No, the headline of this article is not an antic of some tabloid. The story is as simple as it is bizarre. Robert W. Connell is the premier authority in the world on masculinities. A native of Australia, his books have been ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth of the top ten books considered to have a profound impact on sociological theory in that country.
ConnellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s influence has reached global proportions, making his work required reading in menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies programs internationally, earning him iconic status and widespread esteem. He is to menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies what Darwin was to the study of evolution.
And now, he is a she.
Though the timing of the transformation is uncertain, Robert Connell showed up at a 2008 Wake Forrest College meeting of the American MenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Studies Association (AMSA) asÃ‚Â Raewyn Connell, a legally recognized female incarnation of the formerly male scholar.
It was a startling change that must have stunned those attending, but not a word about it was formally spoken.
One might think that the remarkable silence was a reflection of an enlightened collection of men and women, blind to the supposedly limiting constructs of gender, and practicing an acceptance so espoused by the causes they promote.
But it is more likely that there was a different sort of silence in the audience that day; one of solemn concern about the implications of a masculinities expert who, in his sixth decade of life, had the masculinity cut from his body like a malignant tumor.
And the questions that arise from this are more relevant than ever, given recent events in the studies of men and the struggle for how those studies are going to be defined. A review of recent events is in order.
Male studies, a new academic discipline was announced on April 7th of this year at the first ever Symposium on Male Studies at Wagner College in New York. It caused a firestorm of debate that has spread from the halls of academia, across the blogosphere and into the limelight of the mainstream media.
At the core of the controversy is how male studies, the new discipline, differs fromÃ‚Â menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies, the long standing offshoot of womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies that remains faithful to, and guided by, feminist ideology. And as the differences between the two are examined, the significance of ConnellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (see left) sex change becomes all the more apparent.
Male studies, according to their FAQ, is Ã¢â‚¬Å“[I]ndependent scholarship without ideological ties to menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies, which emerged within gender studies to compliment womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies.Ã¢â‚¬Â This signals a break from feminist influence, and is likely what is fueling the debate.
Objection to male studies, which often borders on outrage, has come from university blogs, some of which are painting male studies as a dangerous endeavor. The University of Connecticut website proclaimed that male studies would Ã¢â‚¬Å“lead to more gender trouble,Ã¢â‚¬Â though their argument was significantly weakened by continuously conflating menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies with male studies, actually appearing not to know the difference.
Academicians invested in menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies have begun to speak out against the new discipline, as we have seen recently from AMSA President Robert Heasley, who told Forbes Magazine that male studies was a redundancy. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Their argument is that they are inventing something that I think already exists.Ã¢â‚¬Â
His sentiments were echoed by Dr. Michael Kimmel in an email to me in February of this year. Kimmel was speaking on behalf of the National Organization of MenÃ¢â‚¬Ëœs Against Sexism, an activist organization that supports menÃ¢â‚¬Ëœs studies. He admonished the male studies creators, and apparently me, that there was Ã¢â‚¬Å“No need to think your conference at Wagner is Ã¢â‚¬Å“creatingÃ¢â‚¬Â a new field.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On the other side, proponents for the new approach take a much different view.
Consistent with the Foundation for Male Studies FAQ, the presenters at the Symposium made clear that the whatever male studies was to be, it would not be a repeat of programs already in place.
Symposium speaker and McGill University researcher Paul Nathanson said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is some critique of feminism that is going to be involvedÃ¢â‚¬Â in male studies. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are some fundamental features of ideological feminism over the last 30 or 40 years that we need to question.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Nathanson also said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The institutionalization of misandry,Ã¢â‚¬Â -the hatred of men and boys- is Ã¢â‚¬Å“being generated by feminists, [though] not all feminists.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Another way of interpreting what Nathanson is saying is that male studies will not emulate or copy menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies, but will instead seek to explore how men’s studies have had an ill effect on society at large.
And this brings us back to the significance of ConnellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sex change. Dissenters from feminism have long postulated that the ideology itself is driven by misandry, and not just a desire to seek equality for women. Indeed, in an examination of required reading for menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies, one finds such a voluminous collection of hate speech, that were it directed at any other group than men would never see the inside of a university classroom.
Some of that hatred seems to also be reflected in the vitriolic rejection of the idea of male studies, and may also be ironically evident in the surgical procedure elected by a certain masculinities luminary.
It is important to note that Connell coined the term Ã¢â‚¬Å“hegemonic masculinity,Ã¢â‚¬Â a destructive form of masculinity inferred to thrive on dominance and rooted in white, married, heterosexual male culture. This model was subsequently generalized to the male population by feminists, with the same biased perspectives, Ã‚Â and used in efforts to deconstruct masculinity and reshape it to conform to feminist ideological ideals, most of which are demonstrably anti-male, anti-marriage, anti-heterosexual, and in some cases, anti-white.
It is equally important to point out that it is impossible to discuss a sex change operation without making reference to Gender Identity Disorder (GID), a metal health disorder included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). Symptoms of the disorder, which frequently results in sex change operations and/or transvestism, provide significant insight into the personality of those affected.
In childhood onset, one of the primary symptoms is a feeling of disgust with ones own genitalia, and a wish to be rid of them. It sets up a life long pattern of rejecting the sex that the afflicted was born with, and a persistent desire to take on the role of the opposite sex.
Interviews with many transvestites reveal that they almost universally report being aware of their condition between four and seven years of age.
Since it is ludicrous to assume that anyone without GID would seek a sex change operation, it stands to reason that Raewyn Connell is one such individual who is affected by the condition.
And this calls on us at the very least to question the objectivity of her work, as well as the motivations behind it.
Is it possible that an individual so hated the sex they were born with that it sparked a life long academic quest to deconstruct it into something that did not disgust them? Is it possible that the fruits of those efforts were easily embraced by others who may have had issues of their own with traditional masculinity? Not intellectual issues, but intrapersonal ones. And is, as Nathanson alluded to, the misandry being bred by feminists, just part and parcel to the ideology itself, as it is practiced in the halls of higher education and in society at large?
One thing is certain. Raewyn ConnellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s view of masculinity is not a product of scholarly pursuit, but of mental illness; a pathological hatred of a particular sex, in this case male. And when that is true of the preeminent authority in a field of study with such far reaching sociological ramifications, then it is time to make a change.
Let us hope that the idea of male studies cannot be cut off as easily as an unwanted penis.