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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