Friday, November 09, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work: Kenneth Clatterbaugh


As a person who has a BA in Philosophy and never finished his master's thesis, I still have a soft spot in my heart for professional philosophers, and when they do work on examining masculinity, all the better. And anyone who can write both Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity: Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society and The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy deserves success and happiness in everything he does. Also, the guy deserves a lot of thanks for hanging out with The Promise Keepers so that none of us had to.

Because much of my feminism is wrapped up in blogging, I oftentimes wonder about the notion of doing good work here, that working with ideas here is worthwhile, and I also think about how much of that eventually translates into a better world (and how much of it doesn't). In the end I think professional theorists like Clatterbaugh can and do make a difference (as, I would argue, do some bloggers), though it can be more subtle and cause changes over longer periods of time than traditional activism. Anybody who is unsure about the effects of theory on the world can look to Descartes--without him it's questionable whether we'd have traditional conceptions of the division between mind and body, for instance (and Xtians would have a different conception of the soul).

As I begin to unpack the last few decades of theory around men and masculinity, I'm starting to recognize how much work has already been done, even if so much more is still to come, regarding reshaping traditional masculinity into something better. Theorists like Clatterbaugh do a lot of that work.

He certainly is ready to ask some of the right questions. From his Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity: Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society:
1. What is the social reality for men in modern society?
2. What maintains or explains this social reality?
3. What would be a better social reality?
4. How can we achieve this better reality?

And, in beginning to answer these questions, I think he takes a straightforward, yet intricate, approach:

Certain masculinities are favored socially or come closer to the gender ideal. Boys are taught to adopt these social roles and ideals. Certain collections of behaviors, attitudes, and conditions (certain masculinities) are favored and rewarded, others are ignored, and stil others are punished. Masculinities may vary from subculture to subculture, but they are dominant in the sense that htey are favored and actively promoted thorughout society, and those who appear to exemplify them are most likely to be placed in positions of power and trust. Thus, there is a strong set of similarities among the powerful men who sit in boardrooms, in legislatures, and in other responsible positions. And there are strong similarities among men who are excluded from positions of power and prestige. Of course, there are exceptions and there are changes, but there are also rules of thumb that favor certain sets of behaviors, attitudes, and conditions: For example, to be articulate, loyal, heterosexual, white, and wealthy are favored characteristics of hegemonic masculinities.
Clatterbaugh ties together conceptions of masculinity, paying attention to the intersectionality of gender, class, race and sexuality. Plus, y'know, he has that book on philosophical conceptions of causality, if you feel like a bit more light reading.

For more information, check out his wikipedia entry and his site.
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