College course explores ‘feminist critique of masculinity’

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst is offering a course next semester that will utilize a “feminist critique of masculinity” to explore how masculinity hurts male students. 

Healthy Guys or Healthy Guise: Men, Masculinity, and Health” will be taught by Tom Schiff, a Social Justice Education professor who is also the president of Phallacies, a consulting company that offers theater workshops to help men resist the confines of masculinity. 

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“Utilizing a feminist critique of masculinity, this course will explore how constructions and performances of masculinity impact individual and collective health outcomes,” the course description notes, promising to take an intersectional approach to the subject.

By watching films, film clips, and other media images, Schiff hopes to teach students not only about how masculinity allegedly negatively impacts men’s health, but also “strategies for individual, institutional, and cultural change.” 

Reached for an interview by phone, Schiff declined. Nor did he respond to follow-up email requests, including one asking if he is aware of any research illustrating how educational programming on “masculinity” can be effective.

As Campus Reform has reported, no colleges that offer programs designed to tackle the problems allegedly associated with masculinity know whether their programs are actually effective—or perhaps even harmful. 

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The “Healthy Guys or Healthy Guise” class has been offered since at least Fall 2016. Unlike other scholars who differentiate between masculinity in general and “toxic masculinity” or “hegemonic masculinity,” a copy of the Fall 2016 syllabus indicates that Schiff is worried about masculinity writ large. 

“The major thrust of the course is to examine how the gendered social order influences men’s individual and collective health behaviors, and the way men perceive themselves, other men, women, and health,” the syllabus notes. 

Topics of discussion included “the limits of masculinity,” the link between “health disparities and masculinities,” and how violence is allegedly “part of the male psyche and a form of validation of masculinity.” 

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Assigned readings included the article “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” along with others addressing issues such as “Compulsive Heterosexuality” and “The Construction of Masculinity.” 

Schiff, who also serves as Adjunct to the school’s Social Justice Education program, notes in his biography that he is committed to using educational approaches that “dismantle heterosexism.” 

To dismantle heterosexism, per common feminist theory, one must resist the notion that heterosexuality is the norm. Though this theory conflicts with evolutionary psychology, some feminist scholars contend that men only tend to be heterosexual because they are socially conditioned to be so. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen