Your dissertation examines the problematic way that men are divided into two groups: sexist and anti-sexist. Can you talk a bit about your main findings, and how you became interested in the topic?
Early research on the “Men’s Movement” (an umbrella term covering everything from thePromise Keepers, to the Men’s Rights Movement, to Pro-feminist men’s groups) sought to situate groups on a continuum from anti- to pro-feminist (see here and here). This research was extremely important and helped us better understand the various political projects that different groups supported. One thing that was quickly apparent was that while many groups have political goals that are directly opposed to feminist issues and agendas, a smaller number of them willingly adopt the label “anti-feminist.” Increasingly, however, I think larger numbers of men’s groups are willing and happy to accept a “feminist” label. In some ways, this is wonderful news and illustrates a great deal of change in a relatively short period of time. But in other ways, separating groups and individual men into the “feminists” and the “anti-feminists” conceals a number of features of contemporary gender and sexual inequality.
While this categorization and comparison works well for a discussion of the political motivations and goals of these different groups, the same framework is also used to make sense of individual men—a framework that is much less useful. Separating men into the “feminists” and the “anti-feminists,” the “sexists” and the “anti-sexists” artificially simplifies the complex ways in which gender and sexual inequality structure our lives and are reproduced. It superficially separates men in ways that make us think that the “good guys” can do no wrong and the “bad guys” can do nothing right.
The “good guys vs. bad guys” story is just too simple and doesn’t reflect the ways that gender and sexual inequality actually work. My findings illustrate that while a great deal of gender privilege still works to men’s benefit, something significant has changed: men’s experience of that privilege. The increasing publicity of men’s collective privilege has ushered in new ways of identifying as men. So, men are pushing the boundaries of what is considered “masculine” in all sorts of ways: with their dress, their behavior, their interests, and even their politics. Most of the men I’ve studied say they’re fully aware that men benefit from unfair advantages, but they also have intricate ways of telling me why they are personally different and don’t benefit from some (and sometimes all) of the privileges other men receive—or not in the same ways.