem to be piggybacking off the more legit men’s studies academics and hoping to be afforded the same prestige. (The NY Times used the term “co-opting.”) The “male studies” folks, for instance, are holding their second annual conference right after a conference by the men’s studies association.
I am, as you have probably figured out by now, extremely suspicious of these “male studies” people. While certain specific concerns of theirs are legitimate — why, for instance, girls are more successful in school than boys these days — to me, this fake academic discipline is really a Trojan horse that is trying to erase the gains of the sexual revolution. One hint? The Times detailed how young men are “made to feel like sexual predators” by college campuses that address students in seminars on date rape. (Oh, no, poor men! You don’t get to blame “biology” for rape anymore? Poor baby!) Professor Mike Groth of Wagner College on Staten Island in New York said he hears from male students, “I just don’t feel welcome here.” (Later on in the article, he gripes about “It’s the continuing myth of male power.” Someone get this man a history book, stat!)
Another reason I’m majorly skeptical is something Dr. Stephens, the so-called “male studies” guru, told the Times about his divorce. Describing his 1994 split from his wife, Dr. Stephens said, “The kids got alienated and I got bankrupted — part of the gender-skewed system.” The phrase “alienated” popped out to me as a possible clue — note I said a possible clue — about this man’s ideology. There’s a not-entirely-legit so-called “syndrome” called “parental alienation syndrome” which some men’s rights activists (i.e., people who professionally rail against feminist advances) claim mothers do to turn children against their fathers in a separation or divorce. [You can read my post, “Why Women Should Be Concerned About Men’s Rights Groups,” here.] Why do I suspect I’m not off the mark by drawing these lines together? Because there used to be a link on the Foundation for Male Studies website, according to the Times, to a page written by someone who called himself “the Futurist” and griped about “rage-filled ‘feminists’ who would gladly send innocent men to concentration camps if they could.” A fringe element, to be sure, but you have to ask yourself why someone who thinks feminists like me, Julie, Amelia and plenty of peeps who read this site want to send “innocent men” to concentration camps are cozy-ing up to the so-called “male studies” crowd.
What will become of “male studies” in the years to come? It’s hard to say, but it does not look good for women or men or anyone else in between.