It’s Roller Derby time boys and girls. Yet while I waited patiently for that 7pm whistle last sunday which started the rekindled sport my mind wanders to thoughts of gender equality. I know, boring, but hear me out. I’ve been noticing an upswing in articles related to the oppression of men and this all-women sport has rekindled my interest in the subject. Now before you go off laughing about how its impossible for men to be the subject of oppression based on their gender, I would have you stop and think about this for a moment.
I am, due to my own history with the state and childcare, an unflinching supporter of Father’s rights. In this instance I am absolutely convinced there is a biased view of parenting in this country which favors the mother. Does this happen all the time? Not hardly. Does it happen enough that it should be investigated? I say a resounding “yes.” While going through the custody process myself I encountered several avenues of assistance that were available to the mother, that were not available to me, which were based solely on her gender. Furthermore, the prevailing child development model at the time was one that claimed children were developmentally disadvantaged when separated from their mothers. This standard was absolutely biased against fathers and thankfully is beginning to change.
In part, I believe it is changing because of the drastic difference in education based on gender. Last year I read several articles and blog posts about how the current model of education; one that many believe is detrimental to boys’ learning, is not being studied on that basis of gender . In my own recent attempts to join the K-12 teaching ranks, I have found a great emphasis on race and class, but no one is talking about gender. For this reason alone I feel there should be an open discourse about it.
Now, it appears this may actually happen. On April 8, 2010, an announcement was made at Wagner College in Staten, NY that trumpeted the creation of the Foundation for Male Studies. This foundation claims it wants to “examine the declining state of the male, stemming from cataclysmic changes in today’s culture, environment and global economy.” I’m truly interested to find out what the “declining state of the male is.” Is it the narrowing of the margin between our pay and our female cohorts? Is it the so-called decline of boys’ performance in school? Is it the state of the “mancession?” , Or is it something else? Furthermore, what are “cataclysmic changes” in our culture, and which culture are they talking about?
So what will the Foundation’s goals be? Well, I lifted this verbatim from their website:
“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.”
Lets break this down. “[…] explores the male as male, masculinity, and the lives of boys and men.” Alright, I’m on board for that. “Panelists […] take a fresh look at the male in history.” Fight the good fight, brother! “[…] and a rapidly changing global culture.” Oh, wait, what? No, that’s not right, which culture? I certainly hope you boys aren’t trying to say there is a global male culture, because that’s crazy. (Much like the idea that there is a global women’s culture is just as nuts.) You have anthropologists in this club and nobody told you about cultural relativism? Males in the United States are not the same as males in China, Iraq, England or anywhere else. Ethnocentric much? “The male as male will be permitted to appear in all his complexity […].” Back on the horse again, sweet! “[…] traditional values that have proven the test of time are affirmed.” Well fuck, you just lost me again. Just like a male not to ask for directions or look at a map when driving.
This is not good research. You’re providing answers before you even ask the questions. Who’s “traditional values” are you going to be using? What will the archetype for male be? Will homosexual men be included in the discourse on what masculinity is? Will women? This Foundation feels reactionary and not in a way which actually leads me to believe that we’re lacking the male gender in gender studies. It feels hostile in a way that some veins of feminism turn me off. It’s making too many assumptions and not asking enough questions.
As a male this whole ordeal concerns me. As a feminist the idea intrigues me. As a sociologist it makes me want to /facepalm. I believe I am a feminist of the variety which says “everyone should be equal to the eyes of opportunity” regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age. This means, rather simply, that when in the pursuit of anything, only your talent/ability/skill should be taken into account. This is what I think of when I hear “feminism.” This is obviously not what the Foundation thinks of when it hears the same word.
No, males and females are not similar. I agree with the Foundation that much of the gender scholarship already available deals too much with the differences between males and females, but not enough with the differences among males and females. I would love to see some real scholarship done (and would like to do some myself) about the reality of masculinity as compared to its myth. However I feel that this Foundation, based on its remarks in the news article “Male Studies vs. Men’s Studies,” will not only be far too confrontational, but will likely detract from the larger issue; that of equality between the genders. We already know the genders aren’t similar, but that knowledge still bleeds into the concept of equality and poisons it. When did equal become the same as similar?
For a successful woman’s opinion on topics similar to these, check out this op-ed piece at the New York Times: The Mismeasure of Woman.