Few college press releases have web notoriety like the one released in May on Stony Brook University’s new Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. Already, the internet is stacked with articles, comments and online petitions decrying the new center.
Some authors were women. Most of them were men.
Financed by a $300,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the fledgling center is meant to promote the study of men and the male gender through academic research and publications. Led by Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook and bestselling author of “Guyland, The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men,” it is to be established by a 2015 international conference—followed by the world’s first Master of Arts program in the study of men and masculinities by 2017.
The center and the program will be under the aegis of SBU’s sociology department.
There are no plans, however, to consolidate Men and Masculinities studies into the graduate level Gender Studies program like the Women’s Studies department. Even if he uses “feminist theory and queer theory to understand the experience of men and masculinity” in his work, Kimmel maintains that the center, and the program, will stand apart from the current Women’s and Gender studies program at Stony Brook.
“All over the world there are people who are engaging men in gender equality,” said Kimmel in a phone interview. “The vision of the center is to bring together activists who are engaged in projects all over the world to engaging men with academic research with this issue.”
It would certainly explain the center’s current advisory board. Rife with political activists, big names like Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Carol Gilligan and Eve Ensler—four very prominent American feminists—it seems to jump out of the press release like a big, angry question mark.
With the critics, at least.
“Keep in mind, please, that this is a Center supposedly devoted to the study of men, not women,” said Bruce Bawer in his article “A Joke of a Men’s Studies Center,” published in Front Page Magazine. “Can you imagine a university press release in this day and age announcing the establishment of a new Women’s Studies Center and including more men’s names than women’s? Me neither.”
It is not the emergence of men’s studies that Bawer, a Stony Brook alumnus and author of “The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind”, argues against, despite what his book title may say. Rather, it is the “unbalanced” advisory board that he and Newsday columnist Cathy Young see as a problem for men’s studies, rather than an asset.
“The study of men and masculinities’ as conceptualized by Kimmel and his like-minded colleagues is, at bottom, an academic vehicle for a political attack on ‘white male privilege’,” said Young. “This is undoubtedly the brand of ‘men’s studies’ that Stony Brook’s new Center will promote.”
Though the center has yet to hold any of its promised seminars and conferences, nor has it had the chance to present research funded by the MacArthur Foundation, Bawer, Young and many other netizens base their opinions off of Kimmel’s own work and reputation. As an academic looking at men’s studies through feminist theory, he has experience butting heads with so-called men’s rights activists.
“[Men’s studies] is about fostering and nurturing serious research within the context of gender studies,” Kimmel said in response to criticisms aimed at the center. “To my mind, these critiques by the MRAs are inevitable. They spend a lot of time trolling the internet and yelling at people. That’s not serious research.”
Using highly recognizable feminists as advisors was key to banishing misconceptions of what the new center is meant for. Others, however, contend that such actions belie the true academic nature of male gender studies.
A petition started by an anonymous dissenter circulated forums and messageboards, with posters urging members to sign. “No womens’ [sic] programs of any kind permit male dominance of any type on their advisory boards, nor do they select men with a track record of antagonism toward and mockery of women and womens’ issues,” it said.
“We, the undersigned, urge the administration at Stony Brook University to create a more balanced advisory board for its new mens program, one that consists of five men and five women.”
Outside of the message boards though, students see this as a non-issue.
“I see the issue some people can have with it, but in all honestly, it doesn’t really create an issue for me,” said Ariel Kodis. “Isn’t the program advisor for the women’s studies program a man?”
Kodis, a senior sociology major at Stony Brook University, says the idea of having feminists on the advisory board of a men’s studies center is a positive gesture rather than the frightening one so many seems to find it.
“Just because some of the members are feminists does not mean that they don’t have valuable ideas to contribute to the program,” Kodis said. “If anything, I feel like it would have a mostly positive effect looking at the study of men and masculinities through different perspectives.”