and so castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually **
The beginning of studies on gender in general terms falls on the early years of the twentieth century. This beginning can be attributed, on the one hand, to the emergence and rise of feminism as a social movement in the west and, on the other hand, to the gender being opened to discussion and research in social sciences, especially in the early anthropological and psychoanalytic studies.
As of 1960s and 1970s, these discussions took on a critical turn with the earth-shattering effect of second-wave feminism - and that of LGBTQIA+ studies in the period to come - and have developed as gender studies.
Feminist criticism became so influential, especially with the emphasis of "personal is political", that the issues, which used to be ignored and about which no mention was made in the academia and social movements, started to be discussed, on the one side, in political struggles forcing daily life to change and, on the other side, in academic studies.
It reached to such an extent that men had to give answers. As a reflection of this, especially as of late 1970s, studies on men and masculinities began to emerge as a new field in gender studies in the academia.
When we look at gender studies in general, we see two - complementary - paths: The first one is an analysis of gender based on differences. These differences are not solely limited to differences of gender identity and sexual orientation or cultural differences between (heterosexual) men/women and LGBTQIA+ individuals.
For instance, as it has been emphasized by Raewyn Connell, one of the founders of critical studies on men and masculinities, masculinity is not universal, essential, divine and/or unchangeable.
The existing state of masculinity does not stem from biological reasons. This state varies on the basis of historical, cultural and social differences as well as sexual orientation, ethnicity, class and physical characteristics. Moreover, it can change and can be changed.
Secondly, gender is handled with a focus on power relations. Gender is an area of relations shaped by patriarchy and (hetero)sexism. This second approach focuses on the criticism of male domination and discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation.
For instance, LGBTQIA studies have underlined that homophobia/ transphobia is not a fate. As for feminists, they have opened male domination, gender inequality, misogyny, violence against women and derogatory language used for women as well as patriarchy itself to discussion and emphasized that they can be changed.
(However, apart from these two basic lines, it should be noted in parentheses that there are also the ones who embrace and/or support the status quo despite discussing gender. Or, it should be pointed out that there are those who talk about gender in such a way to eliminate its critical potentials.)
As I have mentioned above, studies on men and masculinities have emerged as a response to feminism - and LGBTQIA+ studies -.
These studies, which open masculinities to discussion, have to be critical since they solely discuss gender.
From the very beginning, there has been a line in the field, especially in the US, claiming that masculinity has got lost (!), arguing that men have suffered losses (!) and crises of masculinity due to feminism (that it has always criticized) and stating that masculinity is essentially good (!) and there is a need to return to this essence.
On the other side, there has also been a line who has kept its distance from feminists at the very beginning and made the criticism that masculinity has harmed men the most (!) and has caused the biggest damage and destruction on men (!).
However, in the last forty years, there has developed a more powerful and richer third line, namely "masculinity studies", which approaches men and masculinities from a "(pro)feminist" and "anti-sexist" perspective and has come to the fore more with its critical aspect today. Following the footsteps of Jeff Hearn and with the aim of underlining the emphasis on criticism, I prefer calling it "critical studies on men and masculinities".
The concepts of "hegemonic masculinity" and "masculinities", which were put forward by Raewyn Connell and are frequently misused, have now become a hallmark in the field.
The concept of "hegemonic masculinity" emphasizes that under certain socio-historical conditions, some constructions of masculinities become more effective than others when it comes to taking a share in male domination as well as in establishing it.
As for the concept of "masculinities", it has been underlining the fact that masculinity is not universal, but multiple and changeable, thereby making a parallel political emphasis with feminism by suggesting that it is possible for masculinities to (be) change(d).
The field of "critical studies on men and masculinities" has been recently making a wider room for itself in social sciences, has been known by a higher number of people and has been gradually developing and thriving with new studies conducted in the world, including Turkey.
The research and studies of (pro)feminist and anti-sexist social scientists and activists on men and masculinities have always been met with skepticism by feminists and LGBTQIA+ studies in Turkey and in the world. If patriarchal and (hetero)sexist relations are discussed by these fields of study, was there really a need for masculinity studies? In fact, the raison d'être of "masculinity studies" and "critical studies on men and masculinities" and what they can(not) do lies exactly in the answers that are given to this question.
This field of study was initiated in the 1970s by Connell and his friends, who were men originating from the same tradition with feminism and feeling uncomfortable with the impact of patriarchy on women and LGBTQIA+ individuals, for highly political reasons - not for the sole reason of scientific interests or not solely because they found the subject matter interesting, non-explored or having the potential of becoming popular.
