Today in Inside Higher Ed, Jennifer Epstein profiles the newest academic discipline to emerge in the field of gender studies: “Male Studies.”
Male Studies made its official debut this Wednesday, when a symposium was held at New York’s Wagner College to announce the formation of the Foundation for Male Studies. While the new discipline received the support of academics like Rutgers University anthropology professor Lionel Tiger and McGill University religious researcher Paul Nathanson, one contingent of scholars met the news with suspicion: Those working in the very much already existing discipline of Men’s Studies.
So, what’s the difference between “Male Studies” and “Men’s Studies”?
According to Tiger, Male Studies emerged “from the notion that male and female organisms really are different” and the “enormous relation between . . . a person’s biology and their behavior.” To the Male Studies set, “Men’s Studies” has historically focused far too much on the social construction of masculinity, and not enough on the biological origins and purpose of “maleness.” The Foundation for Male Studies states that its focus is on studying “the male as male”:
A new academic discipline, male studies, explores the male as male, masculinity, and the lives of boys and men. This consortium brings together eminent scholars representing a range of academic disciplines, including anthropology, education, history, medicine, politics and psychology. Panelists together with teleconferencing scholars with take a fresh look at the male in history and a rapidly changing global culture. The male as male will be permitted to appear in all his complexity as new values are being forged and traditional values that have proven the test of time are affirmed. The consortium will set the stage for additional conferences and academic programs at institutions of higher learning and will support optimal conditions in which boys and men can thrive in all areas of their lives as male human beings.
But according to Robert Heasley, president of the American Men’s Studies Association, Men’s Studies has already been performing the work of exploring males as males. “Men’s studies came out of feminist analysis of gender, which includes biological differences,” Heasley said. “[The Male Studies] argument is that they’re inventing something that I think already exists.”
Perhaps the real distinction has a little something to do with that “feminist” thing. The American Men’s Studies Association states that “Men’s studies includes scholarly, clinical, and activist endeavors engaging men and masculinities as social-historical-cultural constructions reflexively embedded in the material and bodily realities of men’s and women’s lives.” But women’s lives don’t appear to be of much interest to the Male Studies set. According to Tiger, Male Studies was forged in contrast, not in concert with, feminism, which he describes as “a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon.” Apparently, Male Studies was formed in order to study this phenomenon without the distraction of also occasionally thinking about women. So now, we need two separate disciplines devoted to studying men, because the first one just wasn’t devoted enough.