Majoring in masculinity

In macho Israeli society, Bar-Ilan offers a 'masculinity course.'

May 16, 2009 22:58
3 minute read.
Majoring in masculinity

elite soldiers idf gr8. (photo credit: AP [file])


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"Men Studies" - the modest name for Bar-Ilan University's newest graduate degree track - is being offered under the auspices of the school's gender studies program. And for a department that has focused mainly on feminism and feminine studies over the years, the new course of study is proving to be an anomaly all its own. "Even general programs outside of Israel that cover masculinity are not so common," Dr. Danny Kaplan, a psychology and sociology lecturer at Bar-Ilan who is spearheading the program, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "And I'm not aware of any other graduate program that focuses solely on masculinity, much less with this level of interdisciplinary study, including psychological and sociological components. It's certainly one of the only programs of its kind." The program plans to cover various aspects of masculine expression, ranging from its significance in everyday society to how it plays out in politics and consumer culture. "In politics, for example, masculine socialization poses dilemmas and also advantages as far as cooperation is concerned," said Kaplan, who has studied masculinity and its effects for the last 10 years. "Masculinity in politics plays an important role, as most of our politicians are men and are often socialized to combine competition and aggression with alliances and friendships." The program will also focus on topics such as how men identify themselves as father figures, and how that plays out from the time their child is born, onward into his or her early years of development. "Even though the male role as a father has changed dramatically in recent decades, and men are increasingly more active as fathers, the overall change has been relatively minor," Kaplan said. "But we want to look into it more; it needs to be researched," he continued. "We'll also be looking at how men are portrayed and targeted in advertising," Kaplan said. "How men have come to care more about grooming themselves and how they look." Kaplan said that while grooming had taken on more masculine overtones in recent years, other advertising attempts, such as promoting dieting for men, had not. "Dieting is not considered masculine," he said. "Israeli commercials for drinking diet cola or light beer need to overcome men's inhibitions from feminine associations." But Kaplan insisted that the new study track would delve into all of these topics and more, bringing to light what masculinity means in general, and in Israel specifically. "It's impossible to learn about Israeli society today without learning about masculinity, simply because it plays such a central role in our culture," he said. The program, which is set to begin in the upcoming fall semester, has already generated considerable buzz, both for its unique subject matter and the seemingly thin amount of research that has been done on it, especially on the graduate level. Leading American researcher Dr. Michael Kimmel, who has authored numerous books on masculinity in America, has jumped on board, and arrives in Israel next month as a guest of the gender program at Bar-Ilan to give a workshop on the topic. The program is exciting for Kaplan as well, who told the Post that for him, the creation of the new program was nothing short of a dream come true. "I've researched the topic personally for so many years, and now I have the chance to teach it," he said. "And at the graduate level, no less. It's just wonderful." Kaplan noted that there had been some opposition to the program. "There's been a little of that," he said, "but it mostly stems from a misunderstanding of our intentions. Up until now, we've looked at men mainly to talk about women's rights and gender equality - sort of as a backdrop. Men have been taken for granted, and what we're saying is that we want to focus on man as a creature of his own, with his own problems, and through that, I think we can actually promote women's rights and gender equality."

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