Twenty Years and Counting: The Relevance of Men's Studies in a Gendered World

By Heasley, Robert | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Twenty Years and Counting: The Relevance of Men's Studies in a Gendered World


Heasley, Robert, The Journal of Men's Studies


The Importance of Now

There has never been a more important time to be part of the critical study of men and masculinities. The past twenty years of the American Men's Studies Association, and the nearly twenty years before that when the critical discussion of what I have come to call the meaning of masculinity began to take shape, has been robust with research and theorizing about the lives of men and boys. This inquiry was provoked by the second wave of feminism in the 1960s that gave rise to women's studies and a movement that challenged assumptions about virtually every aspect of women's lives. How could we ever have thought that feminist analysis would lead to anything but a critical examination not only of women's lives, but of gender itself and the underpinning assumptions about men?

The field of Men's Studies now has thousands of articles and hundreds of books addressing the topic of men and masculinities from a multitude of dimensions. And we are not alone in the United States, nor are we isolated within one discipline. Indeed, this critical discourse about men, the meaning of masculinity, is international and interdisciplinary. One can visit the AMSA website at www.mensstudies.com to find the international bibliography created by Michael Flood of Australia to see the richness of the discourse that has been taking place. The publications span the disciplines of sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, religious studies, the natural sciences, public health, education, social work, student services, political science, literature, cultural studies, and communications, among others.

Over the past forty years we have seen a range of media bring the critical examination of men's lives to light. Documentaries have included a range of independent films, such as Finding Our Way: Men Talk About Their Sexuality (Lipman, 1989) and Five Friends (Santiago, 2011), that raise awareness of the importance and challenges of finding intimacy in men's friendships. PBS specials such as Raising Cain (Thompson, 2006) about boys and emotional intelligence, based on the work of Harvard researchers Michael Kindlon and Michael Thompson, remind us there is a growing national interest in the research on boys and men, not just about the statistics that identify where males may be struggling, but addressing questions about how masculinity itself contributes to these struggles.

And we have experienced a richness of academic writers creating new narratives of men and the experience of their challenges and their own changing masculinities, including Mark Anthony Neal's, The New Black Man (2006) or David Eng's, Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (2001). Finally, we cannot ignore the contributions of contemporary films including Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005), and the lighthearted, though poignant, I Love You Man (Hamburg, 2009), in both informing and reflecting a changing national public discourse on men and men's relationships. These appear against a backdrop of media coverage--what seems an endless stream of articles from highly respected news sources such as The New York Times.

As a culture, the conversation about boys and men has shifted from one informed by a monolithic notion of the masculine to a pluralizing of that construct, what philosophy professor and feminist writer critically examining men and masculinity, Harry Brod (1987) introduced in his early work as masculinities. We have moved from a society that thought of men only as Heroes and Strangers (Rasmussen, Heriza, & Garrison, 1984), the title of one of the earliest feminist-informed documentaries about men's relationship with their children, to one that realizes men are much more than such a dichotomy represents. Boys and men are more complex and more richly diverse, and masculinity itself, as author Todd Reeser (2009) notes, is so unstable that its meaning is highly variable through time and context. Indeed, as University of Southern California gender scholar and activist Judith Halberstam (1998) makes clear, masculinity does not even belong to men alone. …

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