Monday, November 25, 2019

Matthew Gutmann's "Are Men Animals?"

Matthew Gutmann is a professor of anthropology at Brown University who has spent thirty years exploring notions of masculinity across the United States, Latin America, and China. He also has been a visiting professor at El Colegio de México and Nanjing University.

Guttman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Are Men Animals?: How Modern Masculinity Sells Men Short, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Are Men Animals? is in a chapter called “The Male Libido.” It has part of a narrative on how men in Mexico (and elsewhere) were usually “planned out of family planning” global campaigns for modern forms of contraception and women’s health launched in the 1960s and 1970s. To quote directly from page 99:
In government, foundation, and family planning agency documents of the time, men were rarely mentioned as relevant to new population programs. Perhaps they were overlooked by accident. Perhaps this was an inadvertent consequence of women reasonably being made the highest priority. Or perhaps there were underlying assumptions about men, their biologies, and their essential interests and inclinations when it came to sex and babies that precluded making them central to campaigns around contraception, birth spacing, the optimal number of children, and sexual health.
Men’s sexuality is one of the key examples discussed in the book, and family planning in Mexico is a good case study on sexuality that highlights widespread and harmful assumptions about men and boys that exaggerate biological factors in explaining male behavior.

Are Men Animals? is a book about maleness and asks why, in common and scientific discourse, language about masculinity so often resorts to biological stereotypes about what makes men tick. As a cultural anthropologist I have carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Mexico, the United States, and China. I have documented and tried to understand everyday ways that men express themselves when it comes to sexuality and aggression, for example, noticing both tremendous variation from one locale to another, as well as significant changes over time—from one generation to another—in what it means to be a man. All these ideas about maleness and experiences with men are the stuff of daily life, for women as well as men.

And these ideas and experiences with men have everyday practical implications not only for families but for public policies as well. In Mexico City, women can ride in separate subway cars at rush hour. In the United States, only 18 year old men register for a possible future draft. Men in UN Peacekeeping forces, some say, cannot go longer than six months before they “need” sex. In China, the government preaches that men can marry whenever they like, but women who are not married 27 years old are to be officially labeled “leftover women.” In each of these cases, erroneous assumptions about men’s (and women’s) natures are at least influential in the policies.

To the extent these beliefs about men and maleness go unquestioned we can inadvertently let men off the hook. After all, boys will be boys, right? For anyone who supports gender equality, such thinking and language needs to be challenged. We live in an age of gender confusion with the possibility of serious renegotiation of what it means to be a man. That process will be infinitely easier once we understand that men’s fate does not reside in their biology.
Learn more about Are Men Animals? at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue