N.Y. University to Offer Degree in Men's Studies

Article excerpt

GENEVA, N.Y. -- Diana Schoeller and Sherry Lutzen want to know what makes men tick: how they think, what they feel, why they behave in certain ways.

College classmate Christopher Myer shares their intrigue.

"There's a lot of confusion right now about what being a man is," he says. "We're up for murder, rape, drug abuse, violence, aggression. Obviously we don't know who we are since we're having all these problems." A generation after women's studies began setting down roots on American campuses, scholars scrutinizing the world through the prism of gender have come full circle to integrate the study of men, or what it means to be male. On the slopes above this Finger Lakes town, the history and sociology of masculinity have been dissected in classes and workshops for a decade. This fall, Hobart and William Smith Colleges will become the first university in the nation to offer a degree in men's studies -- an undergraduate minor. "This is not a fad, a tongue-in-cheek kind of gimmick," says Rocco "Chip" Capraro, a history professor at the coordinate men's and women's colleges. "The interest is much more serious, because men's problems are not going away." The caricature of `90s guys trekking into the woods to beat drums and bond around a campfire might be difficult to shake, but analysis of male roles in a hurriedly changing society is extending across an array of academic disciplines, from literature and religion to psychology and health. In fact, U.S. college courses that delve into manhood have proliferated from about 40 in 1984 to more than 500 today, says Sam Femiano, a founder of the American Men's Studies Association. "Just as women and blacks and gay people have been invisible in traditional studies, men have been hypervisible as public figures, writers, scientists, military heroes -- but not as men," says sociologist Michael Kimmel of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In a 19th-century British literature course, he says, any debate about the Bronte sisters inevitably turns to "their relationships to marriage, family and femininity," whereas, instead of "fatherhood, family and sexuality," Charles Dickens prompts discussion of "class relations, industrial society and Dickens as a social novelist." "Integrating gender requires us to go back to what we've been teaching for decades with fresh questions and new ideas," says Kimmel, whose books such as Men Confront Pornography often serve as texts in men's studies. For many Hobart and William Smith students, instead of being an arcane subject, the "Men and Masculinity" course also delivers a personal impact. "There have been experiences in my life where men have done odd things to me or around me and taking this course is a kind of therapy," says Schoeller, 19, of Danbury, N.H. Men are molded by social expectations much more than she realized. "Women are taught the ideal body, the ideal domestic responsibility thing, the ideal wardrobe; men are taught the ideal extracurricular activities, the ideal job, the ideal car," she says. "Each gender is left to the mercy of society to define who they become." The liberal arts school added a "Theories of Masculinity" seminar for first-year students in 1992. Its spring-semester course tackles topics such as sexism, homophobia, date rape and domestic violence, using films such as Born on the Fourth of July, Deliverance and Philadelphia. …