Rambling about gender studies

Do you remember Tom Martin, the man who is suing LSE for “anti-male bias” on its Gender Studies course? No, stop giggling at the back. He’s serious. But I’m not talking about Martin, who is frankly a bit of a twit (the moment I read he’d only been on the course for six weeks – and tweets as “the missing minister for men” – I have to admit to dismissing him as an idiot). But a conversation at uni reminded me of him.

I’m just over halfway through a gender studies masters – not at LSE, but at Birkbeck (LSE was too expensive for me, and Birkbeck suited my needs as far as disability and work), and a few weeks into a new module with a new lecturer. The students are a mix of gender studies – second year part-timers like myself and single-year full timers – and people from other courses who have chosen the module as an option (it’s compulsory for those on gender studies in the MSc stream, however). Those who’ve chosen the module are studying masters (or PhDs) in a variety of subjects, from education to identity to journalism. Basically, we’re a right mix.

Our lecturer has asked for feedback from the outset – rather than waiting for the end of term formal feedback – which is brilliant. And she’s acting on it, which is even better. Last week she brought up an issue an anonymous student had raised – that there wasn’t enough on men and masculinities in the lectures. The course is called Theorising Gender, and we do study masculinities and men, for what it’s worth – but in the relatively new field of gender studies, masculinities is a yet newer field – it really hasn’t been looked at very much or for very long, much in the same way whiteness hasn’t been studied as much when looking at race and identity. Because masculinity is so often taken as the norm – maleness as default, the man in mankind that erases everyone who doesn’t fit a mould of a particular type of hegemonic masculinity – it was seen as more important to start looking at all those experiences that have been erased and ignored, and as theories and knowledges have developed, so it has become possible to look at masculinity, now that the framework exists. As a result of the way studies of masculinity grew out of women-focused gender studies, it is really difficult to run headlong into looking at masculinity without first having at least a dabble in the earlier work. It’s like trying to read Butler while pretending Foucault never existed – or trying to make bread while ignoring the existence of wheat.

And sometimes it can appear that there is not enough on masculinities. Especially when you’re looking at the home – as a traditionally feminine area, of course most of the writing looking at the home and gender is going to look at women – but they still refer to the roles of men as well. But – and it’s a massive but – to return to the anonymous complaint, the overwhelming response was “someone hasn’t done the reading”. Required reading for the first lecture was as chapter from R.W. Connell’s 1995 book Masculinities. The other two pieces looked at both masculinities and femininities. The second week, most pieces also covered men and women – and in the case of the introduction to Gavey’s Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape (2005) was partly arguing for a reconceptualisation of rape in order to better include the experiences of male victims.

The third week – and I’m sure you’re getting the picture here – two of the four required pieces were explicitly focused on men (Gorman-Murray’s 2008 article on masculinity and the home, and Kilkey’s 2010 paper on men and migrant care), a third included men, but focused on women, and the fourth was explicitly about women – Oakley’s seminal Housewife, from 1976.

Anonymous complaining student can fuck off. And do the reading. And if they don’t like it once they’ve actually paid some attention, they can start with the recommended reading – and then move on from there. Finding books and journal articles that look at men and masculinities isn’t difficult, and frankly, as a masters student, if they haven’t learnt to use the library yet, they may wish to either do so, or have a think about what they’re doing.

And now I’ve finished rambling – I’m going to take my own advice, and do some fucking reading.

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