An article in The New York Times this weekend focused on the discipline of men’s studies and quotes, Rocco “Chip” Capraro, associate dean of Hobart College, as saying men’s studies is “an emerging interdisciplinary field concerned with men’s identity and experience in the present, over time, across space.”
In addition to being an associate dean, Capraro has been a member of the history department at HWS since 1981. He earned his B.A. from Colgate and his M.A. and Ph.D.from Washington University.
The full article from The New York Times follows.
The New York Times
The Study of Man (or Males)
Charles McGrath • January 7, 2011
IF you are a college graduate of a certain age, you probably remember that there used to be an all-purpose discipline that studied men and their behavior. It was called history. There was also a subject, called literature, that studied what men wrote. And art examined the pictures men painted.
Frustration with the neglect of women’s accomplishments – call it phallocentrism if you like – was what led to women’s studies, which has lately morphed into gender studies on some campuses. Women’s studies also gave rise to something called men’s studies, which is essentially pro-feminist. You can’t exactly major in men’s studies, but roughly 100 universities offer courses that fall under the umbrella, and the field has produced influential thinkers like Michael Kimmel, who is a professor at Stony Brook University and author of “Manhood in America: A Cultural History.”
The academic turf devoted to sex and gender these days is so crowded, in fact, that the prospect of a newcomer, a discipline called male studies, has generated a minor controversy.
Male studies, largely the brainchild of Dr. Edward M. Stephens, a New York City psychiatrist, doesn’t actually exist anywhere yet. Last spring, there was a scholarly symposium at Wagner College on Staten Island, intended to raise the movement’s profile and attract funds for a department with a tenured chair on some campus. A number of prominent scholars attended, including Lionel Tiger, an emeritus anthropology professor at Rutgers, who invented the term “male bonding,” and Paul Nathanson, a religious studies scholar at McGill University, who specializes in the study of misandry, the flip side of misogyny. Both are on the advisory board of the Foundation for Male Studies, which Dr. Stephens founded last year.
There will be a second conference in April at the New York Academy of Medicine – right on the heels, as it happens, of the annual conference of the American Men’s Studies Association – and the two groups have already begun jousting.
Robert Heasley, a sociology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and president of the association, has accused the new movement of “inventing something that I think already exists.” And at the Wagner College conference, Rocco Capraro, a history professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, said much the same thing. Men’s studies had been around for 30 years, he pointed out, and was “an emerging interdisciplinary field concerned with men’s identity and experience in the present, over time, across space.”
His definition was sufficiently vague, in other words, that it seemed to cover just about everything male-related, and he suggested that the differences between men’s studies and male studies were mostly ones of emphasis.
Actually, the differences are a good deal deeper than that. One argument that male studies advocates make is that men’s studies has essentially been co-opted. According to Professor Tiger, the trouble with men’s studies is that it’s “a wholly owned branch of women’s studies.”
There is also a political dimension to the split. “I’d like to get away from this terminology but it’s true,” Professor Heasley said in a recent interview. “It’s left wing/right wing.”
But ultimately the differences have to do with radically different notions of what it means to be a man in the first place.
The people in men’s studies, like those in women’s studies, take a mostly sociological perspective and believe that masculinity is essentially a cultural construct and that gender differences in general are fluid and variable. To Professor Kimmel, we live in a world that is increasingly gender-neutral and gender integrated and that this is a good thing for men and women both. “That ship has sailed – it’s a done deal,” he said recently, dismissing the idea that men and women are as different as Martians and Venutians.
The male studies people, on the other had, are what their critics call “essentialists” and believe that male behavior is in large part biologically determined. Men think and act differently from how women think and act because that’s how evolution shaped them. In the most extreme formulations of essentialism, men are basically still Neanderthals: violent, clannish, sexually voracious and in need of female domestication.
Professor Tiger, who has a somewhat more benign view of men than that, nevertheless worries that the changes that have allowed women to control their own reproductive process have unnaturally and disastrously altered the balance of power between the sexes.
But the biology vs. culture argument has been going on for years, and the male studies movement is less an expansion of that debate than a response to a specific crisis, the nature of which both sides agree on: academically at least, young men are in trouble.
Starting in grammar school, they lag behind girls by most observable measures, and the gap widens through high school and college. If males go to college at all, that is. College enrollment tilts at almost 60-40 in favor of women, and once enrolled, women are more likely than men to do well and to graduate.
There are a lot of explanations for why this is so. A popular theory, set forth in books like “The Trouble With Boys,” by Peg Tyre, and “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Hurting Our Young Men,” by Christina Hoff Sommers, is that grammar school classrooms have become excessively feminized, impatient with boys’ naturally boisterous behavior and short attention spans and inattentive to the way in which boys learn differently from girls. (Critics who went to school in the ’50s, when seat-squirming, loud-talking and other boyish hijinks were even less tolerated, are told that back then education didn’t matter so much and that a boy who didn’t do well in school had more and better employment options than such a student does today.)
Professor Tiger believes that by the time girls get to college, there is a Darwinian component to the achievement gap: women are aware of the divorce rate and the likelihood that they may raise children without ever marrying in the first place. “They’re studying for two,” he explained. “Guys just don’t have that sense, that inwit. That’s biology at its most essential.”
