When it comes to academia, the study of gender has tended to mean the study of women. But there are a growing number of academics who realise that men’s issues and experiences are just as complex and in need of exploration as women’s. One of these is insideMAN reader and University of Derby psychology tutor, Debbie Earnshaw. We asked her why as a female academic, she decided to study men.
Here’s a part of a genuine conversation that I had with two sixth form students:
Student 1 (male): “But you’re a girl.”
Me: “I’m a female yes…and?”
Student 2 (female): “So why are you looking at this? It’s got nothing to do with you!”
Me: “Just because I’m female doesn’t mean I can’t research males and masculinity.”
Student 1: “But what’s the point? You don’t know anything about guys, or masculinity, you’re not one of us.”
‘I got a little fed up of just hearing about women’
I’ve encountered this a lot, and it is a question put forward to me by the editors of InsideMAN as well as numerous other occasions so I’ve decided to answer it. I’m asked by both binary genders why I’m researching masculinity/male psychology when I am a female. What could I possibly bring to the field? Well, for starters, in all honesty, during my undergraduate degree I got a little fed up of just hearing about women in my Gender module.
We had two weeks of ‘male’ psychology, which concentrated on superheroes for one week, and masculine ideals for the next week. And that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to hear about THEIR life. Do they feel the same sense of shame or pressure about their bodies? Do they feel the same pressure to have families? Do they realise that they’re the ‘standard’ set in a discipline that is to encompass ALL human behaviour? Do they realise they have a voice too?
I realised that I wanted to find their strengths and their weaknesses and research them. I want to know what makes them different to themselves as well as other genders. I want to demonstrate that men still have their problems and shouldn’t be hidden away. I wanted to read a piece of a research that didn’t investigate women, and use a man as standard to be set against. That’s wrong for the women and wrong for the men. It is in no way fair.
‘Grow a pair’
I am a feminist. Not a ‘feminazi’, nor a man-hating individual, but someone who wants equality for all genders.
And you know what, being one has actually opened my eyes. I now see that the way women are portrayed is also hurtful to men. I see that the same sense of social order that has oppressed women also oppresses men, albeit sometimes in different ways. It’s still there. The issue that each gender has does affect each other.
As a feminist I do not want a man to be seen as the ‘bumbling dad’ in adverts, or viewed with suspicion because you happen to be at a play park with your own child. I don’t want men to lose custody of their children because the law assumes women are the better caregivers. I don’t want men to be ridiculed for having depression or suicidal thoughts because they’re seen as ‘weaknesses’ and told to ‘grow a pair’ or ‘stop being such a girl’.
As a female, I won’t even suggest that I understand men completely. I want to begin to understand your processes, your thoughts and your behaviours, and show people that men have problems too and we shouldn’t ignore them. I want to show them your individuality.
Some males might not be happy with that, but helping to have your voice heard to a different set of individuals surely can’t be all that bad, can it?
By Debbie Earnshaw
What do you think? Are there some subjects — like gender — that require lived experience to fully understand? Or are there special insights that one gender can bring to studying the other?
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