John Wayne’s masculine identity crisis?

Oct. 21, 2010, 3:02 a.m.

A dance-off between feminist studies and the newly emerging male studies

Imagine this: John Wayne lying on a psychologist’s couch, lamenting the

John Wayne's masculine identity crisis?
(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

loss of his manhood. Clint Eastwood fervently writing to Dear Abby, asking for a cure to his manly insecurities. Sylvester Stallone perusing a bookstore, searching for “How To Retain Masculinity for Dummies.” Silly, huh?

Not so fast, say some scholars. A new branch of academia, male studies, has reached professors at Wagner College, Rutgers University and McGill University in recent months, a movement that argues that feminist studies has threatened the stability of the contemporary male identity, one which might not be as secure as those of Dirty Harry or Rambo.

On the Facebook page for the Foundation for Male Studies, the up-and-coming academic group spearheading this movement, articles abound justifying the need to address this supposed crisis. One such article involves the decreasing ratio of men to women attending four-year colleges and universities, and another addresses the statistic that women “for the first time ever” make up the majority of the workforce due to layoffs associated with the economic recession.

In a recent New York Times article, male-studies proponent and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Christina Hoff Sommers says that “male-averse attitudes are widespread in the United States” due in part to feminist studies and the fact that masculinity has become a social taboo.

While the foundation cites its underlying goal as studying “the male as male,” one cannot ignore its rather apparent anti-feminism. Even its brothers within academia are refusing to take part in this program. For instance, The Men’s Studies Association, established in 1991 to promote the scholarship of masculinity, denied an invitation to speak at an April conference for the Foundation at Wagner College.

So, what does Stanford have to think about this new branch of study?

According to intended feminist-studies major Miranda Mammen ‘14, “feminist studies, women’s studies and gender studies across the country are doing a really good job of tackling what it means to be a man and conventional constructions of masculinity. I think it’s a misconception that they only study women, because the study of women’s roles necessarily includes men.”

“My biggest problem with the male studies phenomenon…is that it’s an explicitly anti-feminist platform,” she continued. “The creators of male studies have argued that the presence of feminist and gender studies is harmful to them, which is really ridiculous.”

Mark Diaz ’14, an intended psychology and linguistics double major, “understands the idea” of male studies, “but if you were to look at the big scope of things, you could say that everything you learn has been taught with a bias towards men, so I think it’s fair for feminism to try and balance the scale.”

History Prof. Matthew Sommer considers the male studies movement “very much part of a kind of anxious backlash against feminism.

“It seems to me that some scholars, mostly men, seem very insecure and defensive about feminism,” Sommer said. “They seem to think that men are victims.”

That Sommer, as well as many other feminist studies and history professors at Stanford, was only nominally familiar with the male studies movement may be indicative of the movement’s limited media exposure and its irrelevance to the broader academic community. In fact, Sommer’s familiarity extended to only a few articles he had read to prepare for his interview with The Daily.

Despite his minimal exposure to the movement, Sommer argues that these academics “don’t confess to being anti-feminist.”

“But what are they trying to defend?” he questioned. “What are they trying to rehabilitate?”

Sommer anticipates that gender departments across the country will be bemused by this idea of male studies because “it’s odd to hear that men are the victims” and that very few academic institutions, if any, will welcome it as a legitimate field of study.

On the question of whether Stanford will create a home for male studies, Sommer laughed. “No, [it’s] certainly not welcome. The idea that men are oppressed in society is absurd.”

While most male studies critics on the Stanford campus believe that the movement is largely irrelevant, some students feel otherwise.

“If there were to be a male-studies class, then it needs to approach its studies in the same way that feminists approach theirs,” Alisa Parrett ’13 suggested. Male studies “shouldn’t try to side-step feminism in the name of being politically correct. It shouldn’t be cowering in a corner trying to be nice to feminists.”

So, back to the beginning: is it really so preposterous to find John Wayne on the psychologist’s couch?

“There are good parts and there are bad parts to feminism,” said Angela Torres ‘13. “And if you present it unbiased, then, you know, guys can make their decision.”

Maybe man’s favorite gunslinger shouldn’t cancel that appointment just yet.

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