When the media reported last summer that the University of Winnipeg would introduce a course called “Boys, Men and Popular Culture” in its winter term, public response was mixed. “It’s about time,” wrote one (female) Winnipeg Free Press reader. Many other readers, both male and female, agreed that the time has come for universities to offer courses that study men’s identities and experiences along with women’s.
Not everyone was happy with the news, though. “Oregon Dad” pronounced it a “fraud” on mensactivism.org, and said it was doomed to fail. He objected that the course would be taught by “fembots” through the department of women’s and gender studies. Only if they could find a “masculine male” to teach the course, he argued, would it have any merit.
Emotional reactions aside, Professor Pauline Greenhill, who has previously taught a course on girls, women and popular culture, got busy planning her curriculum. Films make up a large part of the course: Finding Nemo, featuring Marlin, a nurturing male fish, will spark thought about the evolving nature of fatherhood. Citizen Kane and Raging Bull also have made their mannish way onto the syllabus.
It’s likely that more women than men will take the course, given the demographics of current university enrolment, but Dr. Greenhill expects some male students will give it a try as well. “I don’t care who takes the course, gender-wise,” she says. “More people are accepting of the idea that it’s good to study a variety of human experiences – and it’s good to think about how films can be a form of social criticism and resistance.”
Anyone who takes offence at the notion of studying men through the lens of gender theory should get used to it: men’s and masculinity studies have been taught for years in the U.S., U.K., Australia and, increasingly, in Canada as well. The universities of Alberta, York, Guelph, Queen’s, Laval and several others offer such courses, both within women’s studies departments (some renamed to include the more equitable “gender” in their titles) and in a range of related disciplines, including psychology, sociology, social work, history, geography and literature.
A team of 17 researchers (both male and female) teaching men’s and masculinity studies at several Quebec universities has recently received $600,000 in provincial funding to study issues ranging from men’s health to violence and fatherhood. “Perhaps some feminists are against seeing us compete for funding, but I think many want a better community, and are happy to work with us,” says social work professor Gilles Tremblay of Université Laval.
Dr. Tremblay, who teaches graduate courses in the socialization of boys and men, is a contributor to a forthcoming textbook, Canadian Perspectives on Men and Masculinity Studies, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2011. Says the book’s editor, Jason Laker, “My agenda is to get people to think.”
Dr. Laker is a professor of men’s studies as well as associate vice-principal and dean of student affairs at Queen’s University. From his perspective, opinion is swinging towards including men’s studies in Canadian university curriculum. He notes that just last fall, women’s studies at Queen’s changed its name to gender studies.
“Most men’s studies scholars have been respectful of the reasons for having women’s [and] feminist theory studies,” explains Dr. Laker, who regularly collaborates with his feminist theory colleagues in teaching and conference presentations. He acknowledges how men’s studies scholars have used feminist concepts and theories to do their scholarly work – work that appears in numerous international publications such as the U.S., peer-reviewed Journal of Men’s Studies.
Dr. Laker’s textbook will fill a gap in Canada, by bringing men’s studies scholarship together from a variety of disciplines and from different regions of the country. Chapter topics include men in popular culture (Dr. Greenhill’s contribution), immigrant men, aboriginal men, male identity in Canadian sport, gender and the city, masculinity and religion, and how American attitudes towards war compare and contrast with Canadian military history and mythology.
“Canadians were the great men of World War I and II, but we don’t have the same kind of pop culture machine, and our own experiences [of war] tend to get squeezed out by American images of warriors and heroes,” says Canadian historian Jane McGaughey, who will be writing the chapter on attitudes to war. Dr. McGaughey has taught at Royal Military College and is now a visiting research fellow in Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame (her doctoral thesis at the University of London was on masculinity and militarization in Ulster, 1912-1923).
But the question still remains whether men’s studies will attract male students. Dr. McGaughey says that when she taught men’s studies with noted historian John Tosh at the University of Roehampton in England, she felt moved to thank the one or two males who showed up for the class.
Regardless, scholars welcome the growing interest in their field. “I hope the subject takes off,” says Dr. Laker.