Ok, these are excerpts from an essay about the history of Feminist Theory (with a focus on women's studies rather than sociology; for what that looks like in sociology, you rally are going to have to read the stuff from the journals I linked) in relation to men and masculinities. It's 16 pages long and at times problematic, so I've limited myself to the relevant bits about how Feminist Theory studies men and masculinities, and it's relation to Men's Studies and masculinity studies.
The most important accomplishment of 20th-century feminist theory is the concept of gender as a social construction; that is, the idea that masculinity and femininity are loosely defined, historically variable, and interrelated
social ascriptions to persons with certain kinds of bodies—not the natural, necessary, or ideal characteristics of people with similar genitals. This concept has altered long-standing assumptions about the inherent characteristics of men and women and also about the very division of people into the categories of “men” and “women.”
With the resurgence of a movement for women’s rights in the second half of the 20th century, varied theories developed to explain the causes of male domination, to correct erroneous assumptions about both women and men, and to imagine new kinds of men and of women in new circumstances. These theories charged that cultural ideologies favored men, that social institutions reflected these ideologies, and that men as a group benefited from the subordination of women as a group, despite the great disparities that existed in the advantages accruing to individual men or subgroups of men in relation to other men and to women. Thus men and masculinity play a crucial role in feminist theory, the body of thought that seeks to understand women’s social situation and to articulate justice from a woman-centered perspective. Furthermore, feminist thinking has been fundamental to the formation of contemporary men’s and masculinity studies as intellectual endeavors,academic subjects,and social movements.
[Simone de Beauvoir] attacks the myths of masculine superiority and mind over body by insisting that men, too, are creatures of bodily and sexual infirmity rather than disembodied minds: “Indeed no one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility”(p. xxv). In a current version of this critique, Rosi Braidotti (2002) alleges that “the price men pay for representing the universal is disembodiment, or loss of gendered specificity into the abstraction of phallic masculinity,”and she suggests that men need “to get real”by recognizing their embodiment (p. 355).
Current versions of liberal feminist theories, however, are more sophisticated in their analyses and offer to men’s studies models for inquiries into the gendering of the law, the media,the state,and the professions; civil rights organizations open to male members with accessible goals for social reform; and ideals such as androgyny for combining traditionally
masculine and feminine personality characteristics in individuals.
Psychologist Eleanor Maccoby (1998) represents a recent version of this liberal view in encouraging individuality and freedom of choice for both sexes and allowing for a varied play of masculine and feminine difference across the life cycle. She sees youth “growing up apart”in groups segregated by sex and adults experiencing “convergence” in sex and work (p. 189). She describes greater divergence within each gender than between the two, notes contradictory components of both masculinity and femininity, and emphasizes that “sex-linked behavior turns out to be a pervasive function of the social context”more than of individual personality (p. 9). Other feminist theorists also seek to deflate gender dualism by viewing gender as developmental across the life course, so that, for example, masculinity might be defined by boys’ development from childishness to maturity rather than by opposition to a denigrated femininity (Ehrenreich, 1983;
Rather than accepting male dominance as necessary to human society, Chodorow’s popular theory of 1978 explains it through forms of child rearing that have been universal in the past but that modern technologies and social arrangements can now alter. Furthermore, she describes masculinity as so limiting for men’s lives, rather than so enjoyably privileged, that men should also have incentives for change. If fathers take equal responsibility with mothers for early child care, she argues, gender inequality would disappear, women would be relieved of the unfair burdens of caregiving, and men would gain a satisfying intimacy with their children, women, and each other. Chodorow (1978) thinks “equal parenting”could bring all people “the positive capacities”now restricted to each sex separately, and both sexes would also be more flexible in their choice of sexual objects (p. 218).
other theories are more attentive to the myriad differences that divide men from other men and women from other women, as well as to the commonalities between the sexes and the relationships among the various categories of social inequality (Lorber, 1994; Maccoby, 1998). Feminists of color and many feminists influenced by Marxism emphasize the interconnectedness of gender with other social hierarchies, including nationality, ethnicity, social class, racialized identities, and sexualities. African American feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins (1999) explains that the “construct of intersectionality references two types of relationships: the interconnectedness of ideas and the social structures in which they occur, and the intersecting hierarchies”of social power; “viewing gender within a logic of intersectionality redefines it as a constellation of ideas and social practices that are historically situated within and that mutually construct multiple systems of oppression” (p. 263) The categories these theorists describe are not additive but transformative, so that, for example, Chicano masculinities are not simply Anglo masculinities with a salsa beat or a dose of machismo but complex responses to Hispanic cultures,Catholic religion, dominant American middle-class white masculine assumptions, and the internal dynamics of Latino families (Gonzalez, 1996).
