The Desperate Insecurity of Masculinity

In a troubling demonstration of just how insecure some men are in their masculinity, Inside Higher Ed reports on a new foundation, conference, and journal that are dedicated to something called “male studies:

“Scholars of boys and men converged Wednesday at Wagner College, in Staten Island, N.Y., to announce the creation of the Foundation for Male Studies, which will support a conference and a journal targeted at exploring the triumphs and struggles of the XY-chromosomed of the human race — without needing to contextualize their ideas as being one half of a male-female binary or an offshoot of feminist theory. Organizers positioned themselves in contrast to men’s studies, which is seen as based on the same theories as women’s studies and is grouped together with it as gender studies.

More than anything else, the event was a chance for supporters to frame men and boys as an underrepresented minority, and to justify the need for a male studies discipline in a society that many perceive to be male-dominated.

I will never understand the whiny, “poor me” attitude of people who cry about how men are being oppressed by feminism. I just don’t feel all that threatened by a movement that interrogates gender roles and examines how power is distributed among the sexes in social contexts – and, as the article points out, there has been a several decade long history of men’s studies already. So why the need for this?

Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, said the field takes its cues “from the notion that male and female organisms really are different” and the “enormous relation between … a person’s biology and their behavior” that’s not being addressed in most contemporary scholarship on men and boys.

“I am concerned that it’s widespread in the United States that masculinity is politically incorrect,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Has Ms. Sommers seen how many women are in the Senate? Has she seen how women are jailed for being prostitutes but their johns, some of whom are still sitting Senators (male of course), are allowed to go free? Has Ms. Sommers paid the slightest attention to the actual distribution of power in our society? It would appear not.

The culprit, said Tiger, is feminism: “a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon.”

Ok, so let’s try to be clear here: for most academics, the terms “women” and “men” denote gender performance whereas the terms “female” and “male” are often reserved for biological difference. Forget the fact that there is no one monolithic and controlling Bureau of FeminismTM, the notion that feminism attacks “maleness” is a fundamental misreading of most feminist work. In fact, one might say the framing of feminism as a monolithic and controlling Bureau of FeminismTM is a hint that this attempt at creating “male studies” is, from the first, a disingenuous and political attempt to carve out a space for sexists and ideologues. This is the same tactic we see being used by the GOP and the Teabaggers and the Wingnuts in an attempt to brand all liberals or progressives or democrats as “socialists” or “fascists.”

It’s sad that supposedly educated and intelligent people feel the need to demonize scholars and thinkers who have struggled to bring some form of gender equality to the world. It’s also sad that they think true worth is measured by the configuration of a person’s genitalia.

How does one become so insecure and petty? I don’t know. I truly don’t have a clue, emotionally, why so many men seem to recognize their own value only through the subjugation of women (whether that subjugation is physical, economic, social, or emotional). I do know that “male studies” reveals far more about those who are founding it than they might want to reveal. As a male, a man, a feminist, an artist, and a scholar, I both feel sorry for these people and pledge to be more active in the pursuit of gender equality, in order to counter their desperate attempt to undo the small but meaningful gains of feminist scholars.

I’ll leave you with opening paragraph from the foundation’s whine website:

A gathering of academicians drawn from a range of disciplines will meet on April 7, 2010, at Wagner College, Staten Island, New York, to examine the declining state of the male, stemming from cataclysmic changes in today’s culture, environment and global economy. The live teleconferenced colloquium will be chaired by Lionel Tiger, PhD, Rutgers University Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology. 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.

Actually, one more thought on this foundation, conference, and journal and the pathetically transparent and demonstrably false supposition that “misandry [is] an unacknowledged but underlying socio-cultural, economic, political and legal phenomenon endangering the well-being of both genders:”

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