If a student wanted to engage in a course of study which used a “masculinity” or “masculine” approach to history, could it be done? Probably not in today’s academic circles. But as academics search for new areas of the past and under-exploited perspectives, masculinity studies programs could emerge as a discipline rich in scholarly content.
So what are masculinity studies? Think of a feminist studies program, but focusing on men (generally straight, white men who are otherwise neglected as an explicit focus of study) and men’s issues, rather than women and women’s issues. Strange that we use the term “masculinity studies” to describe this rather than “masculinist studies” since we don’t refer to “femininity studies”, but that’s just the way it goes.
The natural objection to such a program of study is fairly predictable: history courses are so dominated by men that masculinity studies are implicitly part of the status quo. We’ve already been studying this all along, and we shouldn’t address an issue that has already been addressed time after time. At best, it would be like beating a dead horse; at worst, it would be disenfranchising all the other areas of study that merit consideration and funding from academic institutions.
While acknowledging these concerns, I think that they miss the point of masculinity studies. In general history courses, men are often the focus, but masculinity is incidental to that field of study. Those courses may be dominated by men, but not by what makes men the men that they are. There is no sense of exclusivity on masculinity in current fields of study, and this makes all the difference in the world. Without exclusivity, students can only learn about a topic in a superficial manner. It’s like watching an episode of M*A*S*H and thinking you’re getting educated in military medical treatment. You get exposure to a certain topic but you do not learn it in the kind of systematic manner that leads to deep understanding .
What I envision is something which consciously focuses on that masculinity in the same way that feminist studies programs consciously focus on issues related to women. What issues do men face that women do not? To what stimuli do they respond, to what cultural forces do they formulate decisions, and what burdens do they carry as men? If basic issues like the prospect of being sent into battle and working outside the home have traditionally been tied to gender, then they merit consideration based upon gender divisions. Surely, there has been a plethora of other personal, family, social, and national demands placed primarily on men’s shoulders, and these in turn have been tied to region, culture, and chronology.
The future of masculine studies
So will masculinity studies programs emerge in the future? Yes, if the logic driving academia today continues into the future. After all, to exclude an explicitly masculine view is to show bias against men – the same type of bias that feminist studies programs presumably try to undo.