Monthly Archives: April 2010

Male is the new men

A new group studying men has been formed, but to differentiate themselves from the existing men’s studies they have called themselves male studies. The group seems to come at things from a few different angles. Funding comes from the On Step Institute, a mental health group that, judging by their web site, seems to specialise in male health and education. The first conference, on the 7th of April, included the “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers as well as Lionel Tiger, an anthropologist who has written books on things like the decline of males in modern society and edited a book on female hierarchies. The panelists for the conference came from typical academic backgrounds, but two of them have written a series of books on misandry. The site gives the description of the conference as:

It will encompass a broad range of topics relevant to the study of boys and men in contemporary society ranging from their roles in the family and workforce, as well as their physical and emotional health, to the growing problem of misandry—the hatred of males, an unacknowledged but underlying socio-cultural, economic, political and legal phenomenon endangering the well-being of both genders.

Tiger says they come from the position that “the notion that male and female organisms really are different.” This is clearly a contrast to the notion of gender being a social construct. I think there’s a valid critique of feminist positions on gender. The idea that gender is something inflicted on us by society depending on our anatomy seems to be quite common, and the term ‘gender essentialism’ is always pejorative. This works fine with the notion of people having a definite sex that gender sits on top of, and this way of looking at gender can free people from the restriction of social expectations of their sex. However differences between how male and female sexes as groups do regularly show up in studies, so there is arguably a case for determining how male and female people think and behave so that differences between the two can be reconciled. This links in with the On Step Institute, which says of its founders, “Dr. Robinson’s work with women in the highly competitive arena of Wall Street has helped her to define the ways in which female and male competition differ. Since 1984, she and Dr. Stephens have been working together in the area of unlearning destructive competitive strategies and developing ways of achieving harmony, or concinnity.”

The reaction to the group and the conference seems to be divided along feminist and men’s rights group lines. The Sexist and Tiger Beatdown both are fairly scathing, where we get this description of the conference from Men’s News Daily which gives it an A+. I think a lot of the heat has been generated by preconceptions fueled by comments such as Tiger stating that feminism is “a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon,” and the focus on misandry. The anti-feminist position of many men’s rights groups reads this as vindication and the feminists read it as playing to the men’s rights groups anti-feminism.

The basic difference between men’s studies and male studies appears to be that the former is based on feminist theory where the latter attempting to create something entirely separate. This seems to come from underlying philosohpical differences (the greater emphasis on natural causes for behaviour) as well as antagonism (the misandry of feminism). Miles Groth, the host of the conference, gives his take on the conferences in an article in the above mentioned Men’s News Daily. However as feminism is both about women and for women, in contrast to what Groth says male studies seems to be both about men and for men, perhaps in a way that men’s studies isn’t really for men. This obviously raises problems with the objectivity of the research that is conducted and the way that it is discussed though.

I think it will be interesting to see where it goes. There are some internal tensions within the group, some seem to be concerned about men, such as Christina Hoff Sommers, while others like Groth are interested in objective study male humans. If the Men’s News Daily report is to be believed the men’s studies Dean Rocco Capraro was largely marginalised during the conference. It’s relationship with feminism and existing men’s studies academics will then be fairly hostile, which will fun to watch from the sidelines whatever the result.

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Masculinities, pluralities and protest

I believe the construct of U.S. masculinity is unsustainable and violent. It demands capitalist consumption and ownership for validation, holds with it entitlement to its own existence and ultimately asserts its own necessity with increased violence when threatened. Capitalism necessitates the overvaluing of one over the other. It creates a class from which capital is created and stolen and a class where this stolen capital is accumulated. In this way US masculinity is a gendered mirror of capitalist dominance.

So says Davi Zielinski Koszka in a post titled Masculinities? An essential question for freedom (reproductive and otherwise).

This is a curious post because the title suggests that the author understands that there are lots of different forms of masculinity but the quote above suggests that the US has one form masculinity alone. I may be mistaking the meaning of masculinity though, perhaps Davi means that US masculinities have a similar hierarchy that exists in capitalist economies.

