On Friday I’ll be giving a lecture as the guest of ICGR’s 7th International Conference on Gender Research, to be celebrated at my own university, UAB. The title of my lecture is the one I’m using for this post: ‘Doing Masculinities Studies as a Feminist Woman: Aims and Gains.’ This invitation has reached me at a point in my career in which I am considering whether I should abandon Gender Studies to focus on other matters such as non-fiction, secondary characters and film adaptations, areas on which I have also been working for years but on which I have published no books.

            This is not at all the case for Masculinities Studies. I am currently working on a monograph called Masculinity in Contemporary Science Fiction by Men: No Plans for the Future (Liverpool UP) and co-editing with Michael Pitts a collective volume called Masculinities in 21st-century Science-Fiction Television: Exploring New Spaces (Bloomsbury). These two volumes, hopefully to be issued in 2025, will close a cycle of about 6 years in which I have also published Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in the British Novel: From Hitler to Voldemort (2019; Spanish version De Hitler a Voldemort: retrato del villano), Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men (2020; Spanish version Mirando de cerca a los hombres: Masculinidades en la literatura y el cine, to be self-published in late 2024), American Masculinities in Contemporary Documentary Film: Up Close Behind the Mask (2023; Spanish version now in open access Detrás de la máscara: masculinidades americanas en el documental contemporáneo) and the volume co-edited with M. Isabel Santaulària Detoxing Masculinity in Anglophone Literature and Culture: In Search of Good Men (2023; Spanish version En busca de hombres buenos: estrategias para desintoxicar la masculinidad en la cultura anglófona, forthcoming in 2024). I have flooded the academic market and, frankly, I have exhausted myself. I don’t plan to stop writing articles and chapters on men and masculinities but any new books will have to wait.

            Going through my CV these days for the lecture, I see that I started doing what is now called Critical Studies on Men and Masculinities (this is Jeff Hearn’s label and that of the Swedish research group with which he is affiliated) informally, with a first article, published in 1998, called “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mister Universe?: Hollywood Masculinity and the Search for the New Man,” published in Atlantis. My aim was to consider why Schwarzenegger, one of the main examples of what Yvonne Tasker called ‘musculinity’, has never been considered sexy in the same way George Clooney or Brad Pitt are sexy (the thesis is that excessive muscularity is even a bit repellent, and, yes I wrote an article called “Entre Clooney y Pitt: El problema del deseo femenino heterosexual y lo sexy masculino”). In 2005 I joined the emerging research group led by Meri Torras, Body and Textuality, and I was asked to write an introductory chapter for the group’s first publication, “Los estudios de la masculinidad: Una nueva mirada al hombre a partir del feminismo” in Cuerpo e identidad: Estudios de género y sexualidad Vol. I (2007). Then in 2012, I joined the research group Construyendo Nuevas Masculinidades led by Àngels Carabí, of the Universitat de Barcelona and Centre Dona i Literatura and I became ‘officially’ a CSMM researcher.

            In its three years, I got to meet thanks to the group some of the leading researchers in the field: Michael Kimmel, Lynne Segal, Victor Seidler, Jeff Hearn, and others. I had already seen at a conference in Barcelona Raewyn Connell, an Australian sociologist who provided Men’s Studies (later Masculinities Studies) with the fundamental notion of hegemonic masculinity in volumes such as Gender and Power (1987) and Masculinities (1995). Men’s Studies actually appeared in the 1970s, by analogy with Women’s Studies, as a pro-feminist movement to liberate men from patriarchy, and this what we still are and do. Men’s activism was expressed both in academic work, mainly in the areas of Sociology and Psychology, but also in proper grassroots activism, which have been running workshops, support groups and many other activities for decades. In Spain, for instance, AHIGE (Asociación de Hombres por la Igualdad) and its regional affiliates have been doing plenty of work in that sense.

