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At the turn of the twentieth century, boys were often in the news. Two decades of attention to girls and women by researchers (e.g., Gilligan 1982, Pipher 1995) had catalyzed a growing recognition that similar research could benefit boys. Newspaper headlines spoke of "How Boys Lost Out to Girl Power" (Lewin 1998) and noted that "After Girls Get the Attention, 'Focus Shifts to Boys' Woes" (Goldberg 1998). Major U.S. publishers began to promote books on boys (Kindlon 1999, Pollack 1998, Garbarino 1999). Reviewing the academic area of gender studies devoted to men, Kenneth Clatterbaugh noted in 2000 that "In the 1980s and 1990s, a flood of writings about men and masculinity by both men and women were published. Such writings now appear in every academic field" (883). "Issues have been discussed," Clatterbaugh continued, "men and masculinity have become subjects for ongoing study, and the ideas that have been tried and presented in a variety of media are still there for individual men to draw on and pursue in their own individual accommodations of how to be a man" (892).
Stereotypical thinking about gender persists, however, in the United States and elsewhere, much of it rooted in popular notions of biology. Testosterone is often blamed for all kinds of antisocial behavior in boys, yet correlations between testosterone levels and aggression are at best dubious. A 1997 review of research concluded that there is "no evidence of an association between testosterone and aggressive behavior" (Tremblay 1997), but the ideal of tough manhood prevails and "boys will be boys" is a mantra in playgrounds and classrooms across the country. Confusingly, alongside the ideal of tough, stoic males another has taken shape, of the nurturing, sensitive "new" man. The mother of an 18-month-old male is reported as saying "It's politically incorrect to be a boy" (Rosenberg 1998). Myriam Miedzian recounts a conversation with a "sophisticated young mother of four," who told her "that while she and her friends didn't like their sons to play with guns, they still worried that if the boys didn't, if they preferred arts and crafts and dolls, perhaps they were developing homosexual tendencies" (Miedzian 108). Homophobia is one shaper of masculinities; another is racism; the cultures of everyday institutions also play their part—workplaces, classrooms, playing fields, families, religions, and organizations.
If anything is clear, it is that masculinity is up for grabs. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, for example, two articles in The New York Times offered within weeks of each other apparently contradictory reports on the state of American manhood. On the one hand, many of those who worked and died at the World Trade Center were described as belonging to "a generation of men who defy cultural stereotypes" by being deeply involved in the lives of their children (Gross). On the other hand, the iconic figure of the rescue worker was seen as heralding "the return of manly men": "After a few iffy decades in which manliness was not the most highly prized cultural attribute, men—stoic, musclebound, and exuding competence from every pore—are back" (Brown). Neither of these images is satisfying, and neither corresponds to the complexities of how gender is lived in the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
To describe gender as socially constructed has become commonplace in the academy during the last twenty-five years. For students entering university, however, the distinction between sex and gender can still be new and startling. Although the contributions of biology to the formations of gender should not be ignored, the enormous range of what constitutes "masculine" and "feminine" across various cultures and through various histories is evidence that gender is socially constructed. In many ways, gender is an institution within which we are all raised and develop.
When I first proposed a course called "Men and Masculinities," a note came from the dean's office querying this odd title with its unfamiliar plural. Although the idea that masculinity is socially constructed in a wide variety of manifestations has become ordinary in several academic disciplines, "manhood" remains a complicated and confusing prospect for many young men growing up in twenty-first-century America. By talking about the "gendering" that goes on in all our lives we can, as Judith Lorber puts it, "make gender visible" (Lorber 1994), and making gender visible is a first step toward coming to critical consciousness about the masculinities that influence our lives and those of the people around us.
Ideas about gender often conform to a "natural attitude"—a kind of baseline thinking which is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to challenge because it seems so obvious to the majority of people that that's just "the way things are." Thus, men who are involved in the lives of their children are said to be "in touch with their feminine side" (Gross). Such a natural attitude to gender assumes "that there are two and only two genders; gender is invariant; genitals are the essential signs of gender; the male/female dichotomy is natural; being masculine or feminine is natural and not a matter of choice; all individuals can (and must) be classified as masculine or feminine—any deviation from such a classification is either a joke or a pathology" (Hawkesworth 649). This common way of thinking rests upon the notion that the subordinate status of women is universal, God-given, and immutable. Differences between men and women in general (sexual asymmetry) are offered as evidence of the rightness of this "natural" attitude: We see it a lot, so it must just be that way. This attitude is reinforced by culture, myth, law, education, and (most powerfully) by religions.
