Re­search gain­ing steam in era of #MeToo

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matt Se­den­sky Mary Altaffer, The As­so­ci­ated Press

STONY BROOK, N.Y.» The pro­fes­sor scrawls “ma­cho,” ‘‘brave” and “strong” on a crowded black­board, apt words for some­one whose book ti­tles are lit­tered with “mas­culin­ity” and “man­hood.” He’s spent three decades build­ing a nascent cor­ner of academia, pre­sent­ing him­self as a fem­i­nist as he dis­sects what it means to be a man. Now, he hop­scotches from col­lege cam­puses to com­pany con­fer­ence rooms as a move­ment bar­ing abuse by men rages.

Michael Kim­mel may be made for this mo­ment.

The 67-year-old so­ci­ol­o­gist is a leader in what’s known as “masculinities stud­ies” and is an in-de­mand pur­veyor of in­sight on why men are the way they are. The field he helped de­velop has long had men’s mis­deeds as an area of fo­cus, but it’s gained new­found ex­po­sure and rel­e­vance with #MeToo and #TimesUp.

A 2015 TED Talk el­e­vated Kim­mel’s pro­file just in time for the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the sub­se­quent women’s move­ments that put gen­der is­sues at the fore­front. These days, he bal­ances lec­tures to stu­dents with speak­ing en­gage­ments at a mot­ley range of com­pa­nies, from min­ing and pasta man­u­fac­tur­ing to bank­ing and film — all look­ing to him to ex­plain the im­por­tance of equal­ity.

“This didn’t hap­pen by chance. This didn’t hap­pen overnight,” Kim­mel says. “This has been simmering for a long time.”

This wasn’t the ca­reer Kim­mel had in mind. He fo­cused his Ph.D. the­sis on 17th-cen­tury French tax pol­icy and set­tled into a job teach­ing in­tro­duc­tory so­ci­ol­ogy classes. He had been ac­tive in some pro-women causes and spoke at an anti-do­mes­tic vi­o­lence “Take Back the Night” rally in the early 1980s when a stu­dent in at­ten­dance ap­proached him with an idea.

“You should teach a course on mas­culin­ity,” he re­calls the stu­dent say­ing. “My first re­ac­tion was, ‘Ev­ery course is about men.’ ”

The thought nagged at him, though, prompt­ing a search to see what schol­ar­ship had been done on the sub­ject. The an­swer was lit­tle. He took the pro­posal to his then-dean at Rut­gers Univer­sity, who ap­proved it as one of the early aca­demic ef­forts ex­am­in­ing men. The class filled up, mov­ing in suc­ces­sive semesters to big­ger and big­ger rooms, and Kim­mel even­tu­ally made men’s stud­ies his en­tire fo­cus.

With a dearth of books de­voted to the sub­ject, Kim­mel be­came a pro­lific au­thor on men’s is­sues, in­clud­ing “Man­hood in Amer­ica: A Cul­tural His­tory,” ‘‘Guy­land: The Per­ilous World Where Boys Be­come Men,” ‘‘The Guy’s Guide to Fem­i­nism,” ‘‘An­gry White Men: Amer­i­can Mas­culin­ity at the End of an Era,” and “Cul­tural En­cy­clo­pe­dia of the Pe­nis.” He also es­tab­lished the Cen­ter for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook Univer­sity, which is pre­par­ing to launch the first mas­ter’s pro­gram in masculinities next year.

With a smat­ter­ing of other aca­demics like­wise pub­lish­ing and teach­ing on the sub­ject, masculinities — like women’s stud­ies — is now a rec­og­nized area of re­search.

“I think it’s more rel­e­vant than ever right now,” says Michael Mess­ner, a Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia so­ci­ol­o­gist who was another pi­o­neer of men’s stud­ies and who has mar­veled at how re­ver­ber­a­tions of #MeToo have helped val­i­date the field. “It’s re­ally al­lowed for a deep­en­ing of the dis­cus­sion right now.”

Mess­ner was among the schol­ars who formed a men’s stud­ies group within the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Men in the early 1980s that grew into the in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can Men’s Stud­ies As­so­ci­a­tion a decade later. To­day, more than 150 aca­demics from around the world be­long to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which pro­motes men’s stud­ies and holds con­fer­ences.

The as­so­ci­a­tion says the num­ber of classes in men’s stud­ies varies widely from se­mes­ter to se­mes­ter, but they’ve be­come com­mon enough that aca­demics who choose the spe­cialty can no longer count on hav­ing the field to them­selves on a given cam­pus. Cliff Leek, the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Men’s Stud­ies As­so­ci­a­tion, stud­ied un­der Kim­mel, fo­cus­ing his Ph.D. work on masculinities be­fore be­com­ing a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North­ern Colorado. The univer­sity al­ready had another pro­fes­sor who taught a masculinities course when Leek ar­rived.

At the birth of men’s stud­ies, much of the ini­tial work was an out­growth of male aca­demics’ ac­tivism in fem­i­nist move­ments and fo­cused on vi­o­lence against women and re­lated is­sues.

In the years since, the field has grown far more di­verse, with re­search on top­ics from groom­ing choices and “man caves” to gen­der’s role in sui­cide and mass killings.

“It’s grown to a point where we’re not just ad­dress­ing men’s per­pe­tra­tion of vi­o­lence,” Leek says. “We’re now ex­plor­ing a re­ally, re­ally wide range of top­ics.”

Tris­tan Bridges, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Santa Bar­bara who fo­cuses on masculinities, has stud­ied male mi­cro­cosms from body­builders to barflies and fa­thers’ rights ac­tivists to pro-fem­i­nist men. He says the field has prompted new looks at fa­mil­iar sub­jects, too. Stu­dents of 19th-cen­tury lit­er­a­ture likely would be ac­cus­tomed to dis­cussing the role Louisa May Al­cott’s gen­der played in her writ­ing. Masculinities stud­ies, he says, has helped prompt aca­demics to do the same with male fig­ures such as Charles Dick­ens.

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