Black feminists have repeatedly sought to balance understanding of the particular oppressions experienced by women of color with sympathy toward the vicissitudes of men in their communities. They critically examine the difficulties that men of color face in achieving mainstream versions of masculinity and critique those forms of masculinity that depend on sexism and male supremacy. In addition, they join male black intellectuals in indicting the projections of endemic social problems such as male violence against women or substance abuse exclusively onto blacks. Both male and female theorists situate African American gender characteristics within the common history of U.S. racism and the legacy of slavery. In particular, they speak of the dispersal of families and cultures; the imposition of alien ideologies, physical hardship, and degrading servitude; and the denial of education, opportunity, sexual choice, and occupational mobility.
African American feminist theorists repeatedly sought to balance sympathy and critique for African American men. Michelle Wallace (1990) began her book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (originally published in 1978) with the premise that African American men felt deprived of manhood by white supremacy, so that it was a revolutionary claim for human dignity, not a tautology, when striking male garbage workers mobilized by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wore signs saying, “I am a man” (p. 1).
[bell hooks] argues that the poor or working class man has been hurt—and sometimes hurts others—by being unable to live up to dominant definitions of masculinity "because he does not have the privilege or power society has taught him “real men”should possess. Alienated, frustrated, pissed off, he may attack, abuse, and oppress an individual woman or women, but he is not reaping positive benefits from his support and perpetuation of sexist ideology [and so is] not exercising privilege." (hooks, 1984, p. 73)
Other U.S. theorists of color and global feminists currently join African American feminists in analyzing ways in which masculinity is constructed in specific historical and cultural contexts. For example, Anna Maria Alonso (1992) describes a Mexican construction of masculinity in which the independent peasant is fully masculine, in opposition to the
wage worker, who is “both like a child and like a woman because he relies on others for his sustenance”(p. 414). Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (1991) show British imperial rule in India operating through “the ideological construction and consolidation of white masculinity as normative and the corresponding racialization and sexualization of colonized peoples” (p. 15). Chilla Bulbeck (1998), who describes global feminisms often overlooked by Anglo feminists, reports on changing categories of same-sex behavior and “third genders”around the world (p. 154). Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1999) traces the problematic effects of equating masculinity with independence in “the racialized gender construction of American citizenship”(p. 22), and Valentine Moghadam (1999) investigates the interconnections among huge military expenditures, deindustrialization, civil conflict, the rise of fundamentalist movements, and the consequent “reinstitutionalization of patriarchal gender relations”in the developing world (p. 132).
many strands of feminist theory seek to make masculinity visible as a gender,rather than allowing it to retain the prestige of being equated with human rationality or the invisibility of being equated with economic or scientific law.
Many male queer theorists have analyzed abject and alternative masculinities among men in relation to hegemonic masculinities (Bersani, 1988; Thomas, 1996). Some women queer theorists,too,have focused specifically on alternative masculinities, especially as they are represented in the media.
Feminist theories have been shaped by women’s changing place in contemporary societies, and these theories have sometimes proved effective in changing both men’s and women’s consciousness and conditions. The widespread establishment of women’s studies programs in colleges and universities, especially in the United States, has created a pool of practitioners of feminist theory and inspired the establishment of men’s and masculinity studies as well (Boxer, 1998). Although masculinist men’s movements sometimes decry feminism,generally men’s studies treat feminism and feminist theory as scholarly big sisters, perhaps dull, dowdy, outmoded, or too restrictive, but nevertheless models to be followed and bettered. Feminists ridicule masculinist men’s studies and welcome profeminist efforts by men. American feminist journalist Gloria Steinem (1992) announces that “women want a men’s movement” if that means men will “become more nurturing toward children,more able to talk about emotions,”and less violent and controlling (p. v). English psychologist Lynn Segal (1990) regrets the “slow motion”of men toward gender equality and muses that the literature of masculinity “uncannily mirrors” its feminist forebears: it “focuses upon men’s own experiences, generates evidence of men’s gender-specific suffering and has given birth to a new field of enquiry, ‘Men’s Studies’” (2000, p. 160). At present, feminist theorists are citing masculinity scholars more frequently than previously, and vice versa. Feminist thinkers are benefiting from the theoretical insights and empirical findings of masculinity studies that concern the complex asymmetries,changing histories,local conditions, and institutional variances of gender in a wide variety of specific settings. Current textbooks in women’s and masculinity studies agree in their basic feminist premises, all describing hierarchies of dominance, relationally defined gender, and multiple and interactive axes of social oppression (Gardiner, 2003). In a rapidly changing world marked by contradictory forces of war, violence, disrupted ecologies and economies,fundamentalist backlash, enhanced opportunities for women, the feminization of poverty, the casualization of labor, the decline of traditional male wages, the objectification of male bodies,the recognition of more diverse sexualities,the reconfiguration of nationalities and ethnicities, the rise of liberating social movements, and what Donna Haraway (1989) calls the “the paradoxical intensification and erosion of gender itself”(p. 191), feminist theories continue to develop in conversation with men’s and masculinity studies and other movements for social justice. They continue to seek an equality for men and women and for people around the globe at the highest level of human imagination and aspiration rather than the lowest common denominator.