Founded in 2013 with a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities engages in the research of boys, men, masculinities and gender in order “to foster greater social justice” in gender relations, according to the center’s website.
“The center’s mission is to facilitate conversation between activists and researchers who are working in the field of masculinity studies,” Michael Kimmel, executive director of the center and a sociology professor at Stony Brook, said. “That mission aligns with supporting campaigns for gender equality, to understand and analyze different ways in which different groups of men experience masculinity and to work with boys and men in supporting and encouraging greater gender equality,” he said.
Members of the center have worked alongside different groups on campus to teach and advance gender equality. Particularly, the center has collaborated with the HeforShe initiative and first-year seminar 101 classes – introductory courses taken by first-year students designed to aid student integration into Undergraduate Colleges and the university as a whole. They also work closely with Title IX coordinator Marjolie Leonard in regards to sexual assault, and have started a seminar series that is open to the Stony Brook community. The most recent seminar, about researching young masculinities in post-Apartheid South Africa, was held on Oct. 30.
The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities’ name alone provokes oppositional sentiments. Some believe that men’s studies is just another moniker for women’s studies. Several conservative news outlets and men’s rights activist groups have openly criticized the center for having women on the board of directors – prominent figures, including the likes of Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler and Carol Gilligan – arguing that women shift the focus away from men and promote “toxic” feminist attitudes.
Stony Brook alumnus Bruce Bawer discredited the center in an article for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a non-profit institute focused on improving higher education. Bawer argued that the center having more women on the board than men results in the study of male issues being viewed through a “feminist lens.”
Bawer wrote that the academic center does not serve to understand men’s psychological and emotional development in their personal and professional lives, instead condemning it for encouraging men to feel guilty about being “born male” and to “subordinate” themselves around females.
In response to these statements, Kimmel said, “[These] people don’t understand or support what we do. That’s okay. I’m aware that what they think we do is wrong or dangerous, but I’m not persuaded by it because there is no great consequence [in their critiques]. They are loud but they have no substance.”
Kimmel further explained the importance of having women on the advisory board, because, he said, they are knowledgeable about effects of masculinity that few men ever realize.
Shirley Fang, a junior sociology major, said she does not think negatively of the center. “I associate it with toxic masculinity, which pressures men to act masculine and that affects how they behave in society,” she said. “I think that this empowers men to understand the patriarchy that is inherently embedded in the way they think and act.”
Today, women have come a long way in removing themselves from societal expectations defined at the height of the women’s movement 40 years ago, and more subtly, centuries earlier. Yet, many continue to fight issues such as harassment.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the subjects of sexual harassment and assault have exploded on social media, in turn, sparking what many say is a long overdue global conversation. The now-disgraced Hollywood producer was accused of sexually harassing and raping young actresses over a 30-year period, many of whom were awarded settlements in exchange for their silence, while others stayed quiet out of shame. What followed was a movement that initiated a sense of empowerment among victims in the form of a hashtag: #MeToo.
Thousands of social media posts were shared by women in solidarity, many of whom have been victims of harassment at some point in their lives. Another prime example of this type of unity came when Anita Hill who worked used to work under Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education accused Thomas of acting inappropriately toward during their time at the DOE in the 1980s. She revealed accusations of Thomas’ inappropriate behavior in a Senate confirmation hearing in 1991. Similar to #MeToo, the “I Believe Anita” slogan gave Hill a platform to gather support for her ordeal.
This “click moment,” or the idea of being fed up with hearing, “this is what you have to deal with” when women speak against abuse of power, gathered women to rise against the authority telling them to become complacent with their harassers.
Some men have also taken a stance on harassment. When former child actor Anthony Rapp accused actor Kevin Spacey of making sexual advances toward him when he was 14, other male victims followed suit. Spacey, like Weinstein, is now undergoing sex rehabilitation.
Most recently, comedian Louis C.K. admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct after five women accused him of doing so. Although he has not denied the allegations, C.K. has not formally apologized to these women either. The comedian’s former manager, Dave Becky, however, apologized for his role in not confronting C.K. at the time of the incidents. Instead of understanding the women’s discomfort, Becky was “angered” that two of them spoke about it openly. Though both men’s actions differed, their behavior exemplifies the normalcy that downplays the severity of harassment and ultimately, silences victims.
However, there is little data in the number of men who speak up when they witness incidents of sexual harassment.
“Men may feel uncomfortable reporting sexual harassment because of shame surrounding being a victim,” Kathryn Stamoulis, a doctor in educational psychology and a licensed mental health counselor, said in an email. She added that men are taught to be strong from a young age and that sexual harassment-related shame at times threatens their ideas of manhood.
“Sexual harassment may not impact men as much as women because it’s less pervasive,” she said. “Take street harassment, for example. Many women deal with it on a daily basis and have experiences of men berating them when they speak up. It may happen once in a while to a man, but there’s less of a threat because there’s little history of violence towards men from women,” she said.
The responses men have towards sexual harassment is just one of the various subjects the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities studies, in order to better understand how masculinity affects male attitudes. In studies like this and others of its kind, the center often works with faculty and graduate students, and sometimes undergraduate students too, Kimmel said.
“We help develop first rate research projects with faculty and graduate students, and some undergraduates if they’re interested,” he said.
According to Kimmel, the center welcomes its students to participate in its research projects and continue promoting the fight against gender inequality.