The objection of this field at the very beginning was to examine how men turn into patriarchal and (hetero)sexist actors and to manifest the conditions of their change. Due to the differences and priorities in their own agendas, feminism and LGBTQIA+ studies were criticizing patriarchy and (hetero)sexist relations by focusing on women and/or LGBTQIA+ individuals. Their focus was not on the criticism of men, who are in dominant position in these relations, or on the ways in which these masculinities are constructed.
It was the very point where "critical studies on men and masculinities" set out to have a say in a field in criticism of gender relations, which was left unattended, but was, in fact, extremely necessary.
The field of "critical studies on men and masculinities" criticizes men from the inside. In this context, it can be characterized as an extension, part and continuation of critical studies in social sciences. This field aims to engage in a critical research of men by standing against oppressions, exploitation, discriminations as well as subordination of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals.
That the concepts of "hegemonic masculinity" and "masculinities" of Connell have been widely accepted does not stem from the fact that this field or subject has become popular. The significance of Connell stems from a political reason. This reason is the following: He has put forward a critical theory, which discusses constructions of masculinities by explaining the possibilities of change for men.
In the last forty-year period since the late 1970s, when the first studies were conducted in the field of "critical studies on men and masculinities", it has enabled the critical discussion of a series of subjects that never came to the fore before such as patriarchal "masculinity" codes, climacteric of men, young men, fatherhood and becoming a father, work-masculinity relations, daily lives of men, impact of patriarchal discourses on men's bodies, masculinities and sexuality, masculinities in nationalist discourses, men-sports relations, representations of masculinities in literature, cinema and media and constructions of masculinities in different local contexts.
Male researchers, who tended to engage in a harsh criticism of masculinities by following feminist discussions and self-criticizing their own lives, might have initiated the field of critical studies on men and masculinities.
There are today as many women researchers in this field as there are men. I would like to underline the importance of being critical on any account while doing research and writing on gender and leading our own lives.
Because (patriarchal and (hetero)sexist) men and masculinities are the perpetrators of oppression, violence, harassment, rape and discrimination, which women, LGBTQIA+ individuals and other men behaving differently than the dominant masculine identity have been subjected to; they are the ones who have been benefiting from the unequal and hierarchical gender relations; they are the ones who have been causing women to feel uneasy while going out; they are the ones who have been occupying a wide range of fields from economics to law, from interpersonal discussions to the seats on the subway as they wish; they are the actors who have been dominant in the patriarchal relations...
In short, they are the ones who have been making public and private spaces unbearable for those who do not play "the game" according to the patriarchal and (hetero)sexist "rules". For that reason, the subject of "men" and "masculinities" is not any subject, about which one can write without thinking over or making a criticism of male-dominated power relations.
For instance, you cannot just analyze men and masculinities as if you were analyzing a glass of water, which can be considered an object with a neutral value (and which is, in fact, a part of political, economic and/or ecological relation networks) or you cannot approach men and masculinities as if they were one of the (popular) subjects.
If you analyze them as a popular subject independent of relation networks such as capitalism, patriarchy and (hetero)sexism, it would lose a considerable part of its significance and transformative power.
Or, while discussing men, if you write on the subject by overlooking structural elements and social and historical conditions in its socio-cultural background and using an accusatory language towards the actors; or, if you see men as an indivisible whole and do not underline their possibilities of change, the field would lose a considerable part of its critical potential.
It should also be noted that essentialist statements, which only contribute to the continuation of the existing state, are to be avoided while discussing men and masculinities and that masculinity is also a social construct.
What I would like to say is that in the field of critical studies on men and masculinities, qualified and exiting works are being done. To discuss men and masculinities, extensive, wide-scale theories or studies where thousands or millions of people are represented are not strictly necessary - though I wish they would -. Men are realities that have been standing just by our side, that we or the ones around us have realized, been subjected to or had a contact with.
That is why, it is highly meaningful that critical studies on men and masculinities attach a central importance to feminist self-criticism, which criticizes itself in the first place.
When it is not the case, it becomes meaningless.
(For instance, what happens when a man, who inflicts violence on or despises homosexuals, makes a criticism of masculinity? Or, the big question: "Why would men, who take the biggest share from patriarchy, criticize masculinity?")
It is of considerable importance to analyze men and masculinities from a critical perspective because male domination and (hetero)sexism have been turning the lives of everyone -including those of men- into hell. Carrying on with this is not an attitude that life deserves. Masculinity studies is an opportunity for change that has been rising from the academia. But, it is only when they are critical that these opportunities can materialize.
Men should change so that patriarchy and (hetero)sexism can disappear. Change is possible! (MB/ŞA/APA/SD)
* Images: Kemal Gökhan Gürses
** A quotation from the song of Jimi Hendrix "Castles Made of Snow"
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