A closer look at how misandrist arms of feminism institutionalize the neglect of men and masculinity in women’s and gender studies.
Tom Martin is becoming quite well known in the feminist and anti-feminist blogosphere. He has taken the unprecedented action of suing a Gender Studies department—the renowned LSE Gender Institute in London, UK—for discrimination against men. As Martin has said:
When “women’s studies” became “gender studies” departments, it signalled a new era of inclusion for men’s issues—a rejection of this now is a betrayal of men and equality.
In America, the situation is even worse for men, potentially, as many universities and colleges retain the subject of “women’s studies” on their curricula. I have a Ph.D in gender studies, from the UK, and my view is that no matter what the subject is called, it will always be based on extreme feminist dogma and on a misandrist view of the world. Again, as Martin has pointed out:
Patriarchy theory—the idea that men typically “dominate” women—is omnipresent, when research shows that women tend to boss men interpersonally. Texts highlight misogyny but never misandry, its anti-male equivalent.
It is in light of this bias in gender studies that I came to read Mark Simpson’s 1994 classic, Male Impersonators, and examine how and why it has been omitted from the reading lists of gender studies courses, including modules on “masculinity.”
In Male Impersonators, Simpson undresses the idea of the “natural man” and shows us how men perform masculinity, in popular culture in particular. Male strippers and drag artists, “macho” body builders, pornography, sports, the War Movie, reality television, the “men’s movement,” rock and roll. They all reveal, as examined by Simpson, the complexities and subtexts of modern masculinities. One of the many striking things about reading this book in 2011, 17 years after it was first published, is that it seemed as “fresh” and new as it must have in 1994. It’s because the subject it focuses on—men, and their representation in culture—is one that has been ignored and distorted by subsequent gender theory and by some misandrist strands of feminism.
Feminism has done three things, particularly in relation to masculinity, which relate to how gender studies has come to ignore and belittle men’s experiences and perspectives. And these three things explain why excellent books such as Male Impersonators are not on gender studies reading lists:
Any academic treatment of gender has been focused on the disadvantages faced by women and how women have been “omitted” from research, arts, literature, history, etc.
An example of this assumption can be found in another book published in 1994, Angela McRobbie’s Postmodernism and Popular Culture. The book has many discussions of women, girls and “femininity,” but look for “masculinity” in the index, and you will draw a blank. She justifies this glaring omission with statements such as this one:
It is in buying and selling clothes that girls and young women have been most active. The male bias of subcultural analysis has relegated these activities to the margins (McRobbie 1994:163). [My emphasis.]
But when I have looked at contemporary books, journals, and web-based media that deal with the subject of gender, I have found no evidence of this so-called “male bias” at all. In the Internet age, there are large numbers of websites/online publications in particular, such as Jezebel, Sociological Images Feministing, Feministe and The Frisky, which look at representations of women in popular culture, for example. But there is no comparable critical consideration of how men and masculinity are portrayed in the media and culture. If anyone dares to question this imbalance, and the fact that feminist “gender studies” analyses of the media tend to only consider women as subjects, they are often met with the playground style taunt: whatabouttehmenz?
2) Men are Monsters
Heterosexual masculinity, in particular, has been “pathologized” by some feminist gender academics—with heterosexual men being portrayed as the oppressors of everyone else: hetero women, queer women, queer men.
The idea that straight men have power that they use to oppress women, in particular, has been used by feminist writers such as Elaine Rapping, an American media and film analyst, to justify statements such as this:
Everywhere you look there are books, movies, discussions and news reports about male violence … faced with the deadly serious question: “why are men such creeps?” (Rapping, 1993:114).
This idea that men are “such creeps” is born out by the fact there is so much research and data on men’s violence against women, but very little about men as victims of violence, especially not at the hands of women. Is this because men are just thugs? Or is it due to the bias of gender academics?
Even the name of this website, The Good Men Project, suggests to me that men are not ‘naturally’ good, but that they have to work hard to overcome the negative aspects of their ‘masculinity’ in order to become ‘Good Men.’ For example, in his speech at the LA Slutwalk recently, Hugo Schwyzer of GMP fame said:
While it is true that men can be the victims of sexual violence, and while it is true that in a few cases women can be the perpetrators of sexual violence, there is no question that the vast majority of sexual violence is men assaulting women.
No question? Well gender studies programs could at least ask the question. But they don’t, due to its assumptions, which boil down to this nursery rhyme that “little boys” are naturally bad because they are made of “snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.”
3) “Masculinity” is Gay
The only aspect of masculinity that gender studies seems to have allowed to be considered, without completely dismissing its value, has been “queer” masculinities, and this has been left to “queer theory.” Simpson, for example, tends to be categorized as a “gay” writer on “gay” men’s issues, and when he is mentioned in books about masculinity, it is often in relation to his work on gay pornography. Some feminist writers have suggested that there is a definite line between “straight” and “gay” men, and in doing so they are endorsing “gay” men as somehow better than straight men, suggesting they deserve consideration as people, not just “oppressors.” But at the same time, they are marginalizing any positive representation of masculinity into the box of “queer theory.” In other words, this suggests that taking an active interest in men and masculinity is “gay” in itself.
Male Impersonators is an interesting case study then, because, far from actually ignoring it, certain feminist academics have, in fact, taken its ideas, and co-opted and manipulated them and then failed to cite his work in their bibliographies. A number of feminist academics have made it clear they must have read Male Impersonators, but have not acknowledged just how much the book has “inspired” them, and in some cases have not mentioned Simpson at all.
The most well-known of these is probably Susan Faludi. Her book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, published in 2000, certainly draws on the themes introduced by Simpson in Male Impersonators. In particular, Faludi’s chapters on “hood ornaments”—men’s newfound “decorative” role in culture—and “waiting for wood”—on men in pornography—seem to owe a great deal to Simpson’s Male Impersonators. Anecdotal evidence tells of an interview with Faludi, where Simpson’s name was brought up, and she declared, ‘Oh, Mark Simpson. I’m his biggest fan!’ But not such a big fan that she could include his book in her huge bibliography.
Other academics who have obviously drawn on Male Impersonators, with little or no reference to Simpson, include Susan Bordo, who wrote The Male Body (1999) (more on that here), Germaine Greer (2003), Ros Gill et al, (2005), Harris (2007), Eric Anderson et al (2009), and Hall (2010).
The very existence of Tom Martin’s lawsuit against a major university department, and the fate of Mark Simpson’s “lost classic’”Male Impersonators, are but two examples of how feminist-dominated gender studies have short-changed men in a variety of ways, and how the neglect of men and masculinities is institutionalised within the feminist-skewed academy.
Photo By: SGT Pablo Piedra U.S. Army/Flicker