When Women Studies emerged on college campuses it was argued that they were needed as a response to the lack of proper coverage of women in male dominated academic disciplines.
Recently, there has been an attempt to create an academic field of Male Studies. Given that existing academic disciplines provide considerable coverage of men it might be wondered why such studies are needed.
The best known proponent of Male Studies, Lionel Tiger (yes, that is his name), claims that there is a need for Male Studies and this arises “from the notion that male and female organisms really are different” and there is an “enormous relation between . . . a person’s biology and their behavior.”
Since Men’s Studies already exists, it might also be wondered why there is a need for Male Studies. Tiger asserts that Men’s Studies focuses too much on the social construction of gender rather than on the biological aspects of what it is to be male.
While it is tempting to dismiss both Men’s Studies and Male Studies as mere political responses to Women’s Studies, the fields do seem to have at least some legitimacy as academic fields. After all, what it is to be a man and what impact being male has on men are interesting subjects and seem to be well worth considering.
However, there are at least two reasonable objections against both Men’s Studies and Male Studies.
First, there is the obvious fact that the subject matter of both fields already falls within existing academic disciplines. For example, the study of male biology clearly falls under the general field of biology. As such, there seems to be little compelling need to have a special discipline dedicated to what might be considered a rather limited focus.
Second, there is the practical concern regarding resources. At this time, many colleges and universities are suffering from serious budgetary problems. For example, my own department has lost a significant chunk its budget. Fortunately, three people retired this year, thus allowing the budget cuts to be absorbed by not hiring replacements. Down the road at Florida State, they are also facing severe budget problems resulting in the firing (or not re-hiring) faculty and staff. Given this financial crisis, it seems to make little sense to expend limited resources on this field. Rather, it makes more sense to use the dwindling resources to preserve the core aspects of education.
Naturally enough, schools that have the budgetary surplus for Men’s Studies and Male Studies are not subject to this concern. Also, there might well be funding support available for these programs that is not available for retaining faculty in established disciplines like philosophy, biology, and physics. If so, then these programs might actually prove useful, if only to help retain (in another area) faculty and staff who would otherwise be out of work.
While I do believe that the subject matter itself is important and interesting, it seems that it would be rather adequately handled under existing disciplines. I think the same about Women’s Studies as well. This should not be taken as endorsing eliminating adequate and fair coverage of women in academic fields. Far from it-I think that women should receive due attention within the existing fields. The problem was (and is) not a lack of a special field for women (or men), but rather a tendency to overlook, ignore or marginalize women in academic fields. Given that men are now a minority in higher education (at least at the two year and bachelor levels) it might well be time to be concerned that men might someday start suffering from being overlooked or marginalized in academics. This, of course, should not be allowed to occur.