In any case capitalist and masculine ideals quite often diverge. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith points out that:

What a common soldier may lose is obvious enough. Without regarding the danger, however, young volunteers never enlist so readily as at the beginning of a new war; and though they have scarce any chance of preferment, they figure to themselves, in their youthful fancies, a thousand occasions of acquiring honour and distinction that never occur. These romantic hopes make the whole price of their blood. Their pay is less than that of common labourers and in actual service their fatigues are much greater.

So within a classic treatise on capitalism there’s the idea that youths have romantic ideals that go against rational, capitalist motivation. I think it’s reasonable to say that Smith’s “honour and distinction” are the ideals of a certain kind of masculinity. So what are the different kinds of masculinity?

One of the problems with masculinity, especially with feminism, is that it has a dominant role in society and that it gets equated with the domination of society by men. I think this is where Davi is coming from when comparing masculinity to capitalism, as capitalists have a dominant role in a capitalist society, masculine people have a dominant role in a masculine society. However the kind of masculinity that Davi is talking about is I guess hegemonic masculinity. Talking within that theoretical framework we can talk about other kinds of masculinity that aren’t built around maintaining hierarchies. This has the complication of protest masculinities, that perform a kind of hypermasculinity, which you can expect to maintain a hierarchy of masculinity, while coming from a position social weakness. This is contrasted with the observation that many men who sit atop the social pyramid being far less recognisably masculine.

When it comes to masculinity and society, particularly the hierarchy of society that many feminists try to fight against, it’s important to recognise that masculine ideals are often in protest to this hierarchy. At the same time this protest masculinity is manipulated to serve the aims of the powerful. This confusion between a masculinity serving both a domineering and subservient role in society trips up many people when talking about the role of men when it comes to social change. Moreover it is difficult for men to approach a movement for social change without exhibiting these traits. So the take home message is that the performance of some kinds of masculinity can reinforce gender roles and social positions while opposing the overarching social hierarchy.

Principled uncertainty

“Talk about false rape is dangerous…”

I think the poster DanceDreaming is right in saying that, but being dangerous doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t talked about. Some of DDs following arguments show a need to talk about false rape accusations, because by not talking about them they are easy to marginalise. The marginalisation of false rape in feminism is necessary to allow people to speak freely about their experiences. However when an individual is being accused of rape they deserve the accusation to be treated critically; the reasoning for marginalising false rape accusations no longer applies where someone stands to lose a great deal from such an accusation.

I haven’t had any accusations of rape leveled against me in the legal sphere, but I have in the social sphere. In that case we didn’t have sex, and had never had sex, so it is quite easy for me to say that it was a false accusation. We had kissed before after she had gotten me very drunk pouring vodkas. Another time she had propositioned me for sex which I declined. This time I was around at her place and we got into bed after talking much of the night, I moved over to her and felt her up, and she resisted. I grumbled, rolled over and went to sleep. She left for an early class before I woke up, but later in the day she called a mutual friend saying I had raped her. He asked me whether this was true, and I obviously denied it. She was already on the outer with most of our mutual friends for her strangely manipulative behaviour, and she was largely ostracised afterwards. However she made contact through them a couple of years later, wanting to meet me. I did so reluctantly and it was clear that she just wanted to get laid, taking me out to a movie, getting some beers and so on. The next day she asked why I hadn’t even tried to kiss her, and then asked tangentially about the false rape accusation, before demurring, “Oh I wouldn’t want to embarrass you!”

The argument that DanceDreaming uses to marginalise false rape is flawed because it is based on an ignorance of how common false rape accusation are. DD says, “I know false rapes do happen. But I think they are rare.” I don’t know how common false rapes are but I don’t think that shutting discussion of them based on a presumption of their rarity is a good idea. The ignorance of their frequency would have to be a good reason to talk about them, right?