And then there are the various cultural arguments: that at least by some standards of masculinity, learning – reading and writing especially – is “uncool,” and that college campuses have become inhospitable to men, who now suffer from fragile self-regard. People associated with the male studies movement frequently bring up the date rape seminar now obligatory on most campuses. On their very first day at college, awkward young men are gathered into a room with their female counterparts and, the argument goes, made to feel like sexual predators.
Miles Groth, who teaches psychology at Wagner College and was host of the conference there last spring, says that what he hears all the time from male undergraduates on his campus is “I just don’t feel welcome here.” Professor Groth’s “Engaging College Men,” published last year by Men’s Studies Press, discusses programs at 14 campuses directed at improving the lot of men, and he has himself established a men’s center at Wagner, a small, private liberal arts school where only 36 percent of the students are men and a quarter of them are recruited athletes on scholarship.
The 15 or so members, many of them philosophy majors, meet once a week to share their thoughts in an atmosphere that is a “safe haven” for creating male intimacy, according to Michael Martin, a freshman football player. “I think of it as a fraternity in the truest sense,” he explained. “I think women love that we do this. Or if they don’t, they haven’t had it accurately explained to them.”
Kyle Glover, a senior and leader of the group, had this to say: “Guys are struggling. I’ve heard this argument that now is the girls’ time to get back but I don’t accept that.” He went on: “We talk a lot about what makes us tick as males. How did we get here? What’s your relationship with your dad like? Your mom? What do you think women want from you? What do you think you want from them?”
Professor Groth’s courses examine what it means to be a man from the points of view of psychology, anthropology, literature and even movies. “Why the silence?” he said between classes one day. “Why hasn’t our generation been more vocal about what’s happening to our young men?” And then he partly answered his own question: “It’s the continuing myth of male power. If I as a man raise these issues I’m just raising that old specter of male power because I want to keep women under control.”
Professor Groth, Professor Tiger and Dr. Stephens all seem at great pains not to say anything critical about feminism or women’s studies. “I don’t think male studies has emerged from acrimony,” Professor Tiger insisted. And yet the male studies movement appears to be animated at least in part by a sense that feminism has gone too far on campus and the women’s studies departments are too powerful. Professor Tiger and Dr. Stephens like to recite by the sheaf statistics showing how much more resources are being poured into the study of women and their problems than into men and their plight.
Lurking around the edges of the male studies movement, moreover, in Web sites like Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men, is a certain amount of anti-feminist hostility, if not outright misogyny. There used to be a link on the Web site for the Foundation for Male Studies to an interminable screed by someone called the Futurist, who was convinced the overvaluing of women and undervaluing of men was about to create a civilizational cataclysm. The piece began more or less rationally, but soon flared with gas jets of anger and worries about “rage-filled ‘feminists’ who would gladly send innocent men to concentration camps if they could.”
This intemperateness has recently caused Professor Groth to distance himself a little from the foundation, though Dr. Stephens believes that the rift is less philosophical than methodological, with Professor Groth concerned with setting up men’s centers and Dr. Stephens with establishing an academic department devoted to men.
Some of Dr. Stephens’s critics like to account for his male studies enthusiasm by pointing out that he went through a bad marital breakup, something he readily admits. “I was a happy psychiatrist until 1994, when I decided to get divorced,” he said, sitting in his windowless, ground-level office on the Upper East Side. “The kids got alienated and I got bankrupted – part of the gender-skewed system.” What got him thinking about what eventually became male studies, he went on to say, was his discovery that divorce law barely acknowledged paternal instinct and a sense, growing out of his psychiatric practice, that no one was paying attention to the special needs of men.
Dr. Stephens is an old-fashioned-seeming man, with a grandfatherly mustache and a fondness for bow ties, but he is convinced that, far from being a throwback, he is in the forefront of something: “I don’t have a goal. I have a vision. I sign all of my correspondence, ‘Looking forward.’ I’m looking forward to some really new approaches to understanding ourselves.”
ONE of Professor Groth’s colleagues at Wagner, Jean Halley, who teaches sociology and gender studies, describes him as a popular teacher whose courses on gender and masculinity attract a big enrollment. But she complains about the essentialism of male studies and says that Professor Groth “seems to like to position himself in a contentious way.”
Professor Groth, who is unmarried and has no children, is a boyish 63. He typically wears a coat and tie but keeps his shirttail carefully untucked. What motivates him, he says, is concern over the way college-age men seem to be foundering and a concern that if nothing is done, they may soon find themselves both unemployable and unmarriageable.
“It’s not O.K. these days to talk about the problems of boys and young men without seeming to be anti-girl,” he said. “There aren’t enough courses and enough people willing to come out of the woodwork and take the flak. A lot of people are hoping it will go away, but I’m not going away. I’m tenured.”
He added that he sometimes wondered if the name “male studies” itself was a problem and said, “I like ‘andrology,’ except that’s the study of prostates.”
Last semester, Professor Groth taught a course on the psychology of men; of 30 students, all but five were women. “I asked everyone, ‘Why are you taking this course?’ ” he recalled. “The boys didn’t say anything. The girls all said, ‘We want to understand the guys better.’ “
Charles McGrath is a writer at large for The Times.