The Denver Post

Research gaining steam in era of #MeToo

- 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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