Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Male Studies: Hear Them Bore

On April 7, 2010, a group of academicians convened a conference for purposes of launching a new discipline called Male Studies.

Although the discipline of Men's Studies already exists, which is a multi-disciplinary study of men and masculinities, proponents of Male Studies claims that this new discipline is the "multidisciplinary study of the male human being, boys and men." By its account, the distinguishing factor between Men's Studies and Male Studies is that Male Studies looks at boys as well as men.

Despite the surface similarities between the two disciplines, Male Studies also claims to be "independent scholarship without ideological ties to Men’s Studies." And that, of course, is where things get interesting.

Men's Studies, for some background, is also a relatively new field of study and it is allied with feminism. Male Studies, in short, is not. While the Male Studies FAQ section appears benignly nonspecific, one of its founders, Lionel Tiger, believes that feminism has caused the "institutionalization of misandry." Tiger underscores his academic anti-feminism by making the oh-so scholarly point that "A lot of feminist argument is just irritating."

Looking for more specific argumentation, I read some of the news articles that the Male Studies site links to regarding the plight of men and boys. Whether it's bemoaning the fact that a college that is a "whopping" 55% female somehow turns a college town into "Girlington" or letting us know the "surprising" secret that men too can be victims of domestic violence, Male Studies' contribution to these already-known statistics seems to be an obsession with holding feminism responsible while glorifying maleness.

For instance, in this commentary, Stephen Zelnick blames the "weak performance of boys and young men in education" on a myriad of factors, an important one being that boys these days have no place in our greedy society to channel their inherent male "desire to serve a higher purpose and prove their valor."

While Zelnick aptly observes an American culture obsessed with greed, he fails to demonstrate any actual link between this greedy culture and declining male achievement. Instead, he relies on stereotypes of masculinity to argue that men and boys are inherently heroic and argues that they just want to serve others, instead of accumulate wealth. Which, really, is just bizarre. Wasn't it men, after all, who created this great American experiment in capitalism, exploiting women and other men and flourishing in it for centuries? If Male Studies posits that the sorry plight of men and boys is the fault of feminism, this article fails to demonstrate a causal relationship, or any relationship, between feminism and capitalist greed.

At this point, I'm reminded of the "men's rights" set that blames the shoddy portrayal of men in Super Bowl ads on feminists, even though 92% of the ads are created by white men.

When Zelnick's article ends by demonizing young women who aspire toward educational achievement, his argumentation takes a revelatory turn. Male Studies doesn't seem to be so much about uplifting the oppressed male, but of putting uppity woman back in her place. Of today's young women's "petty obsession to excel" in school, he opines:

"This is not good for the future of couples, and it is not good for women. Without the restraint of shame, the encouragement of honor, and the inspiration of noble purpose, none of us can lead fulfilling and happy lives." (Emphasis added)

First, note that Zelnick belittles girls' desire to do well in school, calling it "petty." Yet, that boys are not doing as well in school as girls has been framed as a Boy Crisis and is, apparently, a primary reason for the very creation of Male Studies. Oh yes, it is abundantly clear that doing well in school is important. For boys, that is. When boys are in school it is Important Business. When girls are in school, it's petty and unimportant.

Second, he says that when girls are strong it is bad for society and women. It is so bad, he claims, that when women are strong "none of us" can lead meaningful, happy lives. It is interesting that he says "none of us," isn't it? One wonders who exactly he includes in the category "us." Like gender complementarists, Zelnick seems to inhabit a world where male and female are binary opposites where if women are strong, men must be weak, and vice versa. Liberation, to folks with this binary worldview, can only ever be a zero-sum game.

Third, he claims that the desire to serve others is inherently and uniquely male, theory that is, to use a technical term, bullshit. As anyone who reads any given article about the gender pay gap can attest, the primary reason given as to why women consistently earn less than men is that women go into helping/serving professions that are lower paying than the manly wealth-generating positions that men tend to go into. But again, just like he does with education, note how Zelnick romanticizes and aggrandizes the notion of service when speaking of men who do it.

Like its "men's rights" brother, Male Studies espouses an entitlement to continue displaying toxic male superiority, which is claimed as a biological reality, coupled with the insecurity of having to finally compete with women in a professional world that used to be a giant affirmative action program for men. It peddles the same stereotypical man-on-top gender binary that for centuries used to pass as unexamined "common sense." Indeed, one sponsor and speaker at the Male Studies symposium endorsed as "an excellent resource" an anti-woman book that claims that men have "superior mental prowess" compared to women.

Yes, these resources are unimpressive and unsurprising. Unimpressive, because most critics of feminism are too ignorant of feminism to be able to even render intelligent, informed critiques of it, favoring instead to present the views of, say, Valerie Solanas as though she's representative of every feminist who ever lived, like ever. Unsurprising, because men who hate feminism hate it because they hate women, believing themselves to be inherently and biologically superior to us. The goal is to perpetuate and reclaim male privilege, which they see as their birthright. That they claim feminists hate them is, oftentimes, a sad projection.

On the plus side, now that men have not one, but two, disciplines devoted to them, I fully anticipate gender studies to soon become a Important Business. Like cooking and hair-cutting.

-Related Links-

Nine Deuce: Some proposed Fall 2010 Course Offerings for Male Studies.

Amanda Hess: "So now, we need two separate disciplines devoted to studying men, because the first one just wasn’t devoted enough."

Angry Mouse: "Up is down, black is white, and men are the world's most oppressed minority. That's why a group of brave souls have decided it's long past time for a new academic program to confront this oppression head on: Male Studies."

Titania Kumeh: "Is Male Studies A Sham?"

Molly Knefel: "Another big man on the male campus, the 'Chairman of the Foundation for Male Studies,' Dr. Edward Stephens, has coined the phrase 'lace curtain.' It’s like the 'glass ceiling,' only for men! You know, because women LOVE LACY SHIT!!!"

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