Since the inception of women's studies programs in colleges and universities in the 1960s, the study of gender has drawn on the challenges and questions raised by the second wave of the women's movement and has influenced many disciplines. Quite recently, with the increased acceptance of the idea that gender is socially constructed, women's studies programs have broadened their area of interest to take in the study of both sexes. Political scientist Mary Hawkesworth writes that "gender has become the central analytic concept in women's studies and indeed has been the focal point for the development of new interdisciplinary programs (gender studies) in colleges and universities across the United States" (650).
As women's lives in industrialized countries have changed dramatically and increasingly rapidly in every sphere during the last forty years, so inevitably have men's lives also changed. Such change has often been unwelcome because it has had the effect of making gender visible and thus threatening a status quo that works to the advantage of a significant number of men. Many men have kept their heads down during this time, hoping it would all just go away if they ignored it long enough. But it hasn't: the workplace, the family, education, healthcare, religion, politics—all have been transformed by feminism, however that phenomenon is characterized. The social world in which men live in the United States is one in which feminism exerts profound influence whether or not they agree with its tenets, and despite the fact that many of the conditions and social practices addressed by the women's movement remain unchanged. Just as race is often seen by whites as something "belonging" only to people of color, so gender has often been seen by men as an attribute solely of women. Like two sides of a sheet of paper, though, men and women share a sexual political context.
Lorber points out how pervasive gender is: "Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created and re-created out of human interaction, out of social life, and is the texture and order of that social life" (13). If we reflect for a moment, it quickly becomes clear that gender is not constant: Although certain groups in a society may be strict about maintaining rigid gender boundaries (for example, sports organizations), blurring occurs in other groups within the same society. Traditional beliefs about gender have often focused on reproduction as women's chief goal in life and consign childless women to deviancy. Such beliefs also point to the superior physical strength of men (as a group) as evidence of their "natural" superiority; deviation from this norm is dismissed as just that—deviancy. As Gerda Lerner writes in The Creation of Patriarchy, this "common sense" kind of argument has great explanatory force, probably due to its "'scientific' trappings, based on selected ethnographic evidence and on the fact that it seems to account for male dominance in such a way as to relieve contemporary men of all responsibility for it" (17).
This book brings together short stories and articles from a number of disciplinary perspectives, with the aim of encouraging students and their teachers to focus attention on the meanings of masculinity in the contemporary United States. It does not aspire to "coverage" of any particular topic, but offers paradigms that might be employed in other areas for further exploration. The selections are for the most part limited to the contemporary situation in the United States, a focus for which an account of the historical dimension of the social institution of gender has had to be sacrificed. Another limitation of the book's scope is its treatment of race: Constraints of space and of economics have led me to choose readings on black masculinities alone because the specific history of the United States has given African-American men so prominent a place in its cultural narrative of gender.
Men are still very reluctant to discuss themselves as men. The "Men and Masculinities" course I teach, for example, has always enrolled far more women than men. Although the composition of a classroom influences the kinds of discussions that take place there, the study of men and masculinity should not be limited to male students. In our gendered world, it is important for all of us to consider how gender has inflected our lives and how it continues to define and confine us whether we be women or men.
The primary purpose of this book is to begin discussion in the classroom. Although the readings are organized into various sections, there are other possible combinations that might work better in individual settings. The readings also speak to one another: What is learned about masculinity on the sports field, for example, may have consequences later in the workplace; the gendering that goes on in elementary school affects future friendships; the intersections of gender and race in popular culture affect the environment for black children in school, and so on. The writers represented here also raise many questions that can be followed up in discussion and further research, as well as provide new contexts for thinking about what is studied in other courses and about what our culture offers for our everyday consumption.
Many thanks to Sheila Hu at the Mortola Library, Pace University, to my colleagues Karla Jay and Ruth Johnston for their interest in and support of my work, and to the Women's & Gender Studies community at Pace. Thanks to Kelly Anderson for her corrective vision, and to all the students who have made "Men and Masculinities" such a rewarding course to teach.
I would also like to thank the following reviewers for their helpful comments: Kathryn S. Mueller, Baylor University; and Jane E. Prather, California State University, Northridge.
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