“You’re a woman, but you study men’s issues?!” Ironic, yes, I am a woman and I study men’s issues. Why so often when we linguistically insert a “but,” we automatically negate all that precedes the “but”? It is as though I cannot be a woman if I study men’s issues because more often men study men’s issues or at least, isn’t that how the classic creed reads: Women study women’s studies, and men study men’s studies? I will use this forum to challenge this belief, encouraging more women to become involved in men’s studies. Imagine aspiring female scholars and/or clinicians no longer being an anomaly among the men who study men’s issues and rather a sizeable voice.
I savor people’s comical, predictable reactions when they learn I study men’s issues: Raised brows, heads thrown back, contorted bodies, and feathered voices suggest, “But, you’re a woman.” All too often, I hear: Men’s studies? Is that such a thing?! If we live in a men’s world dominated by patriarchy, why must we study men’s issues? Are men that complicated that you need to devote a discipline to studying their issues? Are you just trying to figure men out for your own intimate, private thrill? People begin to give credence to my interests when they hear I journeyed from Los Angeles to Iowa to join the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at the University of Iowa and study men and masculinity. Then, people’s intrigue brightens, and they often pose an appropriately facetious question: “So, tell me—how did you become interested in men?”
I was clueless men’s studies existed as an undergraduate at UCLA or Masters’ student at USC. I discovered men’s studies while sitting in class contemplating if such a field existed while reflecting on my work during graduate school at USC. I was a Learning Specialist assigned to help scholastically at-risk, high-level male student-athletes achieve independence and competence. My students came from impoverished environments where they developed strict masculinity scripts to defend their survival and ego. I was both frustrated and intrigued by their tough guy scripts and winner scripts and considered what their socialization process looked like. My story might make a Hallmark or Lifetime movie given its pure romantic edge. As I showed them consistent caring, I slowly broke down their resistance, mistrust, and barriers to receiving my help. They invited me into their world, and we developed a unique bond I forever recall. I owe my interest in men’s studies mostly to the male student-athletes I worked intimately with.
As a Learning Specialist, I developed a questionnaire on student-athlete’s academic integration while diving into men and masculinity literature. My mentor Dr. Ruth Chung informed me men’s studies existed and loaned me Levant and Pollack’s work, A New Psychology of Men. This book became my religious companion that introduced me to male gender role conflict, which at the time made perfect sense when I considered the men in my life. I ran literature searches, read works recommended to me by sociologist Michael Messner and other scholars in the field, and eventually became acquainted with leading proponents. Dr. Chung invited me to conduct an empirical study on religiosity, gender role conflict, and coping strategy among Jewish and Gentile men. Glenn Good, Sam Cochran, and William Liu applauded my applications for doctoral study in the area. Meanwhile, I tailored all my writings and projects to men and masculinity, and my passion steered me toward the Iowa program where Sam and Will continue to nurture my interests through much research and applied work.
I choose not to digest my curriculum vitae here. I rather process my current plight as a second year doctoral student. Since August 2004, I have held a graduate assistantship at the University’s Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) where I coordinate group services and advocate for women’s empowerment and fighting systemic oppression. I wrestle these questions:
- How can I intersect my interest in women’s issues and men’s issues?
- How can I encourage more women to advocate for men’s rights if/when they perceive us living in a man’s world?
- What does it mean for a man to identify as a feminist?
- What does it mean for a traditionally ethnic minority man to promote feminism and women’s rights?
- Are men emasculating themselves if they identify as feminists?
- How do power, privilege, race, class, and ethnicity intersect as men advocate for women’s issues and women promote attention to men’s issues?
My current research endeavors, clinical work at the University Counseling Services, and aspirations to become a professor invite more questions:
- If society socializes men to act tough, not cry, and dare not seek help, what do gender-sensitive therapies look like for men who do seek help?
- How do we target negative perceptions and stigmas related to help-seeking among men while at the same time appreciate cultural values?
- How do my internalized gender role stereotypes for men and women and my values as a women impact my clinical work with male clients?
- How can my interests in men’s issues inform my teaching in psychology of women and vice versa?
- Can we understand women’s issues without embracing men’s issues and vice versa; are the two areas independent of one another? Can they remain independent?
- How are we defining masculinity across cultures if past research focuses broadly on White middle-class, college-aged men?
All these questions remind me of how much learning awaits me in step toward beginning to satiate my relentless curiosity. I must consume and digest more literature to know whether the questions I pose are at all interesting to existing scholars and clinicians. What may excite me may be dated research or yesterday’s news to promising leaders and seniors in the field. I am eager to find my niche—my place to jump in and fill a needed hole in the research literature. I am eager to do this as a woman who offers a diverse voice, outlook, and experience. We, women, are invaluable resources to the study of psychology of men. As I write this piece, I struggle with next steps :
- How can we encourage more women to become interested in men’ studies?
- How can we get women to cross the line, and work to dissolve the seeming boundary between individuals studying their respective gender?
- If we coexist in a world with both men and women, then why would women choose not to study men’s issues?
- Are women not well- informed of issues affecting men?
- When we solely study our respective gender, does this imply I cannot understand men’s complexity and men cannot understand women’s complexity?
For me, it is not questions of why women should study men’s issues but instead why women would not choose to study men’s issues. I advocate for more forums similar to APA’s most recent symposium on “Why Women Should Care about Men’s Issues” to hear how men’s issues can inform teaching women’s studies as well as our clinical work with both male and female clients. Perhaps if women were more exposed to issues affecting men, then they would feel connected to this movement to increase awareness for men’s health. I suspect we need to frame men’s issues for women in a way that feels personal and organic to their lived experience so they too feel impassioned to advocate for men’s welfare.
You’re a woman, but you study men’s issues?! Next time, I am confronted with what has evolved into a platitude from its overuse, I will respond accordingly: Precisely. I am a woman living a gendered life seeking a gender-sensitive society. So, what better way to advocate for men’s health than from a woman who walks to a different beat, sees with a different lens, and uses a different voice than the man next door.