Lonely Expert on a New Frontier . . . Men's Studies

One moment, Harry Brod Ph.D., father, husband, philosopher and men's studies pioneer, is discussing men and feminism in his book-lined home office. The next moment, he is shouting back enthusiastically as 4-year-old Artemis Brod yells through the window that she has sold her purple dinosaur--her contribution to the family yard sale.

Juggling the roles of devoted father and dedicated spokesman for the men's movement would be simpler in the world Brod envisions.

As one of the nation's first academic specialists in men's studies and spokesman for the National Organization for Changing Men, he devotes his professional energies to the study of the male experience.

Twenty years ago, women fought for the addition to university curricula of women's studies programs. They pointed out that such areas as literature, political science and sociology had systematically excluded women's experiences for centuries, because nearly all scholarly work had been written by, for and about men.

Now, proponents of men's studies claim a need for the same infusion of the male perspective into academics. Dismissing questions about the need for men's studies if scholarship traditionally has been male-centered, Brod counters with the same argument women's studies professors used.

"Society has only reflected what it believed about men and masculinity, which was not necessarily the true experience of most men," he says.

"The variety of male experiences--of masculinities--has not been recorded," says Brod, 36, who recently completed a three-year joint appointment as assistant professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society in the Department of Philosophy at USC. This fall he will begin a one-year liberal arts fellowship at Harvard School of Law, studying the legal aspects of male reproductive rights.

Began in Mid-'60s

His involvement in the men's movement began at New York University during the mid-'60s.

"I was one of many men who wondered whether we should re-examine society's expectations of u s because we were one gender or the other," he says.

A decade later, while completing doctoral work in philosophy at UC San Diego, he attended the first California Men's Gathering.

During breakfast at the weekend retreat, a man stood to complain angrily that the group was not concentrating enough energy on women's problems and issues, topics he considered their central responsibility. A second man immediately jumped up and retorted that the gathering's purpose was to concentrate on men's emotional and personal needs, not to react with guilt over their power and position in society.

"At that moment, it became clear to me that I would devote much of the rest of my life to showing people that damage to men's psyches is the result of the power we have over everyone else," Brod says.

Deepening Involvement

During the intervening years, Brod devoted much of his time to writing about men. He originally intended to keep his personal activism separate from his teaching, but as his involvement in the movement deepened, his articles on men and feminism increased.

With the appointment at USC, he was placed at the front of the movement's academic endeavors.

It was his position as a male-feminist scholar and thinker that led him to edit a collection of essays about men's issues. His essay "The Case for Men's Studies" appears among others in "The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies," published in June by Allen and Unwin.

The book addresses such topics as athletics and the development of male identity, the theory of the male sex role, male friendships and male love. Not coincidentally, the book's topics mirror those on the men's studies agenda.

Brod is frank about his hopes that this book will help lend legitimacy to men's studies. In order to be granted the attention the movement needs in society, the new discipline must be recognized on university campuses, he believes.

"The field is still so new it hasn't been accepted as an academic discipline," he says. "By pursuing traditional academic routes to gain legitimacy, we hope to convince the academy that these are not isolated and scattered insights but a unifying concept worthy of being considered."

Yet, though he champions the cause for a men's studies discipline, Brod does not entertain dreams of a men's movement that would swell to the proportion of the women's movement.

Instead, he sees the lessons of the men's movement acting as a catalyst for change in other social and political areas. He cites the peace movement, violence against women and children, men's working conditions, gay rights and male reproductive rights as appropriate directions for the movement.

One area in which the practical application of the movement is evident is in its work with violent men.

Traditional wisdom calls for retraining beaters and rapists to conform to society's rules. But from a men's studies perspective, all men are actively socialized to be violent, Brod says. Exceptionally violent men are exceptionally socialized men.

Violence 'Taught'

"If you want to understand men, don't look at society in general but at men in specific," he cautions. "Whether it is in street gangs, sports, the military or at the hands of older and bigger boys, men are taught that violence is the manly way to handle things.

"Violent men aren't deviant or nonconformist," he says. "They are overly conformist. Groups that help men distance themselves from that socialization are much more effective than traditional therapies."

In addition, the movement's advocacy of gay rights benefits homosexual and heterosexual men alike, Brod adds.

"The fear of being perceived as gay functions as the cement that keeps all of us stuck in our sex roles," he says. "Men can't undo traditional codes of masculinity without undoing the enforcer of those codes. Since homophobia is the enforcer that polices us, a gay-affirmative approach is essential for all men."

To be male is to show knowledge and competence, Brod says. "That represses men because we don't ask questions about ourselves or our places. So while we're powerful as a group, we're powerless as individuals."

Brod believes that his position at USC was very unusual, if not unique.

USC is the only university in the nation that includes the study of men in its curriculum and offers both ungraduate and graduate programs on the topic.

While it can be exhilarating to forge new ground, it also can be lonely--and dangerous--as one of the only experts in a new field. When his fellowship at Harvard is over, he expects to have trouble finding a teaching appointment.

"There are only a few positions for feminist philosophers available and they are filled by women," he explains. "That means that, while I can expect to be invited to lecture here and there, I may not find a stable appointment. There are risks in pioneering a new field and I'm feeling the effects of those risks."

But Brod has no plans to lessen his attention to the movement in favor of a career boost. He sees too many questions awaiting answers.

"Studying the past is the first step toward improvement," he says. "Right now, men are nostalgic for that mythical time when men were men and everyone knew what that meant. The popularity of a cardboard figure like Rambo at the same time that we have an old cowboy in the White House are clear signs to me that we are in a crisis of masculinity."

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