            There is, obviously, an important difference between the task of the researchers who study actual material and immaterial practices tied to men and masculinities and the task of those of us who study representation and self-representation. With the textual analysis which many others and I produce we contribute mainly to pointing out which representations are obstacles for progress and which might help to reach gender equality. My book on villainy is of the first type, and the collective volume on Detoxing Masculinity, of the second type. I am currently working on correcting the wrong impression that men self-represent as powerful, idealized figures to offer a more nuanced examination of their self-representation in SF. The field of Critical Studies on Men and Masculinities does not always know what to do with textual analysis, but the fact is that this has been growing and justifying its importance. Quite another matter is whether the job we are all collectively doing is making men more aware of the repressive power of patriarchy over them and of the possibilities to build a non-patriarchal masculinity, which are the main aims of CSMM. Also exploring in full of the diversity that masculinity offers today, including matters such as age, racial and ethnic background, ability, sexual orientation… you name it.

            As a feminist I decided to focus primarily on men (though I also work on the representation of women, of course) one day in 1998, a few months after publishing the article on Schwarzenegger, when I attended a Cultural Studies conference and I heard a feminist woman offer a totally androphobic rant for 20 minutes. When she finished I asked her candidly whether she was married (she was) and how she managed to live with a man if this is how she felt about them. It was an embarrassing moment for all concerned. Since then, I have been paying plenty of attention to how men act and interact, and have learned to identify patriarchy, not masculinity, as our common enemy.

            This is where I need to go back to Connell’s notion of hegemonic masculinity, which I find only moderately useful. She determined that the notion of patriarchy had been wrongly described by the radical feminists of the 1970s as a general mechanism aimed at oppressing women by all men. Connell rejected this blanket definition and became interested in how patriarchy has managed to survive so many historical changes, including the rise of feminism in the 19th century. Her thesis was that if the mechanism of masculine idealization which she called hegemonic masculinity could be understood then it could be altered. This is interesting but in my view her theorization fails to account for power, which Michael Kimmel has described much more effectively. I follow him in seeing patriarchy as the hierarchical, pyramidal social arrangement which privileges power. This has been so far in the hands of men thanks to a combination of class, politics and violence, but has been attracting women newly empowered by feminism, from Thatcher to Meloni, passing through Imelda Marcos and Marine Le Pen. We misread patriarchy, then, if we reduce it to masculinity. By the way, we should stop talking of ‘toxic masculinity’ and distinguish between patriarchal behaviours and masculinity, they are not the same.

            So, to sum up this point, there is plenty of dissent within CSMM about what hegemonic masculinity is, which does not help fight patriarchy. Add to this that not all feminists appreciate the effort made in CSMM; I’ve had many of my female colleagues question my work because, they usually claim, we have already paid too much attention to men. Obviously, that is not the case. By ignoring men as a category we cannot solve the problem of gender inequality. In fact, by carelessly mixing patriarchy and masculinity and seeing both as the enemy we (women and anti-patriarchal men) may have helped to fuel the patriarchal anger now rampant in the manosphere and in right-wing politics. I’m not blaming the victims, but suggesting that the discourse we are using is not as effective as it should be. I know, of course, that majority public opinion no longer supports many tenets typical of patriarchy, yet among the younger generations the number of recalcitrant patriarchal persons is growing. International politics is now dominated by extremely dangerous patriarchal figures such as Putin or Trump. And the biggest shame is what is happening to girls and women in Afghanistan (where, I assume, gay men and any non-conforming men are also in extreme danger from the Taliban).

            I said at the beginning of this post that I am considering abandoning Gender Studies if not for good, perhaps partially. I think there should be a generational change, and, besides, Gender Studies should aim at a total destruction of gender as a relevant category for repression and domination, yet I believe we still need perhaps one more generation to reach that point. I’ll continue, then, with less intensity, as I have noted, trying to recruit new blood for the task. A matter that frustrates me in that sense is that I am reaching a student body of mainly young women (85% of the students in my Department are female), while I think that we need to reach more men. Hopefully I am doing that through my publications, in which I always try to collaborate with younger scholars. Something, however, seems to be missing. As an anecdote, whereas the collective volume by my BA students, Songs of Empowerment: Women in 21st century Popular Music (2022) has now gone past 7000 downloads, its equally solid twin by my MA students Songs of Survival: Men in 21st Century Popular Music (2023), has only attracted 191 persons. Curious isn’t it?

            I might write next week about the audience’s reaction to my presentation. And please, fight patriarchy, not masculinity.